Through my research and experiences, I found that I leaned more into how the Asian community takes care of their skin, particularly Japanese and Korean cultures. One book stood out to me the most, Saeki's Japanese Skincare Revolution, where Chizu Saeki goes through the massage techniques and methods she uses when she consults clients.
I paid close attention to her linen handkerchief theory. She describes your skin like a new, white, linen handkerchief which has been freshly bought from the store.
When over-washed and dried the handkerchief will start to go limp and crumple. The linen will no longer be soft and, when unused and neglected, will show signs of wear and tear. Imagine that instead of overly washing the handkerchief you are scrubbing it with your exfoliator. Its not gonna stay soft for long.
The point to the handkerchief story, and what I really got out of it, was that your skin should be gently taken care of. It doesn't need to be severely washed or scrubbed in order to be healthy. Our skin has a natural regenerative process and we need to give it some care in order for it to regenerate to its fullest.
Now that there's an understanding of how to treat your skin properly, I want to talk about how to effectively exfoliate your skin. This has to be one of my favourite topics to talk about. I think that anyone who says they don't enjoy exfoliating (whether its with a chemical or manual exfoliant) is lying. Personally, I have seen what exfoliating can do to the overall clarity and evenness of the skin as well as the detrimental effects of over exfoliating and the damage it can do to it. Exfoliating is great when done correctly.
First lets get to hat types of exfoliators there are and how they will benefit your skin.
Alpha hydroxy acids are naturally occurring acids, derived from the surgars in particular plants. Some examples are Glycolic (Sugar Cane), Lactic (Milk), Tartaric (Grapes), Citric (Citrus Fruits), Malic (apples) and Mandelic (Bitter Almond). They are water soluble - that says that it can only work on the top of the epidermis.
The thing that differs alphas from other exfoliators is that it dissolves the glue between the skin cells. Think of like a brick wall and all the cement between the bricks are dissolving. You're left with the dead skin cells that just slough off.
Enzymatic exfoliators both soften and dissolve the skin cells themselves. The enzymes break down the outer layer of your skin cells so that you can wash off the dead skin cells or prepare the skin for extractions. You'd typically find them in facials and some skin care products. At a facial you'll find that they steam your face after applying the enzyme mix and this is because exfoliating action is activated by water. Some examples would be Papaya and Pineapple extracts or the science term: Papain and Bromelain.
Just like how AHA's work, beta hydroxy acids help to dissolves the cement between the skin cells so that you can easily wash it off. They are OIL soluble - this is great because they can seep into the pores and help prevent clogs = preventing pimples! They're also perfect for blackheads and whiteheads. The only form of BHA is, you guessed it, Salicylic Acid (Willow Bark).
Mechanic scrubs are the typical scubs that contain microbeads or seeds to help kick off the dead skin cells. Personally, I find that microbeads are better than using seeds (and there's scientific research to back it up) but I know it's not good for the environment and doesn't align with my philosophy. The types of manual scrubs I prefer would have to be jojoba beads, argan shells, and rice. Just wait till I tell you about the benefits of rice!
Okay, so we know how different exfoliators work - tick! Now the issue of when to exfoliate.
The general rule is 1-2 times a week for dry skin and 3-4 times for oily skin. The skin is constantly shedding and we are placing it in a world full of dirt, makeup, pollution, germs, etc. If you don't slough it off, you'll end up sleeping in it. Ew.
If its your first time exfoliating, then start with 1-2 times a week, this is so your skin doesn't go into hyper panic mode and start breaking out. Although, if you haven't exfoliated in a while, it will do that anyway because its bringing up all that built up bacteria and dirt.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't exfoliate everyday. Honestly, I can't stress this enough. I don't care if it feels nice, I don't even care if you have amazing skin because of it. You will see the damage of exfoliating sooner or later and I've seen it happen numerous times. There was this one customer that had come in, her skin was clear but really rough and dry. She was looking for a really hydrating moisturiser. Easy task. Upon questioning her on her regime, she told me that she exfoliates everyday, and not once, twice a freaking day. You can imagine my face when I heard that. It sure explained why her skin was as rough as sandpaper. She was nice though, hard to take all the information in but open to trying the idea of stepping back on the exfoliator.
Skin is not meant to shed that often. If it does, it will either shed to the point where its raw (i.e. you've shed off so many layers that you're about to mimic a second degree burn) or the skin starts to overcompensate for the lack of layers it has and you'll start to notice rougher skin - usually milia and acne will come along for the ride too. Not to mention how much water the skin is losing from over washing, eventually it won't be able to hold on to its natural reservoir resulting in severely dehydrated skin. So please, for me, don't exfoliate everyday.
Exfoliating is great opportunity for you to gain that luminosity from the skin and not only that, the increased cell turnover in your skin triggers your cells to create a stronger structure underneath = more collagen and elastin (hooray!). As you can tell, exfoliating can be tricky to understand but, when done right, will help you achieve the fullest potential of your skin care products and appearance.