Without some kind of exfoliant, dead skin cells build up on the skin, making it look dull, or even dry, and clogging pores. Over time, letting dead skin cells build up can even contribute to pre-cancerous conditions. Regularly exfoliated skin looks fresher, healthier, and often clearer, with fewer wrinkles.
What to exfoliate with depends on your skin, says Polis. “What type of products you use to exfoliate really depends on the symptoms you’re trying to treat. And the more skin you exfoliate, the better the long term results—but the greater the side effects (redness, peeling and sometimes swelling).”
There are two basic kinds of exfoliants, physical and chemical. “Physical exfoliaters include scrubs, loofahs, and microdermabrasion, all of which use particles to strip away dead skin cells,” says Polis. “Chemical exfoliaters include alpha hydroxy acids, tretinoin, and peels use acid to break down the cement that holds skin cells together, causing exfoliation.”
Physical and chemical exfoliaters both remove the layers of dead skin cells, but the differences are in the side effects—and end results. “Dead skin cells tend to build up in uneven layers; when light hits the skin, it refracts unevenly, making the skin look dull. Physical exfoliators like scrubs are good to use once a week but can irritate skin as they literally rip off the dead skin cells, aggravating acne or irritating sensitive skin,” says Polis.