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Exfoliants-Which to Choose

Updated on September 27, 2007

There are essentially two ways to exfoliate--chemically or mechanically. Mechanical exfoliators are things like scrubs (salts, sugars, jojoba beads, etc), loofa's, micro dermabrasion and the like. Chemical exfoliators include AHA's (alpha hydroxy acids), and BHA's (beta hydroxy acids).

Our skin is continually producing new cells. They are formed in the deepest layer of the skin and continually migrate to the surface, pushed, as new cells are produced. When we are young, our body is very efficient at ridding itself of the dead skin cells. As a result our skin looks youthful, clear, soft, and fresh.

With age, environment, and certain beauty products and practices our skin loses the ability to effectively shed the dead cells. This can at the very least leave our skin looking dull. More seriously, it can cause clogged or enlarged pores, blemishes, or enhanced wrinkles (one thing we definitely don't need enhanced).

What then of these two methods is the best exfoliator? Well, both have their place, but I believe that chemical exfoliation generally is the way to go.

With any of the scrubs you run into the danger of being a bit "exuberant" with your technique. I am as guilty as any on this. I can tell you in my younger days there was many a time that I went out with what looked like rug burns on my nose and cheeks. I had taken my synthetic loofa pad and really "gone to town". Clean and exfoliated....yes I was....also in pain. It seemed to take me a long time to learn also. I don't really have to tell you this is bad, right?

Mechanical exfoliation can only really get the surface cells, unless you go with the rug burn technique as I did, and believe me this does you no good. If you do get too aggressive you will start a cycle of tearing, inflammation, and irritation of the skin. This is more aging than anti aging. Plus it could set up an acne scenario. If you do use mechanical exfoliation....use a light hand. If it hurts or is uncomfortable, it is too hard, or it is the wrong scrub.

Chemical exfoliation is really wonderful because it does a thorough job of exfoliation, but once the job is done, it will not harm your healthy living tissue. Their purpose is to simply unglue the dead skin cells, allowing them to slough off. Then the new youthful cells come shining through!

AHA's and BHA's have additional benefits that range from being a humectant (in AHA), to clearing clogged pores (in BHA). Do some additional research and find out more.

With any exfoliant, the benefits will end when you stop using them. When you stop using, as an example, an alpha hydroxy acid, the buildup of dead skin cells will begin again. Until, before you know it, your complexion seems dull once again.

Another very crucial note on any of the Hydroxy Acids, you must use sun protection once you begin using them. You will be opening yourself up to sun damage and severe sunburn. This is imperative. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. You are removing a veil of dead skin , leaving fresh vulnerable skin. Skin that is open to damage, and sun damage is our worst enemy. So no going out without sunscreen and I recommend a high SPF (with UVA and UVB protection). Not to mention I use mineral make up for its sunblocking benefits also.

Now, go exfoliate......

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