Skincare 101: Everything you need to know about Exfoliation.

5:00:00 PM Mei B 6 Comments

Welcome back to my blog ♥

This is the fifth part of my Skincare 101 series where I'm planning to cover all these following sections, to help you understand better the whats, hows and whys of skincare even if you are beginner.

- What is your skin type? 
- Basic Korean skincare routine
10 not so common ingredients widely used in K-beauty
- Double cleansing: why should we double cleanse?
- Exfoliation: Chemical vs Physical ← We are here
- Wash-off masks: Types and purposes
- Toners: Types, and how are they different from western toners?
- Acids
- First essences: What are they exactly?
- Serums, Ampoules: What is the difference?
- Moisturisers: Lotion, Emulsion, Gel and Cream: What's the difference?
- Eye creams: Why should you use and eye cream?
- Sheet masks: Tips and Tricks
- Pores: how to deal with them?
- Acne: Products that helped me and my siblings to get rid of my acne.

Now that you can identify your skin type, are familiar with the different steps of korean skincare routine and know the importance of double cleansing, let's move to the next topic: Exfoliating.

Exfoliating is another important step in our skincare routine that many people ignore, or just do it because they were told they should and sometimes even end up overdoing it and harming their skin, thus the reason I decided to detail it and share with you guys everything you should know about it

Should I exfoliate? Why?

Just like our hair, our skin keeps growing in layers: New skin cells are generated everyday on the bottom of the outermost layer of our skin (epidermis), to replace older cells that keep changing shape (from "chubby" square cells to flattened ones) and moving toward the very top before they flake off and shed.

As we get older, our skin loses its capacity to shed away the outer dead skin, and thus dead skin cells start accumulating on top of our skin trapping with them lots of oils, keratin, melanin and impurities which makes your skin look dull, dark and dry. So for your skin to go back to its glowy and radiant glory, you have to exfoliate to get rid of all these build-ups, clean up your pores to make them look much smaller and cleaner, reveal new fresh and healthy skin, enhance your skin's ability to absorb all the goodies you're gonna apply later on, and promote skin turnover.

How many types of exfoliants are there?
Currently, there are two main types of exfoliating agents in the market: Physical and Chemical.
They practically do the same thing but in a different way. Here are some of their main characteristics so that you'll know which one is best for you.

Physical Exfoliation:

Anything used to manually scrub your skin clear of dead skin and debris is a physical exfoliant, be it scrubs (products with tiny grains and bits in it), brushes, sponges or washcloths.

After scrubbing your skin, you can instantly notice how smooth your skin feels and how radiant it looks. Physical exfoliation also stimulates blood circulation in your face which gives you that rosy glow that you shouldn't confound with irritation.

Can be easily overdone. You should massage your skin gently since the scrubby granules (black sugar is the most commonly used in k-scrubs, but can also be water soluble beads or seeds) are enough to get the job done, and if you rub them on your skin roughly you can end up irritating your skin and sloughing off not only the dead cells but also expose the raw skin tissue to bacteria.
Moreover, not all physical exfoliants exfoliate equally, as some of them can be quite harsh for your skin, like brushes with stiff bristles or scrubs made out of nutshells or fruit bids, as the latter are too sharp and can create some micro-tears, which are little tears in the skin that look like the scratches made by sandpaper on the wood.
Keep in mind that you SHOULDN'T use scrubs when you are having an active breakout!!

Besides scrubs, are there other forms of physical exfoliants?
As far as I know, there are two other forms that are practiced by professionals: Microdermabrasion which is practically scrubbing the face by using a minimally abrasive instrument to gently sand your skin, removing the thicker, uneven outer layer, and is especially ideal for people with discoloration, wrinkles, stretch marks and light scarring.
There is also Dermaplaning, which sounds both fun and scary since they use scalpels to scrape off the topmost layer of the skin consisting of dulling skin cells, to reveal a fresher layer and make the skin look smoother and brighter. But remember, you can't do it by yourself! you need to get it done by some experimented specialist.

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliants remove dead skin cells with the use of chemicals, most commonly low percentage of gentle acids, to help with the skin cell turnover, which is a fancy way to say that they get rid of all of these dead skin cells to make way for new cells (shine) to take/turn over, and reveal not only smoother but brighter skin as well as stimulate collagen production, reduce wrinkles and and firm the skin. Chemical exfoliants come in the form of peels, cleansers, toners, serums, and even moisturizers.

What types of acids are used?

There are two types that are commonly used, and that are available in varying percentages so you can work your way up depending on what your skin needs.

