Exfoliation: the types, how they differ and which one is best for you

Exfoliation is a game changer! If your skin is looking dull, grey and tired, exfoliation is your ticket back to glowing, youthful skin. While it might sound simple, there is actually quite a lot to consider when choosing an exfoliant. Which type of exfoliant should I use? Is a physical exfoliant better than a chemical exfoliant? What is an enzymatic exfoliant? The list goes on.

Alpha-H believed in the power of exfoliants when they were still a niche concept and we have firmly cemented ourselves as a leader in the field. Over the years we have stayed true to our core belief that when you rid the skin of the dead surface cells, you create a smoother appearance with enhanced hydration and firmer skin as a result. Let’s take a closer look at why you need to exfoliate, the types of exfoliants, and which one might suit your skin needs.

Why should I exfoliate?

Did you know your skin is covered in many layers of dead cells? During your 20s, your skin’s natural exfoliation process slows by nearly 30%. So, when you look in the mirror each day, you’re looking at last month’s skin and last month’s damage. By the time you’re 50 or over, those cells have been dead for at least two months.

Worse still, each time you put sunscreen, moisturiser, serum, primer, foundation or concealer on your skin, you’re applying it to skin cells which have been dead for up to two months. Is it any wonder that people often complain their skin looks permanently tired and dull?

Each time you exfoliate you remove those dead skin cells, boost collagen production, diminish wrinkles, shrink pores, reduce scarring, stimulate microcirculation, brighten your skin tone, lighten pigmentation, clear acne breakouts, stimulate new cell production, improve make-up application, and allow your other skincare products to penetrate better into live skin cells which will benefit from your efforts. Exfoliation is crucial to skin health and youthful longevity. It’s the fastest step in your beauty routine and the one which will achieve the most visible results.

Let’s take a closer look at the different types of exfoliation

Chemical exfoliation

There are two main types of chemical exfoliants; Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). Glycolic Acid is one of the best known AHAs, whilst Salicylic Acid is the darling of the BHAs. It should be noted that products which contain Salicylic Acid are not suitable for use by pregnant or nursing mothers; you’ll want to look at Glycolic Acid products instead. Regardless of which family you’re talking about, chemical exfoliants work by dissolving the glue-like substance between the skin cells to slough the dead ones away. It has a progressive effect on the skin and is excellent for mature skin types where the natural exfoliation process has slowed right down. Try - Liquid Gold. Our cult favourite Liquid Gold contains Glycolic Acid which is the naturally occurring acid in sugar cane. This multi award-winning product has long been a favourite of beauty elite and clinical studies showed it was able to decrease wrinkle depth, improve skin texture, and boost the skin’s moisture levels in just 20 minutes. As Liquid Gold does not contain Salicylic Acid, it is safe for use by pregnant and breastfeeding women.

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Manual or physical exfoliation

This variety is probably the one which immediately pops into your mind when you think about exfoliation; it involves a bead or grain which works on the skin by gently rolling over the skin’s surface to dislodge dead skin cell buildup. Manual or physical exfoliants also help to remove any dirt or debris which has built up in the “mouth” of the pore. As such, it’s a great option for people with open-pored skins which are prone to blackheads and congestion. Try - Micro Cleanse Super Scrub. Combining 12% Glycolic Acid and eco-friendly Jojoba Beads and Caffeine to harness the power of both physical and chemical exfoliants at the same time, this product achieves a professional microdermabrasion result in just one minute, and all in the comfort of your own home.

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Enzymatic exfoliation

Enzymatic exfoliants utilise enzymes to “digest” dead skin cell buildup from the surface of your skin; they’re like a little Pac-Man! These exfoliants are also non-abrasive, making them an excellent choice for sensitive skin types which are unable to tolerate manual exfoliation. It may also be suitable if you suffer from cystic acne or rosacea. Try - Gentle Daily Exfoliant. This award-winning powder-to-paste product is gentle enough to use daily, and leaves your skin feeling silky soft and smooth. Infused with water-activated enzymes from Green Papaya and Pineapple, this quiet achiever is a favourite of many in the Alpha-H office.

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Exfoliation Q&A

When should I exfoliate?

Exfoliation should occur after you’ve double cleansed your face.

Can I exfoliate my face every day?

As its name suggests, our Gentle Daily Exfoliant is gentle enough to use on the daily! It’s the perfect way to create a fresh new canvas to start the day each morning.

However, we advise against using Micro Cleanse Super Scrub and Liquid Gold every day; this would be too harsh on your skin. For more mature skins, you may be able to use these two products on alternating days. For younger skins, you may find a couple of times a week is enough; still just be sure to not use both these products on the same day as it would be too active.

Should I exfoliate if I have acne?

Definitely! Exfoliation will help to clear away the debris and dirt which is causing your skin congestion. If you have cystic acne, we would recommend the gentle enzymatic approach of Gentle Daily Exfoliant.

Can I exfoliate when I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

Yes; provided you choose products which do not contain Salicylic Acid or Vitamin A. Gentle Daily Exfoliant, Micro Cleanse Super Scrub and Liquid Gold are all suitable for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Does exfoliation work on blackheads?

Through removing dead skin cells and preventing pores from becoming congested, exfoliation can help to treat blackheads, as well as acne.

Does exfoliation work on hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation can benefit greatly from regular exfoliation as it helps to ease the discolouration by directly targeting upper cellular staining and encouraging fresh, clear cells to the skin’s surface.

Can exfoliation get rid of acne scars?

While exfoliation cannot entirely eliminate scarring, it can most certainly diminish their appearance.

Can exfoliation help with ingrown hairs?

Yes! Ingrown hairs occur because the hair cannot find its way through to the top layer of skin. By sloughing away all the dead skin cells which have accumulated on the surface and eliminating debris from the mouth of the pore, the emerging hair has a clearer path.

Who should not exfoliate?

While most people will see great benefits from exfoliation, there are some skin conditions for which it is not suitable. These circumstances include eczema, bacterial acne, psoriasis, and compromised skins (red, irritated and ultra-sensitive skins, open wounds). Cystic acne sufferers should also approach exfoliation with care. If you suffer from these conditions and would like advice on products which are suitable for your unique circumstances, please get in contact with us!