antiaging · exfoliaton · skincare

Exfoliation 101: Physical exfoliation

What is exfoliation, and do we really need to do it? Also, did you know there are two kinds of exfoliation? In this two-part series I will tackle physical and chemical exfoliation, and my experience with some products that use these two methods.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), exfoliation is “the process of removing the topmost layer of dead skin cells.  This can be achieved chemically, by applying an acid that dissolves those cells (chemical exfoliation), or mechanically, by using a brush or scrub to physically remove the cells (physical exfoliation).”

Why exfoliate? Here are some reasons:

  • The immediate effect: skin looks brighter and is smoother
  • Your nourishing products like serums and moisturizers will be more readily absorbed by the skin – they penetrate deeper because the topmost layer of the skin is removed
  • Long-term benefits “can include increased collagen production, resulting in younger-looking skin,” according to AAD
  • I’ve found that makeup, especially foundations and concealers, apply and glide on more smoothly

Exfoliation definitely leaves my skin super soft and clean! It can be tempting to do this every night because of immediate results, but be careful. For me, I’ve found that I only need to exfoliate about one to three times a week. Excessive exfoliation can thin the skin and destroy its natural protective barrier, triggering excess oil production and leaving the skin more vulnerable and sensitive. Some signs that you are exfoliating excessively include dryness, irritation, redness and sensitivity, according to Dr. Dennis Gross. 

The AAD recommends seeing a dermatologist before selecting an exfoliation method, and emphasizes understanding your skin type before you exfoliate. Those with inflammatory acne (cysts and pustules) and rosacea should consult with a certified dermatologist before beginning an exfoliation regime. Please check out AAD’s recommendations for more expert tips on selecting an exfoliation method! 

Physical exfoliation

Mechanical or physical exfoliation was my introduction to exfoliating. I have been using the Olay Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System for years. Back as a student on a budget I searched for alternatives to the popular Clarisonic cleansing systems, and my Pro-X fit the bill nicely. 

Back then I would use this handy little tool twice a day but I know better now! I use this now only once a week with my L’occitane Shea Cleansing Oil as a deep cleansing procedure. I also use a gentler exfoliator, such as Origins Never a Dull Moment, a face mask with fine crystals, about once or twice a week, to combat blemishes and blackheads, if I don’t use a chemical exfoliant (more on chemical exfoliation in my next post!).  

The Pro-X is amazing value – mine must be over four years old now. It appears that Olay has since rebranded and upgraded this product into a microdermabration/exfoliating tool. 

After exfoliating, don’t forget to follow up with your toner, serum and moisturizer to rebalance and hydrate the skin.

Do you use any physical exfoliants? What is your experience with them? Please share below! 🙂



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