Everybody says they do it, but do you actually know how to exfoliate? When you start thinking about manual scrubs and chemical exfoliants, it can actually start to get pretty confusing, but there are some insider tricks when it comes to sloughing away dead skin that will lead to a glowier complexion in less time. If you don't exfoliate on the regular, now is the time to start. As we're desperately willing on bare-leg weather and we're ready to shed the winter coat of dull skin, exfoliation is vital in improving the general look and feel of your skin.
Whether a dermatologist, facialist or podiatrist, there are many specialists who know just how important this process is and the benefits it can have for your skin, but before we let you in on their secrets, there is one mistake even we beauty editors make when it comes to exfoliating: not doing it. By that, we mean you have to be consistent, rather than just scrubbing before your friend's wedding, beach holiday or ludicrously sunny British day. Why? If you don't factor exfoliation into your daily routine, you won't see results as quickly as you'd like (or even at all) and you'll also be limiting the efficacy of your skincare regimen—not even hyaluronic acid can penetrate skin if it's lying under a layer of dull, dead cells. Little and often is the key.
How to Exfoliate the Face
For the face, we spoke to Kate Kerr, a leading facialist in London, who told us that people don't exfoliate enough. "Our skin is designed to be exfoliated daily, but with the application of lots of different products, we're squishing dead skin cells down," she said. "This slows our natural shedding process and cell turnover rate, leading to an accumulation of old skin cells."
Kerr says that when we don't exfoliate, the skin isn't able to reflect light properly, thus causing that dreaded dullness. Not only that, but it often means you can get blemishes from clogged pores with the buildup of skin cells.
In order to stimulate the skin cells and slough off the dead ones, Kerr says we should be exfoliating daily. However, if you haven't been doing it regularly, start slow (say, three times a week, the says) and build up every day. The best product for this? Not a scrub but an exfoliating cleanser with salicylic acid. "It has an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effect," Kerr notes. "It will help to keep the skin clear."
Finally, one of the biggest things to point out is that you should use a product with an exfoliating granule that is round, and not irregular, as irregular granules will only scratch the skin and lead to further irritation and inflammation. Kerr recommends a few products, but one of her favourites is ZO Skin Health Offects Exfoliating Cleanser (available from Wigmore Medical).
How to Exfoliate the Body
There are plenty of reasons you might want to exfoliate the skin on your body, but one of the most common is keratosis pilaris—the appearance of white or red bumps on the skin, also known as "chicken skin."
Dry body brushing can really help, but according to Kerr, the only way to tackle this is by "exfoliating with a scrub and a mitt every day for 10 to 20 seconds, not aggressively." In terms of a mitt, Kerr says that any one from a supermarket will do, but as for the scrub, ideally you want something with salicylic acid in it, such as the ZO body scrub. "There could be a bit of skin irritation in the first instance," says Kerr, "but don't let it put you off initially."
Once you've exfoliated in the shower, Kerr says you should wipe some acid-soaked pads—you can use the facial ones—over the top (we like Rodial Super Acids X-treme Pore Shrink Cleansing Pads, £45 as well as First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads, £24) Next, add in a urea-based product, such as Eucerin Intensive Urea Treatment Cream (£13). Once again, Kerr reiterates that you need to be regular with your exfoliating to see results.
Of course, it's not just keratosis pilaris that you might be struggling with. Dry skin on the legs is also common, especially when you haven't taken much care of your legs during the winter (guilty…). We spoke to Lyudmyla Nagirnyak, the spa manager at K West Spa in London, who gave us not only an incredible homemade exfoliator recipe but also some important info on how to care for ingrown hairs.
Nagirnyak says that the same principles for exfoliating your face apply to the body, except you'll want a slightly tougher product for the latter. "There are plenty of good scrubs around, but you can make your own by mixing a fine mineral sea salt with an oil; olive, almond or coconut will do."
Once that's mixed, you should then dampen your skin in the shower and apply the homemade scrub for two to three minutes in circular motions; larger areas will of course take a little longer. She does warn that you'll want to watch out that you don't overdo it, as you don't want to irritate your skin. An important note: "Redness is not a bad sign; it's a sign of improving the circulation," she says. So just listen to your body; if you think it's reacting poorly, stop.
Once you're out of the shower, Nagirnyak stresses the importance of moisturising the skin. Again, she recommends any type of oil, such as coconut oil, but to watch out for skin type, as dry-skinned people can take a much richer moisturiser. For oily-skinned people, she suggests a lighter cream (we love Vichy's Ideal Body Serum Milk, £16). Finally, if you're on holiday, make sure to apply SPF, as the new skin post-exfoliating will be much more prone to sun damage.
Finally, onto the sensitive matter of ingrown hairs, which most women find as small lumps along the bikini line area. Yep, we've all had them at some point in our lives, with mainly thicker- and curly-haired people suffering the most, but on this subject, Nagirnyak is firm: "You shouldn't get them if your therapist knows which way the hair is growing and how to wax properly—if they don't, you can get ingrown hairs."
If you do end up with them, however, what's the best way to get rid? Firstly, ensure you follow a great skincare routine and exfoliate regularly. Although Nagirnyak says you should never exfoliate directly before or straight after waxing your bikini line, you can still get rid of the dead cells in the area using her homemade scrub (as above), and if you follow that, you shouldn't find that buildup of cells around the hair follicle that cause ingrown hairs.
However, Nagirnyak advises that you go straight to a reputable local salon and ask the therapist there to get rid of them if you're finding your ingrown hairs a problem.
How to Exfoliate Feet
When it comes to exfoliating your feet, you need to take a slightly different approach. From cracked heels to callouses, there are plenty of reasons for us to panic when sandal season rears its head, which is why we called on podiatrist Andrew Gladstone at CityChiropody.co.uk, who revealed how to achieve baby-soft feet.
Off the bat, Gladstone recommends that you visit a podiatrist if something is really bad, which is sound advice. However, if you're wanting to care for cracked heels, he has some words of wisdom: "Don't use knives or anything designed to get rid of hardened skin. Always use an emery board." He recommends doing it on dry (rather than wet) feet. And as with your face and body, the key to getting soft feet is exfoliating every day.
As for creams, there are a couple that Gladstone recommends, and one only costs £3: "If your cracked heels get really bad, you can always use Sudacrem." He also says that Flexitol Heel Balm (£10) is excellent for helping cracked heels and softening up callouses.