As we age, we need to exfoliate our skin, because our own system of sloughing off cells slows down.
So many different types of exfoliators are on the market that it’s hard to know which one is right for you. Because exfoliating works to get rid of dead skin that may be harboring bacteria and clogging pores, it is a good thing to do so once or twice a week.
Simply put, two ways to rid your skin of the dull, dry, and dead top layer are to abrade the skin physically, or to peel it off chemically. While surgical and invasive ways can do so, many great over-the-counter, do-it-yourself ways are available.
Abrasion uses ground shells, or shell powder, salt, sugar, sand or silica, or beads, as the active ingredient. If you have sensitive skin or broken capillaries, avoid all these except for beads. Round beads are a very effective yet gentle way to rid your skin of the dull, dry top layer, allowing moisturizers to penetrate and absorb to do their job better.
Chemical exfoliators are acid-based, either Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) or Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA).
AHAs, which typically include glycolic acid (derived from sugarcane), citric acid (from fruits), and lactic acid (from milk), are water-soluble. They are good for sloughing off sun-damaged and overly dry skin.
BHAs, which can come from white willow bark, honeysuckle, or birch, are generally milder than AHAs, and are typically antiinflammatory. The active compound in BHA is salicylic acid, which also is found in aspirin. Because BHAs are water- and lipid-soluble, they can penetrate sebum, and clear out acne and blackheads.
If you have thick, oily, sun-damaged skin, use AHA. If your problem is sensitive skin with breakouts, use BHA. For thick, oily skin with breakouts, a combination can work well. For example, a cleanser with BHA and a moisturizer with AHA are a good match.
AHAs and BHAs can be applied and washed off, or left on overnight. BHAs can be applied directly to acne or blackheads.
With AHAs, always start with the lowest percentage, usually 5 percent. Do so every other night for a couple of weeks, and then, if little or no irritation occurs, every night. After a month or two of a 5 percent concentration, you can move to a 10 percent, alternating every other night. If any undue redness or stinging ensues, take it down a notch, or mix it with a moisturizer.
If your skin tends to be dry and flaky in the winter, incorporate a body lotion with AHA into your routine. This will take off that dead, dry top layer gently. Exfoliating gloves or a rough washcloth can help with exfoliation. Exfoliating keeps acne and blackheads at bay, and helps refresh and renew the skin. Exfoliate once or twice a week to get the “moist” out of your lotions. As with any acid, be sure to use a sunscreen, as the acid makes skin more sensitive.
Linda Kleinbaum is the CEO of Garden of Eden, a custom-scenting bath, beauty, and bodycare store in St. Paul. Locally owned and operated, it has been in business since 1972.