The AbsoluteJOI 7 Day Skin Care Challenge

The Key Steps for Healthy Skin


Day 3 of the Skin Care Challenge is: Exfoliation


Exfoliating your skin is an integral part of a good skincare routine. Exfoliation aids in the removal of dead skin cells and provides many benefits. These include:

  • Improves the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation by aiding in skin turnover
  • Helps dull and rough skin look brighter
  • Reduces the number of clogged pores
  • Prepares your skin to allow treatments and moisturizers to penetrate more deeply

When you decide to add exfoliation to your skincare routine, you’ll find lots of options to choose from. In general, there are two types of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Both types remove excess dead skin, and your preferences will help you decide which type works for you.

Physical Exfoliation

The first physical exfoliant we all experienced was probably a washcloth. Anything that scrubs your skin will remove dead skin. However, people with dark skin tones need to be very careful about using physical exfoliants as they can irritate skin and lead to hyperpigmentation. Skin cleansing brushes and pads are very popular. If you have melanin-rich skin, it is important to be very gentle when using these devices and to not over-exfoliate. These brushes and pads offer different options for the type of brush you can use, and we recommend using the gentlest options available.

Face scrubs are products with tiny grains or beads of material that physically scrub your skin to clear it of debris. While you may have a nice sense of gratification from scrubbing your skin, these products must be used with caution – especially for people with darker skin tones. Some scrubs can be too rough and can irritate your skin triggering post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. While we loved to use nut kernel-based scrubs when we were younger, we now know the jagged edges on those particles can cause damage by creating micro-cuts on our skin. This is why skin care professionals recommend not using these products.

Another issue with physical scrubs is their negative impact on the environment. Many scrub exfoliants contain microbeads made from plastic, which goes into the water system and takes thousands of years to degrade. Several countries ban the use of these beads because of their environmental impact, but the ban is not universal. As a consumer, you can help reduce the environmental impact of beauty products by choosing to not purchase scrubs made with these beads.

So, the bottom line with physical exfoliants is – we do not recommend them for your face (feet and elbows are another story!). If you do feel the need to scrub your face, please take a very gentle approach.

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliants remove dead skin cells with the use of natural acids and enzymes that help loosen bonds between the cells so they slough off. They can be created from natural sources like sugar, fruits and milk. At AbsoluteJOI, we prefer these exfoliants because they are a great option for people with sensitive skin and have a lower risk of causing damage as compared with physical exfoliants. However, they do make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so you should wear sunscreen when using them. The two types of acids used in exfoliating skin care products are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs).

The most common AHAs used in skincare are glycolic acid, which is made from sugar, and lactic acid, which is from milk. They are both water-soluble and work to gently release dead cells and debris from the surface of your skin. Glycolic acid is a smaller molecule and penetrates more deeply into the skin. Lactic acid is our favorite because it is a humectant attracting water to the skin, and is gentler, making it great for all skin types including sensitive skin. Both are effective in reducing the visible signs of sun damage and help with skin turnover to treat hyperpigmentation.

BHA’s include salicylic acid, which works inside pores; as it is oil soluble. It is the preferred exfoliating ingredient for oily acne-prone skin and helps relieve clogged pores and bumps, prevents blemishes, and reduces enlarged pores.

You can regularly use products at home that contain low concentrations of AHAs and BHAs. However, if you want to use products with higher levels of acids for a more aggressive exfoliation, go see a skincare professional qualified to use these ingredients in high concentrations. If you decide to get these services, make sure the skincare professional has experience in taking care of melanin-rich. When peels are too aggressive, they can cause burns and leave hyperpigmented scars. If in doubt, a gentle approach is always best.

Exfoliants: When and How to Use Them

The best exfoliating product depends on your skin type, but you should be able to add an exfoliant to your skincare routine at least 1-2 times per week. In our recommended cleanse-treat-moisturize routine, an exfoliant is one of the treatments you use after cleansing and before moisturizing. However, since chemical exfoliants cause sun sensitivity, we recommend using them at night.

Sensitive or dry skin does well with exfoliating lotions made with lactic acid, which is gentle and hydrating. You can start with a 5% solution and increase the concentration as you get accustomed to the effects. You don’t need to exfoliate every day. Instead, use an exfoliating product 1-3 times per week depending on your skin sensitivity.  

Normal skin can tolerate glycolic acid, which penetrates more deeply into the skin. Always start with a lower concentration of glycolic acid to avoid over-exfoliation. Your skin should not be irritated or burn when using your products. This is especially important for people with dark skin tones to avoid irritation and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Research shows that glycolic acid can leave the skin more vulnerable to sun damage. While you should use a sunscreen every day, it is especially important to wear sunscreen when using glycolic acid, or any other chemical exfoliant.

Oily skin is ideal for salicylic acid, which is oil soluble. This acid can get into your pores to loosen cells, help unplug them and treat blackheads.

People with hyperpigmentation benefit from exfoliation as it helps revitalize your skin and fades dark marks. You’ll find that adding an exfoliant to your skincare routine will take your skin from good to great and will make a big difference in improving your skin texture to create a smooth surface that helps reflect your glow.


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