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Different Types of Exfoliation

Different Types of Exfoliation

No matter your skin type, regular exfoliation is essential to help keep your complexion fresh and healthy. Read on to understand why you need to exfoliate, the different methods of exfoliation and how to make the right choice for your skin type and concerns.

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells and build up from your outer layer of skin - the epidermis.

You can use a chemical or physical exfoliation method (more on those soon) to remove the old cells. This prevents clogged pores and reveals the fresher, healthier skin underneath.

Exfoliation assists your skin’s natural cell turnover process. This process begins in the deepest layer of the epidermis where fresh cells are ‘born’. These young, springy cells travel up through the other layers of the epidermis until they reach the skin’s surface.

Once they reach this point and settle here the cells that were once new and springy are dead, dry, and flaky.

Meanwhile, there’s a new batch of fresh cells making their way up from the deeper layers to the surface to replace the dead, dry cells.

Skin cell turnover is a natural process, but it slows down with age.

As a general guide, this process happens in healthy, young skin every 28 days or so. Once you get older, it begins to take a lot longer anywhere from 40 - 60 days, or even more.

This means those dry, flaky cells aren’t being replaced as quickly. This leads to skin concerns including dullness, uneven skin tone, and breakouts due to clogged pores. 

What are the best exfoliating ingredients?

The best exfoliating ingredients are gentle ingredients that softly exfoliate your skin without disrupting your skin health. While the best exfoliating ingredients will vary depending on skin type, we recommend:

  • Glycolic Acid (AHA)
  • Lactic Acid (AHA)
  • Salicylic Acid (BHA)
  • Fruit Enzymes
  • Bamboo Extract
  • Jojoba Beads

But more on those later!

The many benefits of skin exfoliation

Helps to clear up congested skin by unclogging pores

The longer dry, dead cells remain on the skin’s surface, the risk of them clogging pores and congesting skin increases.

Along with oil and other debris, dead cells easily get trapped inside the pore which creates the ideal environment for bacteria to thrive.

This can result in acne related skin concerns - from mild forms such as blackheads and pimples through to severe forms like acne cysts and nodules.

One of the main solutions for managing congested skin by removing the dead skin cells is regular, gentle exfoliation.

Exfoliation lifts away dead cells and unclogs pores to keep them clear. This minimises the chance of acne forming bacteria developing within the pore and triggering breakouts.

Can minimise the look of fine lines and wrinkles

You can’t eliminate fine lines and wrinkles with exfoliation, but you can help minimise their appearance.

When you exfoliate and remove the top layer of dead skin, skin looks smoother and fine lines become less pronounced.


Helps promote a brighter, more even skin tone

A complexion in need of a good skin exfoliation session appears thick and dull in appearance, thanks to the build up of old cells.

Removing the dead cells can leave skin looking brighter and fresher instantly. Over time, skin tone becomes smoother and the appearance of hyperpigmentation may be minimised.


Allows skincare to penetrate deeper

We’re rounding off the list with one of the lesser known benefits about exfoliation. Did you know it can actually help maximise the benefits of the ingredients in your other skincare products?

Without a layer of dead cells in their way, serums, moisturisers, and masks penetrate more deeply into the skin. If a product is rich with nourishing and active ingredients it makes sense that the better it can be absorbed by your skin the better the results!


How to exfoliate skin – Chemical vs. physical methods

There are two types of exfoliation methods - physical and chemical.

They share the same goals - clearing dead skin cells, helping speed cell turnover, and leaving skin brighter and smoother - but go about it in different ways.

To choose the best exfoliator for your skin type and concerns it’s important to understand how each method works.


Physical exfoliation

Physical exfoliating products are those containing small particles, like coffee, jojoba beads, or sugar granules. They require you to manually rub the product into the skin to allow the particles to do their job and buff away dead skin.

Other examples of physical exfoliation include microdermabrasion treatments and any face mitt or washcloth with a textured surface that buffs away dead skin and debris.

If you choose an exfoliating face wash, for example, avoid harsh ingredients like crushed fruit pits and nutshells - unless they are very finely ground. Larger particles can be super abrasive and cause what is known as a ‘micro’ tear in the skin which damages the skin barrier.


Chemical exfoliation

Other face exfoliators are classified as chemical exfoliants which are broken down into categories including AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) and fruit enzymes.

Don’t let the term “acid” scare you, these ingredients can be extremely beneficial for skin. Instead of relying on a mechanical motion to remove the cells from your face, acids dissolve the "glue" that binds your dead cells, helping them loosen and slough off the skin.

