A few long walks on the beach might have you convinced of the smoothing potential of manual (also known as mechanical) exfoliants (that is, a physical scrub with abrasive properties that will lift dead skin and smooth the surface it’s applied to), but it’s not all blue skies ahead.
For normal skin, a manual exfoliation a few times a week (delivered by a damp washcloth, a scrub or an exfoliation device) will allow dead skin cells to move off the face and body with ease. If you have more sensitive skin or specific skin types, you should be more wary.
The American Academy of Dermatology discussed exfoliation in 2015, noting for “Individuals with inflammatory acne, which includes cysts and pustules…more aggressive chemical or mechanical treatments could actually make their condition worse. The same is true of people with rosacea, as many forms of exfoliation may increase facial redness.”
When exfoliation is done right, you should notice the effects immediately in look and feel – excessive flushing, stinging or a “raw” feeling to your face are all signs that your skin may be too sensitive for manual exfoliation. Chemical exfoliants like beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) or alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), are worthwhile to consider depending on your skin type.
“AHAs stimulate the exfoliation of epidermal cells in the stratum corneum by interfering with the ionic bonding between these cells. This results in the sloughing off dull and rough skin and promotes cellular renewal…Beta Hydroxy Acids…such as salicylic acid… are lipid-soluble in contrast to water solubility of AHAs. This structure allows them to penetrate into the skin through sebaceous follicles, making it appropriate for patients with oily skin and open comedones,” noted in a 2012 article on hydroxy acids.
A correct pH is required in order for these hydroxy acids to perform on your skin, so be aware of this when purchasing. Paula’s Choice makes cruelty-free and vegan options of BHA & AHA products which are a good place to start.
If you do prefer a manual exfoliant, look for scrubs where the particles are perfectly rounded or very fine (perhaps that kind that will dissolve after application), as walnut shells and salt can be particularly jagged and cause micro-damage and redness to the skin.
What type of exfoliation do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!