How to Properly Exfoliate Your Skin

Woman rubbing exfoliant on face at mirror
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As we age, cell turnover slows down and dead skin cells can give us a dull complexion. Exfoliating both the face and body weekly helps get rid of the dead top layers of skin. This allows moisturizers and serums to better penetrate the skin and helps your foundation glide on smoothly instead of sitting atop flaky skin.

The Best Tools for Exfoliation

While natural ingredients like brown sugar and even baking powder are great for face and body scrubs, you can't go wrong with a few exfoliating tools. But you have to get the right ones. 

Forget those fluffy nylon bath things you get with a bottle of body wash. And throw out that bacteria-infested loofah, which is too abrasive on most of your skin, anyway.

Instead, consider the basic washcloth your best friend when it comes to exfoliating both your face and your body. Soft bamboo baby washcloths are great for the gentle scrubbing you need and the only real drawback is that they take a long time to dry in the dryer.

There are other great tools for exfoliation, though. A dry brush like the Swissco Deluxe Bath Brush gets great ratings online, and exfoliating gloves are fantastic for scrubbing your skin in a circular motion. For your face, consider the Clarisonic Mia Prima.

Bath brushes are great and are designed to give your skin a good scrubbing before a bath or shower. However, if you buy one with a wood handle, be sure to keep it outside of the bath or shower when not in use. These can easily accumulate mildew, which you want to avoid at all cost.

Treat Yourself to an At-Home Body Scrub

While nothing beats the scrubs done at Korean spas found in big cities, many professional body scrubs in your average spa can be disappointing. Why spend $150 to do what you can achieve in your own shower for a fraction of the price using a dry brush and a body scrub?

Marcia Kilgore, the founder of Bliss Spas, shared this excellent step-by-step instruction for the perfect weekly body exfoliation in the book, "Allure: Confessions of a Beauty Editor."

  1. Apply oil to your skin.
  2. Take a dry brush to the skin from the feet up, brushing in short, light strokes.
  3. Step in the shower and, using a sugar or salt scrub, start at the feet again and massage the skin in a circular motion as you work up the body.
  4. Rinse off using lukewarm water, then apply a salicylic acid body wash to the skin, paying more attention to your heels, elbows, and knees. If you have a tendency towards back and butt acne, make sure to apply it there as well.
  5. Pat skin dry and apply a moisturizer while the skin is slightly damp.

Exfoliating Tips for the Face

Chances are that if you don't exfoliate daily or weekly, your skin is covered in dead skin cells. When these are left on the surface of your skin, they can cause the skin to not only look dull, but older. Without proper exfoliation, foundation won't smooth over your skin cleanly and moisturizer won't properly soak in.

To keep your skin looking young and healthy, follow these face exfoliating tips:

  • According to Allure Magazine, the best time to exfoliate is in the morning. Apparently, our skin repairs itself at night, therefore, the morning is the perfect time for scrubbing away those dead skin cells.
  • Exfoliate with a scrub once or twice a week. Don't over-exfoliate or use a product with granules that can tear at the skin. Rub the product in a circular motion for 30 seconds and then rinse off with lukewarm—never hot—water. If you have oily skin, large pores, or acne-prone skin, you can try an at-home microdermabrasion system.
  • Consider using natural products for exfoliating your face, they don't have to be difficult. A paste made with baking soda and distilled water will gently cleanse your pores and skin. You can also mix a pinch of brown sugar in your palm with coconut oil to form a wonderful natural scrub. 
  • To save time, mix a dime-size amount of your favorite facial scrub into your cleanser and do it all at once.
  • There are some great scrubs on the market, but a washcloth works (almost) as well and it's more budget-friendly.
  • The Clarisonic Mia Prima skincare brush is one of those rare products that is loved by almost everyone who tries it. Basically a tool for cleansing the face, you use the Clarisonic with your favorite cleanser to deep clean your pores. 

Acids and Retinoids

Take your exfoliating one step further with stronger products. For example, you can exfoliate with microdermabrasion, chemical peels, or beta alpha hydroxy pads. Glycolic acid can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and salicylic acids help with facial, butt, and back acne. Retinoids increase cell turnover and also exfoliate the skin.

Don't Forget Your Lips

Scaly lips are simply not appealing, but there are times in our lives when we all suffer from it. Luckily, getting rid of it is a relatively easy fix. All you need to exfoliate your lips is a little Vaseline and a toothbrush.

Exfoliation Tip for Your Elbows

Kilgore also has a great tip for exfoliating your elbows. The secret is a pair of socks.

When your elbows get rough, cut the toes off a clean pair of thick socks, rub shortening (yes, the baking ingredient) on your elbows and slip the socks over your arms. Either sleep like that for eight hours or spend the day inside doing, well, nothing. The shortening works wonders on tough spots. In fact, Allure reports that this method is used in hospitals to treat eczema.

Don't Forget Your Feet

It only takes two minutes during every shower to keep feet in great shape for summer. Daily care will keep feet soft and supple and you won't have to go all out when you get a professional pedicure (scraping off dead skin with a razor can be dangerous). This is also a great way to prevent dry, cracked heels, which many people forget to take care of until it's too late.

At the end of every shower, exfoliate the bottoms of your feet with a pumice stone for about a minute on each foot. Make sure to scrub around the toes and the entire heel.

Pumice stones are very easy to find. In drug stores, you can often spot them in the same aisle as nail polish and clippers.

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