Q: Is it true that exfoliating is good for the skin?
A: It can be. By removing the outer layer of dead skin cells, exfoliation can make skin look and feel better and help some skin conditions. The skin naturally sheds this top layer about every 30 days; exfoliation simply accelerates what the skin does on its own.
Skin shedding slows as you get older, and this can result in dry, flaky, and itchy skin. Exfoliation brings newer, healthier skin cells to the surface. These younger cells hold water better and allow moisturizer to penetrate better. If you’re prone to razor rash (folliculitis), exfoliating before shaving helps prevent hairs from becoming ingrown. Exfoliation may also improve hyperpigmented or uneven skin tone (due to sun damage, for example).
There are two main ways to exfoliate: mechanically, using a washcloth, loofah sponge, body brush, or skin-care product that contains abrasive particles (such as almond meal or apricot seeds); or chemically, with hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid and lactic acid), found in some over-the-counter cleansers.Chemical peels done at dermatologists’ offices—mostly for cosmetic reasons but also for sun-damaged skin—use stronger agents.
(Note: Avoid exfoliant cleansers that contain plastic microbeads, which pass through many sewage treatment plants and pollute waterways. These beads are usually listed as polyethylene or polypropylene in the ingredients label, if there is one. For more information, go to the International Campaign Against Microbeads in Cosmetics. A new U.S. law called the Microbeads-Free Waters Act bans the beads in such products, but won't go fully into effect until 2018.)
You can exfoliate once or twice a week, but do it gently and moisturize afterwards. Don’t use anything too abrasive on your face. If you want to use a chemical exfoliant and have sensitive skin or a skin condition, talk to your health care provider about which product—if any—is best for you.