Fall is the best time to exfoliate
When we exfoliate in Autumn, we are typically accomplishing a few things. The summer sun may have left its mark on our skin, and a gentle exfoliation regimen may help fade hyperpigmentation.
UV light also decreases the skin’s natural desquamation process, so we might be ending the season with a little more dead skin built up than is ideal.
Summer also brings hot and humid weather and an increase in sebum production. Between the sweat, dead skin and the oil, we might find our skin is a little more congested than we’d like.
Lastly, in the winter, it is especially important that our skin be open to hydrating and healing ingredients, and a layer of dead skin can prevent skincare from absorbing and working effectively.
These are all great reasons to revisit and revise exfoliation rituals in the Fall.
Tips to make sure you are exfoliating safely and effectively:
Choose enzymes over acids when it comes to chemical exfoliation. The reason is that enzymes preferentially target “dead” skin, vs acids which dissolve entire layers of skin, healthy cells included. That being said, the larger the acid molecule, the less deeply it penetrates, and using an acid for a deeper peel once or twice a year won’t hurt. Lactic acid has the largest molecule size and will be the most gentle, while glycolic is a smaller molecule and therefore stronger. Of course, concentration and pH matters, so be sure to check those too! The higher the % of the acid the stronger obviously, and the lower the pH of the product, the stronger.
Don’t discount manual exfoliation! Manual exfoliation has been demonized thanks to the questionable particles often used. Definitely avoid products that use salt, sugar, shell fragments, coffee grounds, stiff bristles and other media that have sharp, jagged and uneven edges and may cause microtears in the skin.
However, there are a LOT of particles that can safely be used for gentle exfoliation and that do a great job removing dead skin without harming the skin barrier and the healthy cells. These include jojoba microbeads (avoid plastic microbeads since these are not eco or wildlife friendly), oat powder, chickpea powder and even honey!
The stickiness of honey can absolutely work as a manual exfoliant, especially with lots of massage and with the additional natural enzymes present within the honey, if you are using raw honey. Beurre Céleste uses a beautiful combo of natural oils and honey to achieve a lovely gentle mechanical exfoliation action.
When using mechanical exfoliation, massage gently but thoroughly to ensure an even exfoliation.
You can see there are a ton of ingredients that one can use to help the skin release unwanted dead skin. If one type of exfoliation ingredient/product doesn’t work for you, don’t give up – try another! Try different enzymes – they all work a little differently!
Bromelain from pineapple is stronger than papain from papaya, both of which are more irritating than pumpkin bioferment.
Royal jelly also has enzymes and you can look for this as an ingredient, or you can make a mask out of 100% royal jelly purchased at the store.
There is even a botanical that uses accelerating cellular turnover as it’s mechanism for exfoliation, similar to retinol. It’s called Moth Bean, or Vigna Antificolia and you can find it in our Illumina Radiance Concentrate, along with Pumpkin bioferment. You can also try diluting exfoliation skincare that is too strong with a simple gelée like aloe vera or AMBAR’s Hydrating Moisture Gelée.
One way to get consistent but more gentle exfoliation is to switch between enzyme exfoliation and manual exfoliation each time you exfoliate. That way you give your skin a break from the precise pattern of one type of exfoliant over and over again. It’s somewhat similar to the concept of rotating skincare.
Illumina and Beurre Céleste are a great duo for this tactic – Illumina provides the enzyme exfoliation, and Beurre Céleste provides the mechanical. If you desire even more mechanical exfoliation with Beurre Céleste, you may remove it using a muslin, or other cloth.
This tip may seem obvious, but it bears repeating – exfoliate less! Exfoliation is not all or nothing! Some complexions only need exfoliation once per week some only once per month, some only once per season.
How to tell how often you need to exfoliate? Start by looking for the signs of over-exfoliation – these include patchy redness that takes over an hour to fade (a flush on the whole face that fades within the hour is sometimes a byproduct of using certain enzymes and is normal), itchy and sensitive skin, skin getting drier than normal, skin getting oilier than normal.
