10 Myths About Exfoliating You Should Stop Believing

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The desire to have soft, radiating, and glowing skin is nothing new. Even during our grandparents' time, women were gushing over the silver-screen beauties' smooth, glass-like complexions. It was thought that these old-time actresses were just born blessed, that they came out of the womb camera-ready and prepared for their close-ups. According to Travis John Hoffman, a cinematographer and professor at the New York Film Academy, this isn't true. "Vaseline or other substances would be rubbed on the lens or an optical flat (clear piece of glass which sits in front of lens) to give a halation or glowing effect," Hoffman tells HuffPost regarding the way women looked in Hollywood's Golden Age. "That being said, makeup and lighting also played and still do play a crucial role no matter how much filtration is added."

While it may be comforting to some of us to know that no one was actually ever born perfect, the world of skincare is so far advanced these days that, after putting in a little work, it's possible that one can achieve fantastic real-life results that even the smooth, glowing skin of actresses like Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe would be envious of. In fact, one of the very best options to get you there is exfoliation.

The complex and often misunderstood realm of exfoliation is filled with myths, but the truth is that exfoliating, when done correctly, is a wonderful skin ritual that can benefit many skin types, per the American Dermatology Association. Now, let's uncover why exfoliating is good for you and get you, too, camera-ready.

Exfoliating isn't for sensitive skin

Everyone with sensitive skin faces a difficult journey when it comes to skincare. Knowing exactly which products will and won't irritate your skin is a tricky battle In fact, many people assume that the fact that because exfoliation is considered a harsher skincare practice automatically means it's irritating and destructive to the skin. While this theory may hold some truth with certain products, it's simply not true that those with sensitive skin cannot exfoliate at all.

"Even sensitive skin may benefit from gentle exfoliation," dermatologist Mary Lupo tells Elle Canada. "Instead of daily physical exfoliation, choose a gentle weekly exfoliation that bathes skin in oxygen, as it rapidly exfoliates, smooths, and hydrates to help brighten skin and clear away dead skin cells. With the exception of active acne, exfoliation can help clarify and support skin that may be prone to breakouts," Lupo explains. "By removing the debris clogging pores and compromising the skin's moisture barrier, your treatments and moisturizers will work more effectively."

For our sensitive skin beauties, we recommend the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Ultra Gentle Daily Peel. Specially formulated for dehydrated or sensitive skin, the product's AHA and BHA gentle formula removes the outer layer of dead skin while smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, as hyaluronic acid plumps and soaks moisture into the skin, per the brand's website. Plus, it's even safe enough for daily use. With a 4.7 rating on the site, users are raving about the product's gentle yet effective results. "Very gentle but amazing results," one reviewer shares. "People have noticed too — I'm 51 but my 25-year-old colleagues always ask about my skincare!!"

The only way to exfoliate is with gritty products

We have to admit, when most of us hear the word "exfoliate," the first thing that probably comes to mind is a gritty, granular product that tears into the skin while harshly sloughing away the entire first layer. There are plenty of products like this on the market, however, so it's no wonder that these exfoliants are the stereotypical notion. To be honest, though, there are so many ways to exfoliate your skin that don't involve a single gritty or granular ingredient.

Exfoliation can be broken down into two methods: chemical exfoliation and physical exfoliation, per Esmi. While both methods do the same thing, they go about their exfoliating techniques quite differently. Chemical exfoliation is a method that involves using products containing acids, retinoids, and enzymes (instead of granules) to renew the skin's outer layers, according to Healthline. While rubbing acid all over your skin might sound incredibly terrifying, we aren't working with the types of acids you're probably thinking of. "A physical exfoliant will only ever remove the dead skin cells on the surface; [a chemical exfoliant] will do exactly that but also work deeper into the skin, ungluing the bonds between cells," facialist and skincare expert Abigail James tells Grazia.

One fantastic granule-free product that we love is Savor Beauty's Pumpkin Enzyme Peel. This pumpkin-based product contains gluconic and lactic acids that aid in collagen production while promoting cell turnover and exfoliating deeply for a smoother, brighter appearance. With five out of five stars and a pumpkin spice latte scent, what's not to love?

Granular exfoliants are terrible for your skin

If you've ever stepped inside a Sephora or Ulta, there's a nine out of 10 chance you've received a speech from one of these companies' skincare experts advising you against the dangers of a certain apricot-based exfoliating product that's been on drugstore shelves for decades. In fact, these dangers grew to be so problematic that a 2016 lawsuit arose against this particular company's product, per Top Class Actions. Using harsh exfoliants containing nutshells and apricot pits has been proven to damage skin, and these types of products have unfortunately caused a bad rap for all granular exfoliation, which can be great for the skin if done correctly.

