When we stare at ourselves in the mirror, do we really see us anymore? Over the years, our skin has changed due to many factors, including stress, the environment, and most principally, time. The key to appearing ageless is in a process you have likely heard of but might not have tried out for yourself: exfoliation.
Board-certified dermatologist Jennifer Herrmann explains why: “Removing the outer layer of dead cells makes the skin look immediately brighter and more youthful, especially because as we age, our cell turnover slows and dead skin cells stay on our skin longer, leading to dullness. By removing the outermost dead cells, exfoliation also allows other active anti-aging ingredients like retinol and growth factors to more easily penetrate deeper skin layers where they are effective.”
According to Herrmann, there are two methods of exfoliation. “Mechanical exfoliation involves using a device or tool—think diamond tip microdermabrasion machines or scrubs with charcoal or gritty salt or sugar to manually remove dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliation uses light acids like salicylic or glycolic acid or enzymes like papaya to gently break down the glue between the outermost skin cells.”
Your skin type is the number one factor in considering which method to use. Sometimes scrubs can cause irritation, so, as Herrmann recommends, “For those with sensitive skin, chemical exfoliation is usually the way to go.”
There are several schools of thought on how to exfoliate your face, especially with regard to frequency. There is no simple answer for this—all is better left up to the instructions on the product you plan to use. Dermatologist Craig Kraffert, MD, explains further: “The ‘old school’ way of thinking was to not exfoliate more than a few times a week, but some types of exfoliant cleansers can be used every day (or even twice daily) and eliminate the need to use both a cleanser and an exfoliating treatment separately.”
Peruse our roundup of products below, which you can use to their maximum anti-aging potential.
“Not all exfoliants are appropriate for every skin type. Enzymes are great for more sensitive skin. They eat away at dead skin like little Pac-Men, instead of using abrasive particles on the skin. A good example of this would be Pure Enzymes by Cosmedix. It uses cranberry enzymes and lactic acid to exfoliate, brighten, and revive skin. Lactic acid also helps skin generate more of its natural moisture.” — Matthew Miller
“Salicylic acid is amazing for acne-prone or oily skin types. It is oil-soluble, meaning it dissolves through the dirt and oil within your follicle. This minimizes build-up and prevents breakouts. By using the Cosmedix Purity Detox Scrub, you will get the best of both worlds without stripping the skin. It’s also in a powder base so you can control how abrasive it is based on how much water or cleanser you add.” — Matthew Miller
“Pump up the power on your exfoliating brush or cleansing device with an acid-based cleanser for an even more thorough cleansing and ultimate smoothing effect. I pair my favorite minty fresh Cosmedix Purity Clean with my Clarisonic, and the results are brilliant. Fresh and soft skin that feels thoroughly deep cleansed without feeling tight or dry.” — Matthew Miller
“A peel toner that contains BHA (salicylic acid) and AHA (lactic acid). These two work together to rid the pores of build-up, making the rest of your products work more efficiently. This also contains niacinamide to support a healthy skin barrier!” — Matthew Miller
“Guard your glow with a weekly exfoliating mask or home peel treatment. Designed for more intense exfoliation, it gives the perfect boost for brightening tone and softening lines or breakouts. I recommend my clients use DermAware’s Saving Face Peel collection. It's available in four super-targeted formulas: Pigment, Acne, Age, and Rosacea for ultra-customized results. Start one night weekly and work up to more as tolerated.” — Gregory Dylan
“Jojoba esters gently polish dead skin away while clay absorbs excess oil and impurities, making this Detoxifying Clay Scrub Mask perfect for acne-prone or oily skin!” — Matthew Miller
“A popular toning solution, and for good reason—it works! AHAs, BHA, Poly Hydroxy Acid, Niacinamide, and other amazing ingredients work together to exfoliate, brighten, improve texture, and help with overall clarity of skin. Lotion P50 also comes in different formulations depending on your skin type.” — Matthew Miller
“This potion exfoliates the skin using natural fruit acids. Paired with sodium hyaluronate and vitamin C, this product is great for anyone with dry, sensitive, or normal skin in need of some serious glow!” — Matthew Miller
“Defy is an age-defying treatment to exfoliate using multiple AHAs for exceptional results. Also contains aloe and L-Bisabolol to hydrate and calm skin.” — Matthew Miller
“Define is Defy but amped up with encapsulated retinol, taking the anti-aging aspect to the next level. This is my personal favorite.” — Matthew Miller
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