AHAs or Alpha Hydroxy Acids:
Are derived from natural substances and work on the surface of the skin, which means they work best for people with superficial skin concerns such as sun damage, hyperpigmentation and uneven skin texture. They are also ideal for people with dry skin since they dissolve the "glue" that prevents their dead skin cells from flaking off and gives them that uneven and bumpy skin texture as well as their dry patches (what I hate the most), but unfortunately, that's where their job ends since they are water soluble and can't penetrate any further into pores. So if you think AHAs are what you need, look for ingredients like: Lactic acid or Glycolic Acid.

BHA or Beta Hydroxy Acids
Unlike AHAs, these are oil-soluble molecules that are able to penetrate deeply into he skin and pores and thus can target deeper problems. It also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which makes them perfect for people with acne prone skin who are battling with blackheads and acne. So if that's what you are looking for, then Salicylic acid is your friend.

Can I use both at the same time?
Of course! Each of them target a different area so coupling them would take care of both superficial and deeper problems.

Anything else I should know about these Acids?

- As mentioned before, AHAs and BHAs come in a variety of concentrations that you should work your way up instead of using a high percentage product that might be too harsh for your skin. AHAs are usually really effective at about 10% while BHAs and effective at only 1-2%. You can go a little higher later on but make sure to observe how your skin reacts to it and you aren't being too harsh on it.
- AHAs and BHAs should be applied right after cleansing (with a low pH cleanser, or use a clarifying toner that balances the skin's pH without adding much to the skin), and leave it on for about 20 to 30 minutes to absorb and do their job. They will dissolve the dead skin and all the other debris to clear the way for other products to be fully absorbed, which improves their effectiveness.
- Since they expose new skin cells to the world, this fresh skin is more sensitive to the sun than usually which means it is imperative to use sunscreen.
- When you first start using these acids, they might cause purging which is characterized by tiny whitehead in the usual trouble spot, it's as if they're kicking all the dirt out. However, this shouldn't be confused with breakouts due to the products that is characterised by inflamed acne in unusual spots.
- Usually, you can see results after using AHA and BHA products within a month. So if you don't this means that product isn't for you.
- Also, when you aren't noticing any effects, this doesn't essentially mean that it's because of the active ingredient in there but maybe the whole formulation isn't for you and you need to try a new one.
- Reacting positively to a product doesn't last forever. Chemical exfoliants tend to result great and sometimes spectacular improvement in the beginning, but after a while this improvement will slow down in pace. I know life is unfair. But this doesn't mean that you should stop exfoliating because this way you old skin will show back again. All you have to do is change the formulation or give your skin a break for about a week or two and go back to using you BHA/AHA product again.
- Unlike physical exfoliants, you can't really over scrub your skin, which makes them perfect for sensitive skins, but this doesn't mean that your skin can't be irritated by using them. Exfoliants shouldn't be coupled with other harsh treatments like retinols, otherwise you'll end up with a flaky, blotchy and irritated skin, so make sure you read your products' ingredient list before adding any additional product to your skincare routine. Furthermore, chemical exfoliation makes the skin photosensible (especially when coupled with ingredients like citrus essential oils and ginger) since it exposes new skin cells to the sun, so make sure to apply a sunscreen before taking one step outside!

What about peeling pads?
This is a combination of them both. The pads themselves have often an embossed side to act as a manual exfoliant, while the product they are soaked in acts as a chemical exfoliant. Keep in mind that they contain a low concentration of the active ingredient (around 0.5%) most of the time, which means that they aren't as effective as essences and serums with a higher concentration, but on the bright side, you can use it daily as a toner.

How often should I exfoliate?

Generally, we should exfoliate twice a week, but there are some factors that we should take into consideration like skin type: twice a week might be too much for people with sensitive and delicate skin, while it might not be enough for those with an oily skin since the oil might trap the dead skin cells and prevent them from shedding. Or what other products you are using: if you are applying toner with a cotton pad, using actives (AHA/BHA) or cleansing your face with a brush, then you are already mildly exfoliating your face daily and you wouldn't need to use a scrub/peel as often. But in the end, we are all different with different bodies and needs, that's why I think we should do what we feel like our skin really needs, be it daily or once a month, it's all about what suits us best.

How would I know if I'm over-exfoliating?

Our skin is not a wooden board that needs sanding, that why we should always exfoliate gently, and moderately. But sometimes, we might overdo it without realising it, and end up pulling cells away that aren't ready yet to be shed and harming our skin instead of taking care of it.
There are many signs that occur on your skin when you overuse your exfoliant, and among others, the followings are the most common:

- Excessive dryness
- Irritation
- Redness
- Sensitivity
- Inflammation
- Stinging or burning sensation
- More breakouts

So if you experience any of the aforementioned signs, stop using your exfoliant and give your skin a break for a while for it to recuperate, and focus on mild and calming products instead.