Moreover, instead of reaching for products containing shells or pits — which, yes, actually can create micro-tearing in your skin, causing a breeding ground for acneic bacteria — try a gentler granule, such as sugar crystals. "If you're looking for something natural to exfoliate with, you don't have to look any further than your own kitchen. You can make up a natural exfoliant by using coconut oil mixed with used coffee grounds or granulated sugar," dermatologist Rachel Burns explains to Byrdie. "Mix to the consistency that you like, and apply to the skin using small circular movements. Then rinse and moisturize as normal." Treating yourself to a sugar scrub facial a couple of times a week is a perfect way to rejuvenate skin, but despite their gentle reputation, using sugar exfoliants daily should be avoided (via L'Oréal Paris).

You should exfoliate daily

So, you're the makeup queen and guru at your office. Everyone comes to you for makeup advice and can't wait to see which look you're rocking today — will it be a sultry smoky eye or a sexy pop of color to match your outfit? Will it be a red lip or an eyeliner wing sharp enough to slice through the day? You're donning fierce makeup daily, which means all of those thick products are working their way under your skin. Naturally, exfoliating every night to ensure you're getting rid of makeup is the perfect option, right? Not quite.

"Exfoliating every day can strip the skin of its natural oils, which can cause breakouts," celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas tells Glamour. "It can also cause irritation because you're removing the top layer of skin before it can heal." Not only that, as beauty aesthetician Carrie Lindsey explains, daily exfoliation can actually continue to do more damage in the long run. "Over time, it can actually thin the skin and cause it to wrinkle more easily. Plus, the skin is a smart organ and sheds dead skin cells on its own; if we exfoliate too often, it can actually slow cell turnover." In other words, exfoliating too often can actually speed up aging — yikes.

Instead of exfoliating each night — stick to one to three times a week — to make sure you're fully removing all of your makeup, we recommend trying a makeup melting balm. A cleansing balm is a very unique product: The oils found within actually work to gently dissolve makeup, doing all the work for you so no harsh scrubbing or exfoliating is needed. For instance, the Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm could be exactly what you need as far as a cleansing balm goes.

It's better to exfoliate at night

Going along with the notion that removing makeup every night to get rid of makeup is better, it seems many people tend to think that because of this, using an exfoliant at night is their best bet. Sometimes this can be true, but that will depend dramatically on your skincare routine — and it seems not all dermatologists tend to agree on this topic. "Many people ask for specifics on the best time to use a physical exfoliant, but it really is dependent on the individual's habits and lifestyle," dermatologist Harold Lancer tells Refinery29. "If someone wears makeup on a daily basis, exfoliating at night would help to lift any remaining makeup particles from the skin and ensure that your products are penetrating properly."

On the other hand, some dermatologists believe that exfoliating at night is a strict no-no. "In general, patients should focus on protection in the morning and correction in the evening," dermatologist Karyn Grossman tells Refinery29. "I find that most patients will tend to use stronger, more irritating products in the evening. Thus, adding exfoliation to this can cause or increase the potential irritation." But with different experts saying different things, which option should you go for? We recommend determining that based on your specific skincare routine. If you're ending your day with a multitude of strong serums, masks, and toners, staying away from nighttime exfoliation is probably best. If you end the day with a simple cleansing routine, adding an exfoliant a few times a week could be a great treat to close out a long day.

Your body exfoliant can be used on your face

We all love a good body scrub. And we've all surely been tempted to rub our body scrubs on our faces because they make us feel so good and glowy. Unfortunately, it's not quite so easy. Because the skin that's on your face has smaller pores and is thinner, products for the body will typically be harsher and can cause skin damage (via Acne.org).

In fact, even the level of intensity we use to scrub our bodies vs. our faces should vary. "You can take a more intense approach below your chin, as the skin on your body is thicker," Dr. Lupo tells Elle Canada. For optimal facial exfoliation, Dr. Lupo suggests using a product containing diatomaceous earth — a natural material that is finely ground to create a gentle exfoliant. Instead of trying to save time by using a body scrub on your face, try saving some money by making your own diatomaceous earth exfoliant. "Diatomaceous earth is known for its exfoliating benefits," explains Andrew Hemmer, a diatomaceous earth retailer (via Bustle). "When using it on your skin, you will find that skin is much smoother than before, as it helps to also remove dead skin cells polluted by toxins."

