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What are exfoliants?

Exfoliants are products designed to get rid of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and in the pores. There are two types of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Chemical exfoliants use skincare ingredients (like alpha and beta hydroxy acids) to exfoliate, while physical exfoliants contain particles that manually exfoliate. Chemical exfoliants are considered to be gentler and safer on the skin (particularly on the face), and you’ll find plenty of recommendations for excellent chemical exfoliants on Skincare Hero. 

Benefits of using exfoliants

  • Smoothing skin texture for a softer look and feel
  • Promoting a more even skin tone, and fading hyperpigmentation and dark spots
  • Increasing collagen production
  • Fighting signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles
  • Unclogging pores and minimizing breakouts

How to choose an exfoliant

When choosing a chemical exfoliant, you need to consider your skin type, as well as the skin concerns you may have. There are two major camps when it comes to chemical exfoliants: alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids. 

Exfoliants containing alpha hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, or mandelic acid) are typically considered to be best suited for drier skin types. Those with sensitive skin may wish to specifically look for exfoliants with mandelic acid, since it is one of the gentlest AHAs. 

AHAs work on the surface of the skin, and are water-soluble. They’re great for those looking to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, fade hyperpigmentation, smooth texture, and even skin tone.

Exfoliants containing beta hydroxy acids (like salicylic acid) are best suited for oilier skin types. BHAs are oil-soluble, and work deeper in the pores. They break up dead skin cells, sebum, and debris in the pores, and are great for those looking to fight breakouts and minimize the appearance of large pores.

How to use an exfoliant

  • First, cleanse and dry your skin, ensuring your skin is completely dry before using your chemical exfoliant
  • Dispense the amount as advised on the instruction label of your product, and apply it evenly all over your face (you may be able to use a cotton round to apply, depending on the formula. Refer to the instruction label of your product.)
  • Follow up with a moisturizer

Make sure to patch test your exfoliant

It’s particularly important to patch test exfoliants, especially if you haven’t used an exfoliant before. To patch test your product of choice, apply the exfoliant to clean skin on the forearm. Allow it to sit for 24 hours, and avoid washing the area. After 24 hours, check to see if there are any signs of irritation. Keep in mind that you may feel some light stinging within the few minutes after applying an exfoliant. 

Common Questions

How often should you use an exfoliant?

This will depend on your skin type, as well as the product being used. In general, you should aim to use a chemical exfoliant around one to three times per week. That said, some products have lower concentrations of exfoliants and can be used more frequently. When first adding an exfoliant to your routine, start slowly and only use it about once a week. Gradually increase your usage from there, if it seems suitable for your skin.

How much exfoliant should you use?

This depends largely on the specific product you’re using, but in general, you should use enough to apply an even, thin layer all over the face.

Do exfoliants help with acne?

Yes, BHAs in particular are great for treating and preventing acne, since they work to unclog pores.

Do exfoliants help with acne scars?

Yes. AHAs are particularly great for minimizing the appearance of acne scars, since they work on the surface of the skin.

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