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Why You Need to Exfoliate Your Skin Every Day

As long you're gentle, it's one of the best ways to improve your complexion.

If you were to ask me, "What's the number one thing I can do for my skin, that will make the BIGGEST difference?" 

I would never feed you some tired line about drinking more water. (Jennifer Aniston is wrong. It does nothing.) 

Nor would I tell you to reduce stress, eat better, exercise or get more sleep. I mean, sure—we're all up to speed on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Vacation skin is the best skin. But it's not like most of us can suddenly find more hours in the day for "me time," in the pursuit of nicer complexions. 

So what's something that anyone can do for their skin—that is quick, easy and produces fast, noticeable RESULTS? 

My answer: Daily exfoliation. Maybe even twice a day!

Why Exfoliate?

Before we get into the frequency thing—which is controversial, yes!—let's backtrack a bit. You're probably aware of the benefits of exfoliation in general.

Our skin operates on a 28-day cycle whereby the live cells at the bottom layer of the epidermis (keratinocytes) gradually become harder as they work their way up to the surface—where they die and flake off to reveal the new cells underneath. 

The 28-day skin cycle.

This process goes on all the time, without our help, but can slow down with age, sun damage, hormonal changes and certain skin disorders. When this happens, your skin can start to look dull, pores can get clogged (leading to acne), and your tone can look uneven. 

That's where exfoliation comes in. By getting rid of these built-up dead surface cells, you'll see brighter skin, fewer breakouts and blackheads, and a smoother, more even texture. Because dead skin can also form a barrier that interferes with absorption, exfoliation can help you get more mileage out of your topical products, leading to more hydrated skin and fewer signs of aging.

Now... here's why I think you should do it daily (and with what!).

Weekly Exfoliation is an Outdated Concept

Surely you've been told that weekly exfoliation is enough and that you don't want to "overdo it." It's become one of those pieces of accepted skincare wisdom, like always wearing sunscreen or never going to bed without washing your face.

But think about how many old habits you've discarded over the years, as new and better technologies became available. 

That's what I see is happening right now in the category of exfoliation. 

It's true that you wouldn't want to exfoliate daily with the old type of exfoliating products. What you might not know is that there's a NEW generation of exfoliators that are completely different, with options gentle enough to be used daily. Allow me to explain...

The Problem with Mechanical Exfoliators

It used to be that exfoliating meant scrubbing. Think: that dreaded St. Ives Apricot Scrub with the broken-up walnut pieces in it (which, inexplicably, continues to be one of the top-selling skincare products).

St. Ives Apricot Scrub is a mechanical exfoliant using crushed walnut shells.

This is an example of a mechanical exfoliant. These types of products remove dead surface skin cells by physically sloughing them off with gritty pieces (beads, shells, salt, sand, etc.) suspended in the formula. Some people produce the same effect by scrubbing at their faces with a washcloth. 

The problem is, you can cause harmful micro-tears in the skin when you use products containing large, jagged particles or rub the skin too aggressively. That leaves it open and vulnerable to bacteria, and can increase irritation, redness, sensitivity and dryness.

"When most doctors say exfoliation shouldn't happen every day, they are talking about standard scrubs, which is sandpaper in a bottle. They don't have a concept of what products are available," says Dr. Harold Lancer, Hollywood's top dermatologist, in this fascinating interview over at The Cut. (He takes care of Beyoncé's complexion, so I think he knows his stuff.)

Dr. Lancer actually sells a scrub as part of his line, but it features very fine crystals of a uniform size and shape, which provide "precise exfoliation without the risk of micro-cuts or abrasion." 

Lancer The Method Polish exfoliates with fine, non-abrasive crystals.

Personally? I think there are even gentler exfoliation methods, with more customizable results and less risk.

Daily Warm Cloth Cleansing

"Warm cloth cleansing" is my favourite exfoliation method for ALL skin types, and the best place to start if you are new to daily exfoliation, or exfoliation in general. 

Bonus: It's a great way to remove makeup and thoroughly cleanse your skin!

(Note: Some people call it "hot cloth cleansing," but I think it's important not to aggravate your skin with water that is too hot!)

Step 1: Start by massaging an oil or oil-based cleanser over dry skin. I just use health food store coconut oil, but if you want to get fancy, there's Kopari Coconut Melt, RMS Beauty Raw Coconut Cream or Skinny & Co. Skinny Coconut Oil.

Kopari Coconut Melt is a pure coconut oil that's perfect for cleansing.

Step 2: Next, you want to immerse a soft washcloth under warm-to-hot water. It's important to always use a fresh, clean cloth every time you wash your face—then toss it in the laundry hamper! (Otherwise, re-using them could risk transferring bacteria, dead skin and other debris back to your skin.) The nicest cloths are muslin, such as Eve Lom's.

Eve Lom Muslin Cloths gently remove oil-based cleansers, along with dead skin and makeup.

Step 3: Drape the warm, wet cloth over your face for five seconds to lightly steam your skin. This will help soften and loosen the dead skin, allowing you to remove it more easily.

Step 4: Then, use the cloth to gently wipe away the oil or cleanser. Repeat this process up to four more times, and you'll be left with clean, soft, exfoliated skin!

Daily Acid Exfoliation

Acid toners dissolve the "cement" that holds dead skin cells together.

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If you're after a stronger exfoliation, consider acids.

Rather than physically scrubbing, they work by dissolving the "glue" that holds dead cells together. There are two types: 

  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic and lactic acid. Glycolic is the most common AHA, and widely considered the most effective because it has the smallest molecule size. Some dermatologists, including Dr. Neal Schultz, actually believe its results are superior to prescription retinoids (!!) because it also stimulates collagen production and thickens the skin. It does have a rep for being more irritating, but apparently this depends on the formulation. A milder AHA alternative is lactic acid, which is better tolerated by even sensitive skin, and is actually hydrating. 
  • Beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) or salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is best for oilier skin because it dissolves the oil within the pore. So it can help with blackheads, milia and acne.

My favourite way to use acid is as a toner, after cleansing. And my favourite product? Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, of course! 

Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 is a gentle lactic acid exfoliating toner.

This is one of my most-loved skincare products—and I'm not the only one. I've never heard more people rave about a beauty product EVER! 

It is a gentle lactic acid and niacinamide toner that comes in several different strengths, so all but the most sensitive skin types should be able to tolerate it—unlike glycolic acids, which have a rep for being harsh.

But the key thing about Lotion P50 is that you're meant to use it TWICE DAILY. The brand is extremely specific about that when they sell you the product. 

So while its ingredients are pretty great, I am convinced that it is the frequency and consistency of use that is really transforming people's skin. And you could probably achieve similar results by exfoliating daily with other acid products, as long as your skin can handle them! 

How To Use Acid Toners 

With acids, you always want to start slowly and gently. I can't stress that enough.

Lactic acid: If you've never used an acid exfoliator before, and/or if your skin is on the dry or sensitive side, I would go with lactic acid to start. Introduce it once or twice a week and build up to more frequent use from there. If you can't get hold of Lotion P50, the First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads are another mild acid option to consider.