If there’s one beauty product that everyone should be using regularly but often overlook in their skincare routines, it’s exfoliator. The German skincare scientist gives us the lowdown on what exfoliation is and how to practise this beauty ritual properly for a glowing complexion

With Hong Kong’s heavy pollution constantly clogging up our pores, especially these days, when the weather gets warmer and humidity levels become higher, many of us have likely found ourselves suffering skin breakouts more than often in today’s mask-wearing situation. 

If you’ve been battling skin problems and are looking to improve the health and appearance of your skin, it’s time to consider adding a face exfoliator to your routine. Regular exfoliation can help slough away dead skin cells to speed up the skin renewal process, promoting a healthier-looking complexion over time. No matter what your skin type is, everyone can benefit from investing in a high-quality exfoliator—you just need to select the right product and make sure that you’re using it correctly. 

Unsure where to start? Fret not. We asked Dr Barbara Sturm, renowned celebrity skincare expert and founder of her eponymous skincare line, to share her insights into face exfoliation, as well as top tips on how to master the technique for glowing skin.

Read more: How to Treat Dark Circles, According to Skincare Scientist Dr. Barbara Sturm

What’s exfoliation?

Exfoliation involves the removal of the oldest dead skin cells on the skin’s outermost surface. There are three different ways to exfoliate: one is using a mechanical scrub that uses peeling bodies to take off the upper layers of the skin; the second type is enzyme peeling, which performs a gentle but deep exfoliation. The latter method also works to break up dead skin cells, but it doesn’t involve as much shredding as chemical peel does, meaning it won’t cause harm to living, healthy cells. 

Lastly, there are chemical peelings using acids such as retinol or glycolic, which take off all skin layers depending on the concentration of the acid, as well as how long you would like to leave it on. For Sturm, she usually opts for a combination of the enzyme cleanser and facial scrub. She also avoids any application of acid peelings as it might cause more harm than benefits to the skin.   

Read more: How to Care for Oily Skin––and the Mistakes to Avoid Making, According to a Dermatologist

What are the benefits of exfoliation?

As we age, our skin naturally slows down its cell turnover, resulting in a build-up of dead skin cells on the surface that gives the skin a dull appearance and uneven texture. Regular exfoliation is essential, as it not only facilitates the removal of dead skin cells and bacteria for clearer skin, but also helps to even skin tone, unclog and tighten pores, as well as smoothing away scars to improve the overall appearance of the skin. Exfoliation also helps to boost the absorption of skincare products in your regimen for the best effects.  

How often should I exfoliate my face?

As a general rule, you should be using an enzyme peeling two to three times a week or a mechanical peeling once or twice a week after cleansing.  

How to choose the right exfoliator according to my skin type?

It’s always recommended to avoid harsh exfoliators like acid peels for any skin type, especially for sensitive skin. For those with oily and acne-prone skin types, enzyme peeling would be ideal, and you should also pick a gentle but effective cleanser that works to remove impurities and tackle skin issues such as enlarged pores and excess sebum production, without causing irritation.

People with dry skin should use a physical exfoliant featuring hydrating and nourishing properties that can help remove flaky dead skin while delivering moisture. Lastly, if you’ve got combination or normal skin, you can alternate depending on whether your skin is feeling drier or oilier on a given day. 

Read more: Does Stress Affect Your Skin? We Asked a Dermatologist

This article was originally published on August 24, 2021 and was updated on June 27, 2022.


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