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Exfoliators Explained

Exfoliation 101: What You Need to Know

Earlier this month, facialist Marc Edward told us that scrubs actually make your skin worse. Exfoliation, though, is important for keeping your skin clear, your pores small, and your cell turnover high. So what's a woman to do? There are actually tons of different ways to slough skin gently and effectively, and different varieties work for different ages and skin types. To get the lowdown on what different exfoliants do and to find out which one is the best match for your needs, just keep reading.

Enzymatic exfoliants are some of the oldest around. People have been using them for thousands of years by applying pineapple, algae, pumpkin, and papaya to their skin. Enzymatic exfoliators are a good option because they're gentle, you can make them at home, and they work on any skin type. If you've got sensitive skin or want exfoliation you can use a few times a week, this is probably what you're looking for. If you want stronger exfoliation or are looking for help with scarring or aging, enzymes might not give you the results you want.

Acids are another option. When people talk about getting a peel, they're almost always talking about an acid exfoliation, usually with glycolic or salicylic acid. Acid exfoliation is the industry standby, and no one questions its effectiveness. Salicylic acid is the classic acne exfoliator, whether you're using Oxy pads at home or going to an esthetician for a treatment, while glycolic is the acid typically used to fight aging, skin discoloration, and sun damage. Acid exfoliants are stronger, can irritate sensitive skin, and can make you more prone to sunburn. But used twice a week (once if you have dry skin), most skin types will see good results.

The newest entrant into the exfoliation family, microdermabrasion, is a powerful exfoliator that uses tiny aluminum or zinc crystals to blast off layers of dead skin. It has many of the same benefits as chemical exfoliants, but is more effective than home acid treatments and can be used on people who've had negative reactions to chemical peels. Microdermabrasion can leave the skin sensitive for several days after, and it takes several rounds of treatments (typically six) to see the full results. It's most successful at reducing raised scars, but is also used in treating acne. It's a good option for those with known sensitivity to acids or who have an upcoming event (wedding, birthday, reunion) and want fresher-looking skin without downtime. If you have pitted or recessed acne scars, microdermabrasion won't help you as much as a traditional peel, and those with thin, sensitive skin should also give this one a pass.

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