Skincare 101: This is WHY you need to Exfoliate

Hello Lovelies,

My name is Lily Sage, and my favorite activities are knitting, baking new recipes, and increasing my cell turnover.  Some of my favorite skincare products to swoon over are scrubs for face and body, and anything Glycolic based.   In my most recent posts I have talked about the key components of a skincare routine: cleansing, toning, moisturizing, and serum/treatment.

In order for ingredients to help your skin you need to sweep away the past for fresh new skin that will be able to easily absorb product.  Even if you have the best moisturizer on the market it won’t feel good or work well if it has to fight through numerous layers of dead skin cells.

An example I have used with my clients in the past is to think of exfoliating like cleaning your kitchen.  If you are going to mop your kitchen you usually sweep it first to get rid of surface dirt, dust, and debris, and then you mop to polish and perfect.  The same goes for your skin.  And when I am talking about skin I’m not just talking about your face.  The skin on your body needs to be pamper just as much.  There will be a blog post on that sometime soon so all my lovelies will be smooth from head to toe.

What ever problems you have in life, they could probably be solved with increased exfoliation.  I often see on social media the caveat that if you have a problem, just rub Coconut Oil on it. Well guess what?  You still have to exfoliate before applying that oil.  If you are concerned with texture, visible pores, sun damage, mild to moderate breakouts or blemishes, dullness, or you have noticed that your make doesn’t look as flawless as you would like, or flakiness then using a product that helps to remove dead skin cells on the surface of your skin will be make a huge difference in your routine.   Exfoliating helps to stimulate the process of cell turnover.

The Anatomy of Your Skin

Cell turnover is the process by which our skin produces new skin cells that travel from the lowest layer of the epidermis to the top layer of the skin and then shed off your skin’s surface.  This is what keeps dead cells from building up on the surface.  Exfoliation stimulates new cell growth by removing the cells your body is no longer shedding.  I found this nifty picture online to show how complex our skin is and to give you an idea of how it functions.


Our skin has three main layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous tissue. The bottom of our epidermis is where new skin cells are produced.   As we age the rate at which our cells turnover slows down.  On average your cell turnover is 28 to 32 days. Over time it can slow to 45 or more days. The build up of dead skin cells on the surface causes dullness.  The top layer of your skin is LOTS of dead skin cells (between 15 to 20 layers), and to top it off these dead skin cells stick together which can clog pores. Yuck.

Type of Exfoliators

There are several options and methods that you can use to scrub your skincare struggles away.  Even if you have sensitive skin there are still great options that will work but won’t irritate.  There are three types of exfoliators, physical, chemical, and enzymatic.

Physical Exfoliators remove dead skin cells by using friction and they feel grainy as you rub them onto the skin with your fingers.  The action of using your fingers is part of the exfoliation process.  For example, the Fresh Sugar Facial Polish is a physical exfoliator. My advice is to stay away from physical exfoliators that use seeds, or anything that may have jagged edges that can cause minor abrasions to your skin’s surface.  Sugar is gentle, highly effective, and smooths wonderfully.

Chemical Exfoliators are the products that make my Friday nights unforgettable.  They remove dead skin cells by dissolving the substance that holds the dead cells together. You don’t have to activate them or rub them with your fingers.  The chemical exfoliators are known as Alpha-Hydroxy Acids and Beta-Hydroxy Acid.  Don’t worry, the word “acid” may sound scary but Alpha-Hydroxy Acids(AHA’s) are derived from natural substances. For example Lactic Acid comes from milk, Glycolic Acid comes from sugar, and Malic Acid comes from apples.  So, if you have heard the stories of Cleopatra taking milk baths, she was exfoliating before it was cool.

The Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA) you probably have used is Salicylic Acid. That’s the king of the BHA kingdom.  What makes Salicylic Acid special is that unlike the AHA’s, which work on the top layer of the skin to exfoliate, it has the ability to go into pores and dissolve build up and unclog.  Salicylic Acid is derived from the bark of the Willow Tree.

Here are two fun facts:

  1. In latin, ‘Salix’ means Willow Tree.  Willows are also known as ‘Sallows’ Hence the catchy name.
  2. Salicylic Acid is the active ingredient in Aspirin.

Enzymatic Exfoliators are delicious. I love enzymatic exfoliators because they act like little Pac-Men eating up dead skin cells. Pineapple, Papaya, and Pumpkin are the most commonly used enzymatic exfoliators. They gently dissolve the dead skin, and they have the added bonus of containing antioxidants.  Pumpkin contains vitamin A, and Pineapple contains vitamin C.

At this point you may be asking “Which is the best one?”.  I can honestly say that I like to use a combination depending on the time of year, and I like to rotate products. It also depends on your skin type.  Below are some suggestions for exfoliator based on skin type. And I have to stress the importance of consistently wearing sunscreen.  If you are exfoliating you want to make sure that your are protecting your skin, no matter what.

Most Skin Types (including Dry)

Fresh Sugar Face Polish

Alpha Beta Peel (Extra Strength) Daily Peel by Dr. Dennis Gross.

Physical Chemistry by Dermadoctor.

Glycolic Acid 10% Hydrating Gel by Peter Thomas Roth.

ExfoliKATE Intensive Exfoliating Treatment by Kate Somerville.

Sensitive Skin/Easily Irritated

ExfoliKate Gentle Exfoliating Treatment by Kate Somerville.

Facial Radiance Pads by First Aid Beauty

This was such a fun blog post to write.  If you have any more questions drop a note below You can also ask me questions on Instagram and Snapchat. (@sagebeautyblog)



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