It's time to scrub what you know about skin exfoliation

Why you should exfoliate and what you might be doing wrong

When I turned 26—a milestone that was incidentally accompanied by a v. v. nasty breakup and loads of I-am-definitely-going-to-die-alone drama—I treated myself to my very first facial, at Burke Williams Spa in Santa Monica.

I won’t say exactly what year it was, but I will say that this was long before daily SPF was a mandatory part of the universal beauty canon—and, in fact, before the internet was a thing. As a lifelong sun seeker, I had always been concerned with maintaining my so-called “healthy” tan; the benefits of exfoliating were not even on my radar. The aesthetician asked me to list my current skin concerns, which were as follows: rough texture, uneven tone, premature frown lines and a vexing combination of dryness and breakouts. Why was my skin so...problematic?

Then she asked me a simple question that changed my life: do you exfoliate? The answer was no—and for the following 90 minutes, she diplomatically taught me the error of my ways. If you’ve been wondering why YOU should exfoliate, here’s exactly what I learned that day.

1. Exfoliation Solves a Myriad of Skin Problems

SO many of the issues that contribute to frustrating skin challenges can be vastly improved (if not downright eliminated) by regular exfoliation. How? In our teens and 20s, skin cells naturally replace themselves in about 28 days—a process that can take 40–60 days by the time we’re pushing 40. And of course, this age-related “sloughing slowdown” is also accompanied by a dip in our natural production of collagen and elastin, the wondrous structural proteins that keep our skin smooth, plump and wrinkle-free.

Yucky Fun Fact: the outermost layer of our skin is composed of 25–30 layers of DEAD CELLS. These cells are rough, dulling and often dark/discolored; they’re also a major culprit in pore congestion and breakouts. The benefits of exfoliation include gently lifting these unhelpful little guys away from the skin’s surface—revealing the fresh and radiant cells beneath while also encouraging healthy cellular turnover by stimulating the production of new skin cells.

If you’re doing it correctly and regularly, you can expect the following effects of exfoliation: softer, smoother skin; brighter and more even tone; purified pores with fewer blemishes.

2. Exfoliation Makes ALL Your Products More Effective

A recent survey of American 3,000 women from 16–75 revealed that on average, we’re using a staggering 16 different products per day, with an average daily cost of about $8—or just under $3,000 a year. So what would you say if we told you that one of the benefits of exfoliation is that it makes everything you put on your face work smarter and harder?

When you smooth away that those glow-gutting, pore-clogging, problematic dead cells, you’re clearing away the debris that keeps your cleanser, moisturizer, serum, eye cream and other skincare products from penetrating deep into your cells—where they can work their magic. You’re also creating a smoother, more even canvas for all those makeup LEWKS.

3. Exfoliation is Every Bit as Individual as You Are

Still wondering why you should exfoliate? Let’s ask 26-year-old me! In the bad old days, we had exactly three options: (1) St. Ives Fresh Skin Apricot Scrub, (2) the $2 torture device known as the Buf Puf, and (3) getting schooled (and smoothed) by a professional. Those first two, both of were industrial strength—like, you could clean your stove with that combo—are why I ultimately ended up at a spa I couldn’t afford. But you? You have SO many options!

Let’s start by defining the two main types of exfoliation: physical and chemical. A physical exfoliant is a device or product that does the dirty work by polishing away surface gunk. Your Clarisonic brush and facial scrub are both physical exfoliants, as are your esthetician’s dermaplane scalpel or microdermabrasion crystals and associated contraptions.

A chemical exfoliant is just what it sounds like: a chemical that helps to dislodge or dissolve dead skin cells, so that they can be swept away with the next cleansing. Alpha (AHA) and beta (BHA) hydroxy acids, as well as glycolic (fruit) and lactic (milk) acids, are all proven to encourage resurfacing—and treat your complexion to the many benefits of exfoliating.

4. There CAN be Too Much of a Good Thing.

If current you is anything like 26-year-old me, September is the PARFAIT time to tamp down summer’s sun-chasing naughtiness and start getting serious about exfoliation. So, now that you know WHY you should exfoliate, let’s get to the HOW! First, please understand that less is more—and over-exfoliating will exacerbate everything you’re trying to avoid. Skip physical scrubs made with fruit pits or nut shells, which can create micro-tears in the skin; also be conscious of products made with “synthetic micro beads,” which can be harmful to marine life.

If you want to exfoliate every day, look for *extremely* gentle chemical exfoliant products like Masktini's Night Ranger Overnight Renewal Mask, which balances the resurfacing power of lime pearl acids with our fave moisture magnet, hyaluronic acid. If you’re looking for a more targeted weekly exfoliation, look for a resurfacing treatment like Masktini's Twilight Zone Tahitian Detox Mask, which draws out impurities while melting away imperfections.

Finally, if you struggle with sensitivity, rosacea or stubborn breakouts, physical exfoliants could be a little bit intense for your sweet cheeks—but that doesn’t mean you should miss out on the benefits of exfoliating! Ask your dermatologist to recommend a gentle chemical approach that doesn’t interact with any current products you might be using.