Any recommendation?
As promised, I'll add some recommendations at the end of every section of this Skincare 101 series. So here we go:

Personally, I mainly use ones with black sugar with them which explains my recommendations:

Skinfood Black Sugar Wash-off Mask:
This one is a cult favorite, and there is a reason why it is. I love how it exfoliates the skin and keeps it smooth and supple without being extra harsh, and for a very affordable price. You can read my full review here if interested.
Get yours at Amazon for $8.75

Klairs Gentle Black Sugar Facial Polish:
This scrub has been my favorite for a long time since it has better effects than the skinfood one, but although it claims to be gentle and suitable for people with sensitive skin, I wouldn't recommend for those of you with sensitive skin it since imo it's harsher than the skinfood one. You can read the full review here as well as a full comparison between this one and the skinfood one here.
Get yours at:
- Amazon
- StyleKorean
- Wishtrend

Skinfood Black Sugar Strawberry Wash-off Mask:
This is the milder version of the above mentioned Skinfood scrub, but still makes your skin feel instantly soft and glowing. Bonus: It also smells super good (unlike the original skinfood black sugar scrub that has a strong lemon detergent scent)
Get yours at:
- Amazon
- StyleKorean

Innisfree Real Quinoa Mask:
One of the recently launched scrubs/wash off masks. The first time I used it I was really put off by how awful it smells (apparently that's how quinoa smells..), but I still decided to give it a second chance and now I'm loving it. The quinoa skins exfoliate the skin gently yet effectively, while the product itself nourishes the skin. It didn't only give me an instant glow and softness (like most facial scrubs) but I noticed that my skin became brighter and healthier after using it regularly. You can find my full review here by the way.
Get yours at:
- Amazon
- StyleKorean

Konjac Sponges:
Konjac sponges are super soft and gentle you can even use it daily with your favourite foam cleanser to softly exfoliate your skin, but don't forget to keep them really clean and replace it regularly to prevent getting unwanted bacteria on your face.
You can use whatever konjac sponges you can find (just make sure that these are real konjac sponges) since they are practically the same.

Peeling Pads:

For the last two years, peeling pads became a trend so of course I made sure to try some of them and see for myself what are the ones that are actually worth the hype. Here are some recommendations:

COSRX One Step Pimple Clear Pad:
One of last years best sellers and I can absolutely understand why. The pads aren't really rough and the BHA concentration isn't high either, but together they do a decent job exfoliating your skin and clearing it after regular usage. You can read my full review here.
Recommended for: All skin types, especially Acne Prone Skin.
Get yours at:
- Amazon
- StyleKorean
- Wishtrend

Missha Super Aqua Smooth Skin Peeling Pad:
I first heard about these pads from Edward Avila and then decided to give them a try. IMO, they work as well as the COSRX ones, but I can't help but like the COSRX ones more. But I still decided to include them since many people who didn't really like the COSRX ones seem to like this one. Remember, What might work for you might not work for others ;)
Recommended for: All skin types
Get yours at:
- Amazon

COSRX One Step Moisture Up Pads:
Another decent daily exfoliant that comes with an extra bonus: Heaps of moisture. I personally am obsessed with these pads since they do a good job improving my skin texture and getting rid of all of those flaky skins I have while giving my dehydrated skin the moisture it needs. I didn't know how much I needed these pads until I tried them.
Recommended for: Dry/Dehydrated to normal skin
Get yours at:
- Amazon
- StyleKorean
- Wishtrend

Peeling Gels

Missha Aqua D-tox Peeling Gel:
This is one of the first peeling gels I've ever used. It's on the cheap side yet give decent results. If you are on a budget and need a chemical exfoliant, this might be the right one for you.
Get yours at:
- Amazon

Dr. G Brightening Peeling gel:
This peeling gel's ingredients are quite interesting. it is rich with both peeling and hydrating agents which makes is really effective yet gentle on the skin.
Get yours at:
- Amazon

Missha Super Aqua Oxygen Micro Essence Peeling:
And in case you need to add some fun to your skincare routine, you would probably love this one. While bubbling up, it does a really decent job getting rid of all of these dead skin cells while stimulating the blood circulation at the same time. It doesn't leave any residue nor strip the skin from its moisture.
Get yours at:
- Amazon

That's it for today. Hope it was helpful and don't forget to like, share with your friends and family and comment down below to let me know if there is anything you want me to include, or any questions in general.

Have a lovely day ♥

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  1. Now I understand much much better. Thank you :)

  2. What about the Neogen gause Peels?

    1. I didin't really like them, they feel like sheet masks instead of actual peeling pads. But then again so many other people liked them so you might like them as well

  3. I can't wait for the next post! This blog has changed my life. I knew absolutely nothing about skincare before I started this series (literally, I had to look up what the T-Zone was), and this has helped me to understand so so so much! Thank you thank you thank you!!

    1. I'm glad it was helpful. It means a lot ^^