What is exfoliation and what are its benefits?
Exfoliation is a process in which the top, dead layers of skin are removed, this process happens naturally but factors like age, oily skin, acne can slow this process down and so exfoliators can help.
Exfoliating can have great benefits for the skin, not only does exfoliating instantly leave the skin looking fresher and healthier but removing the dead skin allows your skincare products to work even better, rather than applying your serums and moisturisers to a layer of dead skin, you are applying to fresher skin which allows the product to penetrate the skin more effectively.
What are the different types of exfoliants available on the market today?
You can use a physical scrub which is usually a cream or gel with little particles in it or you can use a Dermaflannel, face flannel or muslin cloth to exfoliate, the other option is a chemical exfoliator and this is the preferred method of most people, even though acids may sound extremely harsh, they may actually be less irritation for some people.
I personally have very delicate skin, so delicate I could never use a cotton face flannel more than a couple of times a week while cleansing, no matter how gentle I use it. Acids however I can use regularly.
How often should I exfoliate for the best results?
The amount you exfoliate depends on your skin type, as a general rule, oiler or older skin needs to be exfoliated more often as cell turnover (which basically means the old skin falling off to reveal the new skin underneath) is slower.
Everyone's skin is different and you will probably know what works for your skin best but as a rough guideline
Oily skin - 3-4 times a week
Dry skin 2-3 times a week
Neutral skin 2-3 times a week
Sensitive skin - Start once a week and increase with time to no more than 2-3 times a week
As mentioned this is a guide, there are different things to consider such as age, is your skin more delicate? Winter, is the heating dehydrating your skin causing it to be dryer? If in doubt always start slowly, once a week increasing when you feel comfortable.
What are some tips for using an exfoliant correctly and avoiding any potential problems or side effects?
The main problem I see with exfoliation is over exfoliation, you do not need to use a chemical peel or a physical scrub every day! This includes sonic brushes which are not something I recommend. Products such as cleansers or toners with a low amount of acids which have been designed for daily use are fine, but do not use chemicals peels more than every other day.
Yes I know there are brands that state you can use salicylic acid 2% even twice a day but your skin doesn't need that much treatment, not only is it not going to give you better results, it could ever make your skin worse.
You may have heard of the microbiome, it's quite a popular word being thrown around in advertising right now but it is something important, our skin microbiome is basically an ecosystem of microorganisms that keep our skin balanced, there's good bacteria and bad bacteria but when our skin is balanced with all the microorganisms working as they should then everything is balanced, if we use too many actives on our skin it can unbalance this little harmony and cause our skin to become dehydrated, irritated, sore and that's when you're at risk of infection, breakouts and discolouration. That is of course a very very simplified explanation but it's important to know why we should be careful when using actives.
This is also why you shouldn't use something like hibiscrub on your face, sadly this is something I've seen recommended for people with spots, using hibiscrub or another surgical skin cleaner daily is going to unbalance all the bacteria, stick with a cleanser designed for daily use.
How do I choose the right exfoliant for my skin type and needs?
The acid you choose depends on your skin type. If you don't know anything about Bravura London we mainly focus on chemical exfoliators and were the first British brand (we opened in 2003) to sell single use ingredients such as glycolic acid 10% and salicylic acid 2%. The reason we focus on single use acid rather than mixing a few acids together is that we felt it allowed customers to choose the acids that work for them and allow them to focus these acids in the areas needed. As a basic breakdown
Salicylic Acid BHA 2% - Salicylic acid exfoliant is a fantastic acid and extremely unique, it's a BHA beta hydroxy acid and is oil soluble, that means it can penetrate through oil so it's amazing for oily skin, unlike other exfoliators it works within the pores helping to break down any blockages, helping to reduce the appearance of blackheads, spots and sebaceous filaments, it can also help reduce surface redness often associated with breakouts, if you have any of these issues you definitely want to exfoliate with salicylic acid. With our solution you can either apply all over the skin or you can simply apply where needed, not everyone with breakouts has oily skin so you may prefer to use directly on each spot or if you only suffer with blackheads you can use the acid on that area only.
Everyone needs an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) in their life! But the one you choose depends on your skin
Glycolic Acid 10% AHA - Glycolic acid is the product for most skin types, unlike BHA's like salicylic acid that work in the pore, glycolic acid stays on the surface, this means it helps with the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discolouration, blemishes, breakouts, dulness, dryness, it helps to decrease the sticky, glue like bonds that hold the dead skin to the surface, revealing fresher skin underneath. It's the gold standard when it comes to exfoliating.
Which exfoliator is best for sensitive skin?
