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How do I Choose the Best Skin Exfoliator?

By Constance Simmons
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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Choosing the best skin exfoliator can mean the difference between bright and youthful-looking skin and dull, lifeless skin. There is an enormous variety of products to choose from when shopping for exfoliating products, and this can make finding the right one difficult. Consumers who are armed with the knowledge of their skin type, and the best ingredients to look for, often choose the best skin exfoliator to meet their needs.

Determining individual skin type is the first step in choosing the right skin exfoliator. Skin types are generally divided into three groups — dry, oily, and combination — and each type has different needs. For example, if a person with oily skin uses a product that stimulates the sebaceous glands, the skin will produce even more oil. Others may make dry skin worse. Individuals with sensitive skin must also be careful because exfoliating products are designed to remove a top layer of skin, which can harm especially tender skin.

The right skin exfoliator will have ingredients that help remove dead skin cells and provide the skin with essential nutrients. Some products are considered mechanical. These use ingredients like sugar, salt, or apricot kernels — along with an individual’s hands — to manually remove dead skin. There also mechanical exfoliates, like loofahs, that, with a cleanser, can gently scrub the surface layer of dead skin away.

The next category of exfoliates are chemical in nature. Products of this sort include ingredients like alpha hydroxyl acid (AHA), retinoic acid, and salicylic acid. These ingredients remove dead skin cells by chemical reaction, after they are applied to the skin. The highest concentration of these acids that is available over the counter is 10%, but dermatologists are able to do chemical peels with concentrations as high as 70%. Using AHAs and other acids as chemical exfoliators can improve the look and feel of skin, and can also remove some fine lines and wrinkles.

Skin exfoliators are usually sold in discount or drug stores, and also by department store cosmetic counters. Regardless of an individual's budget, there are, generally, options for everyone. When shopping, a buyer should look at the ingredients listed. He or she should pay close attention to chemical products, to be sure that those listed are included as active ingredients.

Buyers should also seek products with natural ingredients, like antioxidants vitamins C and E, which may help improve the overall appearance of skin. Antioxidants aid the skin by reducing damage from the sun and other environmental factors called free radicals. Choosing an exfoliator with antioxidants gives the new layer of skin that is uncovered additional protection and protects it in the future.

Once the right skin exfoliator is chosen, proper use is a must. By nature, skin exfoliates are abrasive, so users must follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to avoid skin damage or injury. Exfoliation should only be done about two times per week. Also, when using mechanical exfoliates, only gentle scrubbing is recommended to avoid harming the skin.

Individuals with sensitive skin should use caution when choosing a skin exfoliate. Some products may be too harsh for such people. It is best to test a product on a small area of skin, to see what happens, before using a product on the entire body or face.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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