The Really Important Skin Care Step You’re Probably Skipping

If someone asked me what the secret to great skin is, I’d say it has more to do with taking off than putting on. I’m talking about exfoliating. It does so much for your skin, and yet so many women overlook this step in their skin care routines.

I used to be one of those women until a couple of years back, when I started breaking out after a relatively acne-free life. It would start as tiny bumps on my face and then turn into pimples. I’d get a cleanup, but they would eventually come back. I visited a dermatologist, but that was only a temporary help. So I started to do my own research. This is what I found.

As you grow older, the skin’s natural ability to slough off dead cells slows down. This is exacerbated by sun damage, having a dry or oily skin type, and skin disorders. As the natural process of shedding is compromised, the dead skin sits on the surface longer. This gives your skin a rough texture. That texture is also the reason light bounces off unevenly, and that’s why you feel your skin looks dull.

The accumulated dead skin settles in pores, and over time it mixes with sebum, which can block pores and lead to breakouts. Moreover, all these dead skin cells form a layer and impede serums and moisturizers from being absorbed, so they end up just being a huge waste of money.

Many people can tackle all of the above by just adding one step to their skin care routine. Exfoliating helps get rid of all this dead skin and helps speed up the process of generating new cells, keeping your skin healthy. With the layer of dead cells out of the way, your skin will often be more even and look brighter, you’ll experience fewer breakouts, your pores will appear smaller, and your skin care will be able to penetrate your skin better.

Since I’ve started exfoliating regularly, my skin has never looked better. The trick is finding the right exfoliator. I have dry, aging skin, so I find that gentle but daily exfoliation with chemical exfoliators like alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) or beta hydroxy acids (BHA) works best for me. I swear by Philosophy’s The Microdelivery Resurfacing Peel (used weekly) and Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner (used daily). When using chemical exfoliators, however, you need to pay close attention to the ingredients in your serums and moisturizers. If they contain retinol or acids as well, they could irritate your skin, so you want to balance them out with something gentler.

Since chemical exfoliants penetrate the skin deeper, they also help with fine lines and aging skin. Aging skin will benefit from Philosophy’s newest The Microdelivery Overnight Anti-Aging Peel, which combines AHAs and BHAs along with an overnight mask. The result is twofold, as the acids tackle signs of aging while the mask provides the intense hydration required by mature skin. Chemical exfoliators are also great on acne-prone skin since they don’t irritate lesions. Salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acid help reduce oil, unclog pores, and even help minimize acne scars.

As effective as AHAs are, they can sometimes be too harsh for some skin types. The new generation of AHAs — poly hydroxy acids, or PHAs — promise the effectiveness of their predecessors with a dose of hydration. Goodbye, inflammation and flaking! CNP Laboratory Invisible Peeling Booster, which contains PHAs, is a leave-on peel. Used after cleansing but before your toner, it helps to do away with dead cells and prep the skin for the benefits from your other skin care products.

Some women aren’t satisfied till they feel they have exfoliated and prefer to use physical exfoliators that contain beads, grains, nuts, or salt. These can actually be harmful to the skin, because they are very abrasive and can cause tiny fissures in the delicate skin on your face. If you must use a physical exfoliator, pick a gentle one like Crème Simon Gentle Double Exfoliation Scrub, a rich, creamy scrub that contains two types of extremely gentle beads — wheat and jojoba. Even though it is a physical exfoliator, I find it doesn’t dry out my skin and always leaves it looking brighter once washed off.

Another way to exfoliate physically is to use a cleansing device like the Clarisonic Mia 1 or Clinique Sonic System Purifying Cleansing Brush. These allow you to control settings and even choose different brush heads depending on your needs; they’re ideal for those with oily skin. You can even go old school with your exfoliation and use a muslin cloth, which helps gently slough off dead skin. Even though it’s a form of physical exfoliation, it’s so gentle you can do it every day. But while there’s something therapeutic about the whole process, I don’t think it does anything for mature skin.

Once people realize the benefits of exfoliating, they can get a bit overzealous with it — which can be just as bad as not exfoliating. Overdoing it can leave your skin raw and sensitive, meaning it could react to products that normally suit it just fine. When using a physical exfoliant, never apply too much pressure on the skin. Go longer if necessary, but never harder. If you’re using a chemical exfoliant, I would suggest using it only at night, as it can increase photosensitivity. Once it’s washed off, make sure you follow up with a rich moisturizer or mask, as your skin is primed to receive the benefits from your skin care. Needless to say, you absolutely must use a broad-spectrum sunscreen the next morning. This is not one of the times the SPF in your moisturizer or makeup will suffice.

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