Lactic Acid 10% AHA - Lactic acid works in the same way as glycolic acid but a little gentler, don't be mistaken in thinking that it doesn't give results, this acid can still pack a punch. If your skin is dryer or a little sensitive, lactic acid is the best choice for you, lactic acid is a known humectant, this means it helps the skin retain water, this is good for dryer skin. The mistake a lot of people make is they go for glycolic acid thinking stronger is best, if you use something too strong your skin won't be happy, it may look dull and dry which means you're not getting the true benefits of the product, if in doubt of which AHA would be better for you, start with lactic acid.
Dermaflannel - I designed this amazing physical exfoliator while pregnant. My skin is too delicate for scrubs and I wanted something that would work within the pore to help with my breakouts as I don't recommend salicylic acid during pregnancy, I then re-designed the Dermaflannel during my third pregnancy which made it even better! The Dermaflannel gives similar results to both the salicylic acid and glycolic acid combined, it's perfect for teenagers or anyone that doesn't like much fuss when it comes to their skincare routine. Don't let the image of this innocent looking white flannel fool you, this is a powerful product! I use the Dermaflannel on evenings where I'm not in the mood for a long routine, I'll also use it gently before a night out (more like a lunch date these days) as it gives the skin an amazing glow and instantly removes the dead skin giving me a smooth base for make-up.
How do you use more than 1 acid in your routine?
Using a combination of acids can do wonderful things for the skin, here are some examples
Spotty skin with blemishes and discolouration - Salicylic Acid & Glycolic Acid
Dry skin concerned with ageing - Glycolic Acid & Lactic Acid
Sensitive skin with surface redness and breakouts - Salicylic Acid & Lactic Acid
And there are two ways to use them, the first is to alternate no more than every other evening, so you would leave at least a day inbetween each acid and you'd apply all over the skin.
The second is to use each acid on an individual area, for example you have blackheads on your nose and chin and discolouration or blemishes on the cheeks. On the same evening, you'd use the salicylic acid on your nose and chin and the glycolic acid or lactic acid elsewhere. You would still leave at least a day break until you use the acids again.
If you have a few spots you can apply the salicylic acid to each spot and then glycolic acid elsewhere as a general exfoliator.
Will I see my skin physically peel?
No, the acids are increasing the natural exfoliation, your skin is constantly renewing itself (the fancy word for this is desquamation) and we don't even notice, ever wondered what's in dust? Our skin really is an amazing organ.
Are there downsides to exfoliating?
There are certainly things to consider, particularly when using acid exfoliators.
Acids increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun, this is why we recommend using acids in the evening and always using a broad spectrum of at least 30, ideally 50 each day. Do not sunbath or use sunbeds when using acids.
Exfoliating can be a little drying, always ensure you follow with a moisturiser after exfoliating whether you use a physical or manual exfoliator.
Using actives before or after acids could cause irritation, to be safe I recommend alternating between things like acid and tretinoin, so you'd use each one on different evenings. Do not use acids or exfoliators before or after your acid, this may cause over exfoliation and irritation. If you have an active and you think your skin will be fine if you use after the acid, patch test first.
Can you use an LED with a chemical peel like glycolic acid?
Using acids and LED products, this is a tricky one, some manufacturers say it's fine, others are more cautious and recommend not using acids when using LED masks, ask your LED supplier/manufacturer for guidance. I personally do use an LED mask alongside acids but there are no long terms studies to determine if there are adverse effects.
Can I use glycolic acid alongside dermaplanning or a dermarolller?
Dermaplanning and dermarollers with acids, it's too much for the skin. With dermaplanning this is a physical exfoliator, using this alongside acid is a potential recipe for disaster, it may not cause issues straight away but you're at risk of sensitivity and dermatitis, it's not worth it. The same with Dermarollers, you don't want to be dragging something over skin that has just been exfoliated and you don't want to put acids on skin that has essentially been damaged, I'm not at advocate for home dermarollers anyway but if you do use them, leave at least 48 hours between the roller and acid.
Can you use chemical peels on the body?
Yes! I use glycolic acid regularly on my feet to keep the skin soft and smooth, see HERE for a demonstration on instagram. You can also use acids on the chest to help with crepey skin, on back breakouts, on the knees and elbows to help with a build up of dry skin, avoid sensitive areas such as genitals but you can exfoliate all over with acids.
If you like to exfoliate in the shower with a scrub, my favourite way is to mix left over ground coffee beans with our first cleanse oil, it's a quick and easy way to exfoliate the whole body, just make sure you rinse off every last coffee granule, especially if you plan on wearing white!