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The dos and don'ts of exfoliation

April 11th 2018 / Anna Hunter / 2 comments


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Scrub, brush, sponge or acid tone? Effective exfoliation can be a minefield, so we asked an expert to clear a few things up...

You’re aiming for glowing, but what you get is aggravated. Exfoliation is a sensitive business: when done well, it reveals smooth, radiant and younger looking skin, but it goes awry, it can trigger both short and long term damage, not to mention angry looking skin. Dr Maryam Zamani, Oculoplastic Surgeon, Ophthalmologist and Aesthetic Doctor, advises on how to strike the balance between a clean sweep and exfoliation overkill…

“There is no real consensus between doctors as to how often to exfoliate as it depends on your skin and the climate in which you live. I recommend exfoliating once or twice a week, paying close attention to how your skin behaves. If you feel that your skin has become more sensitive, or is red, flaky, tender or breaking out with increased exfoliation, then I would cut back.

"Similarly, in colder climates or winter months you may notice that you need less exfoliation than in warmer, more humid months. Both over- and under-exfoliation can be evident on the skin: under-exfoliation may prevent topical ingredients from absorbing and may leave the skin looking dull and lacklustre. Too much exfoliation can strip the skin of natural oils, leaving skin looking and feeling irritated and sensitive.”

“There are many different ways to exfoliate the skin. Mechanical exfoliation uses friction to remove dead skin, by way of brushes such as the Clarisonic which can be used daily when used correctly. Harder bristled brushes should be kept at twice per week as a maximum. Konjac sponges can be used daily, as can wash cloths.”

Acids are a great way to chemically exfoliate, as opposed to exfoliating mechanically. I prefer gentle glycolic acid cleansers. The concentrations of acids within the product should dictate how frequently they can and should be used, for example, a higher concentration should be used less frequently than a product with a low concentration. Be cautious and ‘listen’ to your skin.”

MORE GLOSS: PHA the most gentle chemical exfoliant of all

“There is no definitive right way to exfoliate but I would say that you need to be gentle on the skin. There is no reason to exert pressure or scrub the face. Oilier skins may require more frequent exfoliation, and warmer months may warrant increased frequency. Most importantly, if you are worried or seeing changes in the skin barrier, seek medical advice.”

The ‘dos’ of exfoliation

1. Start off by exfoliating once or twice a week, preferably at night.

2. Be gentle and understand your skin type: for dry skin, be gentle, and in the case of oily skin do not be too aggressive, but do exfoliate more frequently.

3. Keep it simple: simple routines work best.

5. Always wear sunscreen in general, but especially after exfoliating.

6. Discontinue use of any products that increase skin irritation.

MORE GLOSS: are skin peels right for you?

The ‘don’ts’ of exfoliation:

1. Don’t over exfoliate, and most certainly do not exfoliate every day.

2. Do not apply too much pressure when you’re exfoliating using a mechanical method.

3. Do not exfoliate irritated skin- you can do more harm than good! Also bear in mind that waxing is a form of exfoliation.

4. Do not exfoliate skin that has been treated recently with lasers and do not go sunbathing post-exfoliation.

Dr Maryam has formulated her very own exfoliating cleanser, which doubles as a mask and draws on clinical technology to leave skin hydrated, healthy and refined: Cleanse & Clarify Dual Action AHA Cleanser & Mask, £56.

Follow Dr Maryam on Twitter @DrMaryamZamani


Join the conversation

  • Anna
  • November 8th 2016

Glad you found it helpful Olivia- hope that the advice works for you!

  • Olivia
  • November 8th 2016

I really needed this! I rarely exfoliate as I am scared that it might scrape of my healthy skin thanks to Solvaderm. if I had known this before I could have been able to care for my skin even more. Thanks for this comprehensive guide :)

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