Your entire body is covered in skin cells, but they’re not all alive. Many have served their purpose and have been replaced by healthy cells. However, not all the dead skin cells readily leave your body, nor do they simply dissipate into the ether. Instead, they often stay on top of your skin like tiny rotting corpses. These pointless, lifeless cells can cause heaps of problems, too: They can clog pores and create calluses. They can lead to hair loss, breakouts, grimy feet, and more. That’s why it’s important to scrub them away, on every part of your body.
Exfoliating your body of old cells is the key to letting the lively ones underneath come to surface and shine, giving you healthier skin overall. You give your hair follicles more room to breath, you keep your pores clear, your body smooth, and your complexion youthful and bright. But the exfoliation process is different depending on the body part. You can't bring a pumice stone to your face. And you'll want something heftier than a gritty scrub to take care of your feet. To help you sort out what works, we put together a guide for keeping your body’s biggest organ (that’s your skin) free of dead weight.
How to exfoliate your face
Obviously you’ve got to be gentle on your face. Not only is this the most sensitive skin on your body, but it’s also your face. And you don’t want to go to work or show up at a tailgate with minced-meat for a mug.
That being said, some products for the face work more aggressively than other body parts. They can come as chemical exfoliants, not just physical scrubs. But that’s because they’ve been carefully engineered, tested, and approved to work with the chemistry of your skin, to dissolve dead skin cells, unclog pores, and brighten your complexion.
If you’re interested in a chemical buffer, try a leave-on exfoliating serum, like Glytone’s, which comes in varying grades depending on the severity you want to boost cellular regeneration. Their 5.5 and 11 options offer mid- and high-level options, respectively. (Honestly, the 11 isn’t so severe in my opinion. It shouldn’t burn or anything, unless you’ve recently had salty tears rolling down your face and drying in the hot sun. No? Then you’re fine—but you might feel a tingle to know that it’s working.)
AHA / BHA toners and serums
Another similar option comes in the form of BHA or AHA toners and serums. (They stand for ‘beta hydroxy acid’ and ‘alpha hydroxy acid’.) Like the serum above, you would apply these before a moisturizer, letter them soak into the skin so that they can work to dissolve dead skin cells and promote cellular turnover. They’re fairly gentle as well, and in many will balance your skin’s pH levels so that it can more naturally reach its optimal youthfulness.
When you go to bed, it’s the best time to work on some chemical exfoliation, since that’s also when your body experiences a spike in cellular turnover. Give it an even bigger boost by applying AHA or BHA products in tandem with a retinol-packed night cream. (Apply the serums or toners first, or else you can blend two creams if they have equal densities. Or, get a product with both retinol and AHA/BHA, like the Ole Henriksen night cream below.) If you keep on this regimen for the long term, you’ll notice significant brightness and firmness in the skin, and a decrease in hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and even acne. Retinol is good for that, but you need 90 days or more to notice its effects, and you need to stay on it to keep enjoying the benefits. Talk to your dermatologist about a prescription-grade one, if necessary, or else get a lower-grade retinol, contained in a direct-to-consumer night cream.
Then, of course, is the physical scrub, with tiny, gritty micro-exfoliants. You’ll use this 2-3 times a week while showering, after cleansing and followed with a moisturizer. It’s important to be gentle with your scrub, since this is where you can really overdo it and leave the skin reddened and irritated. But fear not, most scrubs do their job without much force, and they help lift the otherwise invisible dead layer of skin from atop your face.
Exfoliating before a shave is a really wise choice, too, to lift dead skin that might otherwise clog the razors or get dragged into your freshly opened pores.
As for face exfoliation, everything else should be avoided at home. If you want a peel for example, then visit an esthetician or dermatologist, and have it professionally done. Also, if any of these methods proves too aggressive for your skin, stop immediately and consult with a doctor. It could be that your skin is simply too sensitive, or it might be that you’re using a product in tandem with a prescription or other product that leads to irritation.
How to exfoliate your scalp
By giving your scalp a good scrub down, you provide two key benefits: For one, you lift the dead cells that clog hair follicles or even lead to more aggressive dandruff down the line. Secondly, you stimulate circulation at the base of these hair follicles, which ensures effective nutrient delivery to each one. With or without a scrubbing agent, scalp massages are an important habit to maintain, and are easy to do while showering.
And don’t worry about excess hair fall while you do this. The truth of the matter is that, yes, by scrubbing the scalp, hairs will come free, but it’s only the ones who were nearing the end of their growth cycle, and were ready to fall in the first place. If they are strong and meant to regrow, they will do so, promptly. And just remember the benefits to the hairs that remain—you’re fortifying them with better blood flow, and doing your part to keep them thicker, healthier, and stronger.
You can do a lot of exfoliation with the gentle scratching of your own fingernails, but a designated hair scrub will also do a lot to polish your dome, even if you have long hair in the way. Just target small spots on the head by parting the hair and very gently rubbing the exfoliant with your fingertips within a close radius. Then rinse, repeat, et voila.
How to exfoliate your body
Scrubbing your body is straightforward. Get a gritty product, scoop a nickel of it into your fingers, then massage each area. You’ll use a lot of product on each go, as you hit the arms, legs, torso, butt, and maybe even your feet. But it’s an oddly therapeutic process, and perfect for a mid-bath, on-your-feet scrub down, only to submerge after and rinse it all free. Do this once a week, or twice at most.
Be sure to avoid using body scrubs on your face. They are often tougher and less formulaic, taking less account for sensitivities. The same goes for an exfoliating bar soap—a nice gentle daily cleanser that helps buff away dead cells in the process. It’s not intended for facial use, and should be limited to the body as such.
How to exfoliate your lips
Exfoliating your lips is the easiest of all. Simply by a lip scrub, and gently massage it over your lips. It’s great for winter when your lips have dead flakes, but you need to be careful not to scrub chapped lips and further irritate them.
An at-home scrub is easy to make, too. Just drop a pinch of coconut oil into a teaspoon of brown sugar, until you have a gritty-but-sappy consistency. Scrub it over you lips, and you can even ingest it if you wish. But don’t apply it anywhere else, because coconut oil on its own can easily clog the pores on your face.
How to exfoliate your feet
It’s smart to have a standalone foot-buffing plan, independent of whatever body scrub you use. That, or just dedicate a lot of product to your feet, since they are much more prone to accumulating dead skin (in the form of calluses) that need to be buffed away.
But this is an opportunity to get a dedicated foot scrub, like something with peppermint that will tingle the feet so you know they’re smooth and fresh.
Secondly, and our favorite of the options, is to invest in a rechargeable callus grinder. You can take it to rough, cracked heels and thick, dry calluses, and watch the dead skin cells fall away like dust. Proceed with caution so as to not break the surface of any healthy, thin skin, nor to burst any blisters with these devices. But enjoy the addictiveness of a daily or weekly grind if you’re constantly putting pressure on your feet, and they’re in need of a sanding-down.
If you’re so fed up with your callused, gnarly feet and want to get a fresh start altogether, then it might be time to try a foot peel. These things are bananas, since they seep into your skin and cause all the dead cells to literally peel off and fall away over the next couple days. You’ll be shocked at just how much dead skin there is to be rid off, and you’ll be delighted at how refreshed you feel once the shock subsides. So, don’t plan this for the day before you head to the beach. Instead, give it a good 7-10 day head start. Best of all, these feels neutralize fungus or bacteria that are living on your feet, giving you a reset over things like Athlete’s foot or foot odor.
Originally Appeared on GQ