Making your own scrub is actually easy. Start with a food-grade bag of diatomaceous earth powder, such as Diatomaceous Earth's Organic All Natural Diatomaceous Powder, and add a few drops of water until a paste forms. Scrub your skin as you normally would during an exfoliation session and then rinse with warm water. You'll thank us after a few treatments!

The stronger, the better

Once you begin diving into the land of exfoliants, you'll notice there are variations in acid percentages, pH levels, and more. It can be really exciting learning about everything that's out there, but one common mistake people tend to fall for is thinking that the stronger a product is, the better it will work, especially if it costs the same amount. In reality, depending on the skin type, texture, and frequency, light exfoliation can actually be more beneficial.

Cosmetic chemist Dr. Michelle Wong breaks down for us on her blog, Lab Muffin Beauty Science, the science of why this ideology is completely backward. "First off, chemical exfoliants are great but a lot of them need a low pH to work — that means they're acidic ... Your skin is acidic, but it's not THAT acidic. Low pH means potential chemical burns."

"Even if you have an exfoliant that's not at a low pH, it's still an issue because it's an exfoliant. Exfoliants exfoliate, meaning that they thin the stratum corneum, the layer of dead skin cells on the surface of your skin," Dr. Wong continues. However, it becomes a problem when you remove every single dead skin cell. After all, those cells are there to protect your skin. Over-exfoliation can break this layer down way too thin, resulting in skin dehydration, redness, breakouts, etc,. To combat the risk of over-exfoliating, Dr. Wong suggests beginning with a lower acidity percentage and working your way up, gradually increasing how often you exfoliate and allowing your skin to recover by backing off higher percentage products if irritation occurs.

You should only exfoliate problematic skin

While you may be thinking that over-exfoliating sounds really intimidating and scary, it may seem like a good idea to avoid it altogether by waiting to exfoliate until your skin is super dry or beginning to break out. Technically, this sounds like it would make sense. Why take the risk of harming your skin when you currently don't have any real skin concerns? Actually, many think that they should wait to exfoliate until their skin is breaking out or is overly dry, but the truth is that exfoliation should be done proactively.

According to celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, there are a vast number of reasons to exfoliate regularly (via Byrdie). In fact, exfoliating before breakouts happen can actually prevent them from happening. Not only that, but regular exfoliation can slow the signs of aging. "As you increase your exfoliation, you are tricking the skin into acting young again," Rouleau explains. "With continued use, skin will look younger and smoother each day."

Exfoliating depletes skin's moisture

So, using an exfoliant has to be drying, right? You're literally taking granules or acids and removing dead cells and oil from your skin, so it must be super dehydrating. However, you may not even need to expend more money on moisturizers just because you're exfoliating more. By removing excess oil from the skin, your body will know how to naturally retain the proper levels of moisture needed instead of overcompensating for oils and sebum produced, per Suki Skincare.

The beauty of exfoliation is that it's going to remove excess oil from the skin, not all of it. So, in other words, you're keeping the oils that you do need and getting rid of the ones you don't need. Moreover, exfoliation aids in increased blood circulation to the face, which actually can help boost collagen production (and we all know collagen production is a powerhouse in anti-aging properties and filled with hydration-enhancing benefits). Needless to say, this doesn't mean you should completely ditch your moisturizer once you've begun an exfoliation routine; you still need to make sure you're adding in extra healthy hydration that the skin needs.

You can scrub away blackheads

By now, it's safe to say we know that exfoliation tackles tons of skin problems and concerns, and just about every skin type can benefit from it. But what about blackheads? Using a granular exfoliant might seem like a surefire way to scrub those pesky nuisances right out of the skin, but, unfortunately, this is another myth. Because blackheads go deep under the surface of the skin, scrubbing them will not completely remove them. "Sadly, there is no easy way to permanently get rid of blackheads," Renée Rouleau tells Byrdie. "Your best bet is regular, monthly deep-pore cleansing facials where a skilled esthetician can soften the pores and manually remove them."

The good news, however, is that while physical (granular) exfoliants cannot go deep enough into the skin to completely get rid of blackheads, buffing the top layer of skin can help other products sink in much easier, thus working to treat blackheads. Meanwhile, chemical exfoliants with AHAs and BHAs can go deeper into the skin to help remove them, too. "AHAs (alpha-hydroxy-acids) are really good for treating blackheads, so they are basically your glycolic acids and your lactic acids," Dr. Anjali Mahto tells Cosmopolitan. "Then you have your BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), like salicylic acid, they cause a chemical disintegration of the top layer of the skin cells, so they dissolve everything, and that unblocks the pores."

Now that you know all about exfoliants, it's time to up your skincare game to a new level. Your skin will thank you.