Common types of acids and enzymes include: 

  • Glycolic Acid (AHA)
    Glycolic acid is an exfoliant that naturally occurs in plants including sugar cane and citrus fruits.
  • Lactic Acid (AHA)
    A sensitive skin hero, lactic acid is the gentler, yet effective, exfoliator of the acids group.
  • Salicylic Acid (BHA)
    Salicylic acid is more oil-soluble than AHAs. This means while it exfoliates the surface of the skin, it also gets down deeper and unclogs pores, removing the buildup of sebum and impurities.
  • Fruit Enzymes
    Enzymes found in some fruits and berries break down keratin proteins attached to dead cells to reveal the fresher, brighter skin below.

Which Method Is Right For Your Skin?

Depending on your skin type and concern, you might choose a physical exfoliant, a chemical exfoliant or a combination of both.

Physical exfoliation

As we mentioned earlier, the best physical exfoliants are those with smaller, finer particles that aren’t abrasive to the skin.

Physical exfoliants can also be paired with fruit enzymes in skincare formulations for a gentle but effective way to remove dead skin cells.

Sensitive, dry, and mature skin

Bamboo extract has mild exfoliation properties that can encourage cell turnover to reveal younger, softer skin. Ideal for a weakened or sensitised skin barrier, acne prone, and dry skin.

Jojoba beads and rice powder are also effective yet gentle and soft on skin types needing extra care during exfoliation.

We recommend: Rose And Bamboo facial exfoliant from esmi Gentle Foliant range. The delicate exfoliation action of bamboo extract works in harmony with the power of mixed fruit enzymes for a close up exfoliation suited to dry, damaged or sensitised skin

Normal | combination skin

Icelandic volcanic sand is a mild exfoliator which can gently assist renewing the outer layer of skin to support a fresher looking complexion.

We recommend: Hydrating And Ageless Volcanic Sand facial exfoliant from esmi Gentle Foliant range. This formulation pairs the physical element of volcanic sand with the power of cranberry enzymes to encourage a clearer complexion.


Oily, breakout-prone skin

The ultra-fine consistency of exotic Polynesian sand provides gentle exfoliation to assist in the removal of pore-clogging debris and encourage a clearer complexion for oily skin.

We recommend: Fresh Sea And Salty Sand facial exfoliant from esmi Gentle Foliant range. This exotic Polynesian sand physical exfoliator combined with the additional exfoliating power of papaya enzymes gently but effectively exfoliates away dead skin cells.

How to exfoliate your face when using a physical exfoliant?

Apply a small amount to cleansed, damp skin. Massage the product into your skin in small, light, circular strokes around your face and never apply too much pressure. Doing so can aggravate skin and, depending on the type of exfoliant, may even cause micro-tears.


Chemical exfoliation

Normal and combination skin

Glycolic acid holds the title for having the smallest molecular structure of the AHAs group. This means your skin absorbs it quickly and it works faster than other AHAs.

It also has water-attracting properties and can help treat uneven skin tone, reduce the appearance of pores, combat dullness, fine lines and acne scars.

Sensitive, dry, and mature skin

Lactic Acid (AHA) is a great all rounder but is a gentler choice of exfoliator for sensitive skin and mature skin. Lactic acid is detoxifying and more moisturising than glycolic acid while still sloughing off dead skin cells to reveal a radiant, smoother complexion.

Oily, breakout-prone skin

Salicylic acid (BHA) has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. This makes it an effective choice if you're prone to acne and breakouts.

We recommend: Detoxifying Exfoliating Charcoal Serum

This exfoliating charcoal serum will gently detox and purify for a clearer, smoother complexion.

How often should you exfoliate?

It’s important to listen to your skin to get a sense of how often you should exfoliate but we can help you out with some general guidelines.

Normal skin types and oily can usually handle 1- 3 times a week with a gentle exfoliant. If you’re using a stronger exfoliant, cut back to once a week.

If you have sensitive skin or dry skin, stick with a gentle exfoliation session once a week.

The danger of over-exfoliation

Always keep an eye on how your skin is reacting to exfoliation. It’s easy to go too far and over-exfoliation can cause skin issues.

If your face is breaking out with red, flaky, and dry patches or becoming ‘waxy’ looking either the exfoliation product you’re using is too strong for your skin type or you’re using it too often.

Over exfoliation compromises the skin barrier. It strips the skin of its natural oils and when this happens the result can be dehydration, broken capillaries, and fresh acne breakouts.

Skin might also become more sensitive to the other skincare products that previously didn’t cause an issue.

Start your skin exfoliation routine with esmi Skin Minerals

Ready to refresh your skin with gentle exfoliation using mineral-based, cruelty-free exfoliation ingredients? Explore the esmi Mineral Gentle-Foliants range of skin exfoliation skincare.

If you have any questions about the best exfoliant for your skin type and concerns, our team of skincare experts are here to help! Book your free consultation.

Learn more about skincare:

Physical skin exfoliation vs chemical skin exfoliation methods