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Exfoliating 101

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

Tis the season for exfoliating! Less time outdoors means less sun exposure, making winter the perfect time for a more aggressive exfoliating routine. You might be wondering: why should I get excited about exfoliating?

Our skin naturally sheds dead skin cells but this process slows down as we age, resulting in a buildup of dead skin cells. This buildup impacts the appearance of our skin, including dryness, dullness, clogged + enlarged pores, breakouts, textural issues, and an exaggerated appearance of wrinkles and other signs of aging. Adding exfoliation into your skincare routine will help speed up cellular turnover (AKA shed those dead skin cells). There are three ways to exfoliate: chemicals, enzymes or physical exfoliants.

Chemical Exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants mimic skin’s natural exfoliation process by ungluing the bonds between trapped dead skin cells, allowing them to easily fall off. Chemical exfoliants work more effectively than scrubs and offer additional benefits, including…

  • Clarifying dull, uneven skin tone

  • Increasing hydration

  • Minimizing appearance of fine lines + wrinkles

  • Smoothing uneven skin texture

  • Unclogging pores and reducing breakouts

There are two main types of chemical exfoliants used in skin care: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Both can be derived from natural sources, but commercial products typically use synthetically derived acids.


Enzymes work similarly to chemical exfoliants, breaking down the proteins that bind dead skin cells together and removing the topmost layer of dead cells. They are stable over a wide pH range and don’t need to be formulated as acidic as chemical exfoliants, making them a gentler option. Enzymes are relatively new to the industry, in part because not a lot of research has been done on using them in skin care. We do know that fruit enzymes dissolve dead skin cells, improving skin tone + texture, while providing the additional benefits of being anti-inflammatory and soothing - making them a great option for sensitive skin!

Types of Enzymes

  • Bromelain (from pineapple)

  • Papain (from papaya, don’t use if you have a latex allergy)

  • Pumpkin enzyme

Physical exfoliants

Physical exfoliants (think scrubs, wash cloths, cleansing brushes) are able to refine the surface layer of the skin, exfoliating the topmost layer of dead skin cells. Though they do provide smoother and softer skin, they aren’t able to remove built-up layers of dead skin cells or provide additional benefits other than surface-level exfoliation.

Physical exfoliants can be rough or abrasive, running the risk of creating micro-tears in the skin, which can lead to inflammation and irritation while gradually weakening the skin’s protective barrier. Always test your physical exfoliant on the back of your hand and don’t use it if it feels even a tiny bit scratchy.

How to exfoliate

No matter which type of exfoliant you choose, you'll want to follow these basic guidelines

  • Apply SPF as the last step in your skincare routine every single morning. This is a non-negotiable!

  • Don't scrub too hard or over-exfoliate, & avoid eye/lip areas

  • Exfoliate 2-3x/week max. Some products say to use daily. Unless working with a skincare specialist, don't!

  • Follow with a moisturizer - exfoliating can be drying!

  • Use the correct product for your skin type/concerns

Well friends, that about sums up exfoliating. If you need help finding the right product for your skin, you know where to find me.



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