I Didn’t Think I Was Exfoliating My Face Correctly—Turns Out I Was Right

For the most part, my skincare routine was working for me. I knew which products really helped my skin and which ones didn’t. Aside from the bouts of annoying dry patches thanks to eczema, I didn’t really have many complaints. I also wasn’t one to question what I thought was a good thing.

All of that stopped when I started writing about beauty a few months ago. You see, I’m the managing editor of Who What Wear’s sister site, THE/THIRTY, so my whole realm is about what foods to eat, what workouts to try, what activewear to buy… You get the idea. I let Who What Wear’s beauty editors, Erin Jahns and Courtney Higgs, answer all of my questions about makeup, skincare, and hair. But now that I’ve recently been moonlighting as a beauty writer, I’ve been questioning everything. Prime example? See all I learned about sunscreen here.

So as I’ve been discovering, researching, and learning all there is to know about the beauty world, of course, I’ve been taking a good hard look at my skincare routine. Sure, it was working, but was I doing everything correctly? It was part curiosity and part my type A personality.

One skincare step I really had doubts about was how I exfoliated. Sure, I knew it was important, but I wasn’t very good at remembering to exfoliate. I was a facial-scrub kind of girl, and there were days I’d forget that step. Then, of course, there would be weeks when I’d be on top of it. The lack of a set routine left me with dull, flaky skin on the days I’d forget.

So it wasn’t a surprise when I realized I was making an exfoliating mistake after interviewing several dermatologists. What was I guilty of? Totally ignoring the many effective and easy-to-use chemical exfoliants out there. By relying on just my scrubs (and forgetting to use them regularly), I was exfoliating less and my skin wasn’t living up to its true potential (dramatic, but probably true). For reference, “chemical” exfoliants usually contain acids like alpha hydroxy (glycolic and lactic), beta hydroxy (salicylic), and polyhydroxy. “Mechanical” or “physical” exfoliants are scrubs, sugars, loofahs, or brushes.

“Any scrubs with large particles like apricot pits should be avoided, as they can cause micro-tears in the skin—at any age,” says Jacob. “Anything that is too drying or used too frequently should also be avoided.”

This one from Dermalogica is a rice-based powder that gently micro-exfoliates.

Not only does this scrub get rid of flaky skin, but it also promotes cell renewal and epidermal regeneration thanks to ingredients like vitamin A and purslane. It also contains horse chestnut to stimulate microcirculation.

Designed for people with dry, normal, combination, and oily skin, this product is a cleanser, scrub, peel, and mask in one. Ingredients include natural AHAs, silica, lactic acid, and fruit enzymes. It’s recommended to use this once or twice a week.

This scrub both has chemical and mechanical exfoliants to buff away dead skin, promote cell turnover, and leave skin looking flawless. It’s got a light water-gel texture, so it will feel so soothing on skin. Next up, dermatologists rank the four worst exfoliating mistakes.

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