How to Exfoliate: Tips for the Body, Face, and Hands

Winter can have a devastating effect on skin. Cool weather tends to sap moisture, leading to ashy, rough, and broken patches—particularly on the hands and face. While moisturizing combats these things somewhat, there is another trick you must have in your arsenal: exfoliation. Exfoliating will smooth and even out the complexion so moisturizer goes on smoothly and effortlessly.

What is Exfoliation—and Why Is It Necessary?

Exfoliation is the act of buffing or smoothing your skin through the topical application of a cream or scrub. These products typically contain small grains of salt, sand, crystals, etc. to aid in sloughing away dead, dry skin, to reveal the fresh, unmarred skin beneath. This may also be achieved through the use of a loofa or other skin brush targeted to smooth skin.

Exfoliation is necessary because as skin cells die, they tend to stack up on the surface rather than falling away on their own. Exfoliation aids in this, essentially scraping away all of the dirt and dead skin cells littering skin’s surface. Without exfoliating, many creams and lotions are unable to truly reach and nourish skin; there are simply too many barriers between the applied lotion and the living surface of skin.

Exfoliating In Action

The Face

There are numerous creams and serums designed specifically for the sensitive skin of your face, most of them employing some type of sand or clay to aid in removing dead cells . Many of these creams, however, have questionable ingredients, such as methylparabens and propylparabens. While these ingredients are found in nature, most of the compounds found in beauty items are synthetic and carcinogenic properties have been suggested. As such, perhaps one of the best ways to exfoliate is using natural items found in your pantry: olive oil and coconut oils work beautifully with salt or sand to scrub away unwanted top layers of the epidermis, and have the added benefit of moisturizing as you scrub.

If the notion of using sand or salt to scrub away debris is not your cup of tea, there is also the option of using an oscillating brush designed specifically for the face, such as the Clarisonic Mia or its numerous competitors. These brushes are excellent for exfoliating, as they buff away dead skin and dirt either with an added cleanser, or alone. With an upfront cost ranging from $20 to $140, electronic cleaners provide an easy, affordable exfoliating option.

The Body

Exfoliating the body can be a little bit trickier than the face; naturally, there is far more coverage required and far more trouble spots (knees, elbows, and ankles). When seeking out a way to exfoliate your body, the best method is employing scrubs. These scrubs may be store-bought or homemade, but all contain similar ingredients: a moisturizing element and a scrubbing element. Typically, scrubbing elements include either salt or small crystals. Some are intended for solitary use, while others are intended for use in the shower, with a razor.

Solitary-use body scrubs are more often intended to be used on a single, small area such as the elbows or knees. These scrubs may be applied, rubbed in for 2-5 minutes, and washed away, before following up with an intensive moisturizer. Although they may be used all over, this is generally not cost effective.

Scrubs intended for use in the shower, alongside a razor, are usually best made from ingredients you have in your home, as ounces can cost mere pennies. These scrubs are usually made using salt or sugar and an oil such as olive oil or coconut oil. Users should apply them while in the shower, scrub them in for only a small time period, then go over the area once or twice with a razor. The salt/sugar breaks up and loosens dead skin and debris, and the razor scrapes the loosened particles away. This is, arguably, the most effective way to perform full-body exfoliation.

The Hands

Hands are likely the first to show serious signs of dryness and cracking in the winter. Because most roughness is due to dry skin, hand exfoliants should have some sort of moisturizing component; ingredients causing dryness or tightness (antiseptics, citrus, etc.) should be avoided—particularly if the hands are already cracked or peeling. Hand exfoliation can be performed by a licensed esthetician, or may be performed at home.

Professional exfoliation of the hands generally involves the use of a peel. Peels are chemically-made exfoliants that are applied for a certain length of time (20 minutes to 1 hour), before being peeled away, taking dead and dry skin with it. Services range widely in price, going for as little as $50 to as much as several hundred dollars.

If professional exfoliation is not your style (or simply isn’t in your budget), at-home exfoliation can work wonders. At-home exfoliation involves, like detailed above, the use of an oil and either sugar or salt. Because salt has a drying effect, sugar is best used for hands, alongside an extremely moisturizing oil such as olive oil. While face and body scrubs generally require light scrubbing, hands may need more vigorous rubbing-in. The scrub should be used for five minutes and should be immediately followed up by an intensive moisturizer and, if possible, covered with gloves for maximum absorption.

Exfoliation for Skin Type

While most exfoliation is safe for all skin types, some sensitive or acne-prone skin may react poorly to excessive exfoliating attempts. Normal-to-oily epidermis often benefits from exfoliating 2-3 times per week, always followed by a moisturizer. Sensitive and acne-prone skin, however, may become inflamed or may break out if exfoliating is done more than once per week—or even once every two weeks. When you are just starting out, consider beginning with once every other week and gradually working your way up to 1-2 times per week to ensure the safety and efficacy of exfoliating scrubs.

Exfoliate, Exfoliate, Exfoliate—Then Moisturize

Winter frequently brings in winter-time blues, as well as extremely dry skin. To remedy the ashy appearance and rough texture of dry skin, consider exfoliating your skin using brushes, at-home scrubs, or professional services. Typically, exfoliants contain either:

  • Sand
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Or Clay

While it can be an incredible blessing, men and women new to the process should start slow, using the most innocuous ingredients possible (typically salt or sugar and olive oil), before working up to a consistent exfoliating regimen. Done properly, exfoliating re-invigorates the skin and banishes dryness, flakiness, and an overall dull appearance.

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