There’s a product that every beauty editor has in their bathroom. A product which any facialist worth her hot cloths will tell you is essential for the best looking skin. And that is exfoliant. It comes in many forms which is why it has a reputation for being a bit scary and confusing, so here’s what you need to know.
An exfoliant is a product that removes surface dead skin cells and so buffs up the complexion making it smoother and therefore more radiant (because smooth skin reflects light better). Why the need to exfoliate you may ask? As soon as we get into our twenties our body’s ability to “turn over” the skin slows down, and come mid thirties as one dermatologist put it: “It needs a shove”. Exfoliating unclogs congested pores and blurs the look of fine lines so it treats spot prone skin and ageing concerns in one. And if you’re investing in an active-laden serums or moisturisers, you’ll find that they sink in more deeply after you have exfoliated, plus you’ll need to use less each time. Definitely a good thing.
Exfoliators comes in many guises. They fall into three main camps: manual exfoliants such as ground apricot stone or sugars crystals, which are physically abrasive. You work them over your face in small circular motions to remove the dead skin. Teenage experimentation with St Ives springs to mind for many I’m sure. This kind of exfoliant can irritate rosacea and fragile skin if it is a more coarse variety so go easy if you are unsure.
The next option are chemical exfoliants, which contain Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids such as Glycolic Acid or Salicylic Acid which dissolve dead skin and the bonds that glue the cells together. This sounds scary but isn’t. Acidic exfoliants vary enormously in strength and the depth they penetrate, and as a result work well on a variety of skin types. The key is to check the product for guidance on suitability for your skin type and start on a low percentage.
Lastly we have enzymatic exfoliants, usually derived from fruit, which “munch” up the unwanted skin cells. Papaya is a favourite, as is pineapple, and as a general rule, these enzymatic exfoliants are the best starting point for sensitive skin or first-time exfoliators.
So now you know what you are dealing with, it is time to get to work. Here is my current exfoliants top five.
This is a water-activated enzyme powder that turns into a creamy liquid, which you rub on your face and rinse. It is gentle so even sensitive skins can use this, nourishing (it also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid) and astonishingly effective.
Use in place of a toner but in exactly the same way. So every day, after cleansing, swiped over the face on a cotton pad. It contains fragrant natural astringents such as lavender and a super-mild dose of chemical exfoliant. It preps skin for make-up brilliantly.
If you have acne, or blackheads that keep populating your nose, this is the friend for you. The liquid salicylic acid (A BHA best for treating spots) squirts on to a cotton pad and you apply to clean skin and leave on. It will work through the day to clear the breakouts and prevent new ones. Hooray.
As the name gives away, this hits you with three exfoliating approaches in one. Fine crystal polishes manually and glycolic and papaya enzyme get to work while you buff. This tingles on application, reveals very glowy cheeks. It’s addictive but use no more than twice a week.
Pre-soaked pots of pads are handy. These will sting initially and use at night so your skin doesn’t react to UV. They contain a triple hit of chemical acids which toil away at congested, dull skin so come morning your pores will have tightened and your skin will look brighter. This is a once-to-twice a week treat.