How To: Exfoliate Your Face

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So you've got dry skin on your face. (Join the crowd.) Maybe you're interested in getting rid of some of that dry skin with a process we like to call exfoliation (which also helps with evening skin tone and relieving pore congestion, for the record). Easy, you might think. I know how to do that. Not so fast. Exfoliation is a touchy subject with a lot of people voicing various opinions. A quick look back at some ITG takes on the matter:

  • Upon learning about “micro-tears' in the skin caused by too much physical scrubbing, Annie switched to ExfoliKate, which brings both a gentle physical and chemical exfoliants to the table.
  • ITG as a whole discovered wash cloths and their many-splendored abilities to clean, exfoliate, and dry your face.
  • Most recently, Dr. Patricia Wexler said screw that only once a week exfoliation plan—do it once a day (as long as your skin can handle it).

All of which proves the point that when it comes to skincare there are usually as many opinions as there are people standing in the room. And we at ITG would have no jobs if we didn't try our best to reconcile all of that. So here goes nothing (with the help of favorite facialist Nichola Joss and Dr. Jessica Weiser of The New York Dermatology Group), broken down by skin type:

Sensitive

Just because you need to be gentle with your skin doesn't mean you should skip the exfoliating step altogether. “Try products that do not contain large gritty sand-like grains as these can be too abrasive to the skin surface,” Dr. Weiser says. “Instead try lactic acid based cleanser or mask, like Philosophy Miracle Worker Miraculous Anti-Aging Lactic Acid Cleanser and Mask. Lactic acid has larger molecules that do not penetrate deeply into the skin and are not overly irritating,”

Dry

Same church, different pew: “Dry skin is similar to sensitive skin because the surface cells are dehydrated and more fragile,” according to Dr. Weiser. “Lotions with low strength alpha-hydroxy acids can also be used for mild exfoliation,”

Normal

Predictably, there are more options here. “Exfoliating washes such as those containing glycolic acid to face masks that can have glycolic, salicylic, or lactic acid—or a combination of these like in Ren Radiance Renewal Glycol Lactic Mask—to facial discs that gently peel away dead skin cells, debris, and excess oil or dirt from the skin surface,” Weiser continued. The disks are the kind you can swipe across your face easily like Colbert MD Intensify Facial Discs. Alternatively, Joss recommends Skinceuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub.

But even though normal skin is more durable and can handle “scrubbing and massaging,” Joss warns clients to “be careful to use oils and/or water as a medium with the exfoliator to ease the process,”

Oily

'The important point is not to use reusable devices such as brushes and cloths because these can harbor bacteria from the prior treatment and actually make acne worse with reuse,” Weiser advises. “Instead try options such as an exfoliating clay mask, which will simultaneously detoxify skin, or a light salicylic acid or sugar scrub to break down excessive surface debris and oils,” Good rule of thumb: Wash your hands before getting into the product.

Mature

'Older skins fair better with gentle leave-on exfoliators that have gentle fruit acids to slough away dead skin cells and improve texture,” Joss says. But with great power comes great responsibility. “I never recommend exfoliating more than once a week—certainly if you use a peel in your skin. That should be done monthly max,”

Photographed by Tom Newton.

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