The Exfoliation Myth

Everywhere we look, it seems like some helpless cosmetic greenhorn is panicking about how much they should exfoliate, or, more explicitly, not exfoliate. Dozens of ‘experts’ line up, saying it’s bad for you; it’ll dry out your skin. Admittedly, over-scrubbing can be a big problem. But exfoliation and scrubbing aren’t the same thing. In fact, you probably exfoliate every day and don’t even notice.

Whether you use a liquid or a powder foundation, you probably apply it with a foundation or buffing brush and buff the material into a smooth finish. It’s a wonderful technique, one which avoids streaky effects, is quick, and takes less product to cover than say, your bare hands or a stippling brush. However, what you might not know you’re doing at the same time is lightly exfoliating. Essentially rubbing an abrasive material over your skin, you’re lightly working dead skin cells off your face.

It’s not damaging you to do this, it’s not taking up layers of healthy skin or irritating what’s there. You can’t force skin cells to drop sooner than they’re ready, you can only dust off the dead cells. Your exfoliation with your makeup brush is not a problem.

The problem that your face is currently facing is that clean, new skin is immediately being clogged with makeup. All of the creams, moisturizers, and astringents you used on your face earlier stuck to the dead skin you just buffed off and now there’s nothing protecting the fresh layer. With no barrier between them, you’re essentially inviting bacteria and infections into your skin. Hello, breakout town.

Gently exfoliating beforehand is a much better choice, and it’s slowly being accepted by celebrities, fashion blogs, and dermatologists everywhere. In fact, Beyoncé, the fierce, classy woman who looks inhumanly beautiful without makeup, started the trend. Her dermatologist recommends a gentle exfoliation every night, not the standard, nasty scrubs that turns your skin pink, but something natural that lightly buffs away the dead skin.

What’s more, there’s growing evidence that it’s better for you to do regular maintenance instead of deep cleansers all at once. One study found that, as long as you aren’t using an overly abrasive material, exfoliation is actually good for your skin; it positively effects the skin’s structure and actively promotes skin rejuvenation in the epidermis. The same study found that it made topical agents, your moisturizing creams, antiaging creams, your cleansers, toners, and facial lotions, those are all more effective when used on exfoliated skin.

Another study has found that semi-regular deep chemical peels are needed to detoxify the clogged-up pores and smooth early wrinkles without daily exfoliation. Such treatments can lead to problems like hypopigmentation, keloid scars, skin infections, and milia.

So, what should you use? Obviously, the regular market exfoliators aren’t suited for daily use. A gentle exfoliating cleanser will do the trick. Just make sure that it has protective qualities, like manuka honey or cleansing oils, because you don’t want the new skin to get gunked up so fast. If you’re worried about your skin drying out, make sure to spring for something with moisturizing ingredients, too.


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