These signs mean that you have removed too much of the protective skin barrier and now need to lay off the exfoliation and seek out products that will help repair the skin barrier. Don’t worry, your stratum corneum should be restored within 90 days, if you support and nourish the skin during this time.
Or – are you using an exfoliating product and your skin is in good shape? You may be able to get away with dropping the frequency down to a maintenance dose. Try exfoliating half as often (if every day, go to every other day, if every week, got to every other week, etc.) Wait for a few weeks and see how your skin responds – you can always increase the frequency again in the future!
Not sure if you should be exfoliating more or using a stronger exfoliant? If you have been using an exfoliant regularly for 1-2 months and you have seen no improvement in tone or texture AND your skin is not exhibiting any of the above signs of barrier compromise, you can try a few things: increase frequency, increase strength, or try a different type of exfoliation active or a different combo of exfoliation products.
You can also ONLY exfoliate the part of the face that needs it! If only your forehead gets congested, then only apply your exfoliant there. This reduces the risk of compromising the skin barrier while helping the part of the face that could benefit from some help balancing cellular turnover. Sounds obvious, but for some reason the only products we are comfortable using on only a portion of the face are spot treatments and eye creams!
If you want to get really technical, try exfoliating according to your cycle. Did you know that your skin changes during your monthly cycle?
During your menstrual phase (when you are bleeding, typically days 1-7 of your cycle), estrogen and progesterone decline, sebum secretions decrease, moisture-retention functions of the skin deteriorate, and the skin becomes quite sensitive. It is a good idea to skip exfoliation during this week OR use a very gentle mechanical exfoliation like oat powder or Beurre Céleste.
If using Beurre Céleste, take full advantage of the fact that this cleanser can be used as a hydrating mask as well, and do an intentionally poor job of removing the mask completely, massaging the last bit of it into the skin as a conditioning treatment. The massaging action of Beurre Céleste will also help increase circulation, which is low in this phase.
Follicular phase, the phase after menstruation, lasts from about days 7-14. Estrogen increases here, and it is a hormone that stimulates the generation of collagen. Hydration and skin circulation also improve. This is a good time to use more active ingredients, so switching to an enzyme exfoliant or even doing a monthly facial during this time is optimal. Using Illumina in this phase may pay off in the next phase we are about to explore, as that is when acne rears its head.
The luteal phase generally lasts from days 14-28. Sadly, the longest phase is also the most problematic for skin. The body secretes high levels of progesterone in the luteal phase. Secretions of sebum rise as does body temperature, which creates conditions favorable for acne. The skin also tends to dull, and pigments in the skin darken.
Avoid stress and departures from your routine in this phase, as those things can aggravate an already precarious state of skin health! The skin does get fussy and sensitive in this phase, BUT also can get congested, giving rise to blemishes that appear a few days later. In this phase, it is best to choose a gentle enzyme exfoliant like Illumina. Enzyme exfoliants will also do a better job of lightening pigmentation than mechanical exfoliants. If the skin is too sensitive, apply Illumina every other day, or dilute it with a product like AMBAR’s Hydrating Mineral Gelée.
In general, taking a week off from consistent exfoliation once a month (during the menstrual phase) is a thoughtful way to care for the skin, and can be an interesting pattern to try if you are exfoliating anywhere from once a day to once a week. Instead of exfoliating, try massaging the skin during this phase.
Here’s a tip that can really help with exfoliation, especially if you are not seeing results. Try steaming or really hydrating the skin first. Take a shower in the evening as opposed to the morning and apply your exfoliating product while the skin is plump and damp and pores are open. You can also try using a facial steam or even a warm damp washcloth placed over the face for a few minutes.
Or try using a hydrating mask prior, or the k-beauty secret of 7 skin toning (applying 3-7 layers of hydrating toner one right after another, patting into the skin each time.).
Be sure to moisturize afterwards! Don’t skip or skimp on hydration ever! This could be the crucial step that keeps your skin barrier healthy, allowing you to exfoliate safely. And, as mentioned in Part 1 of this exfoliation mini-series, hydrated skin allows optimal functioning of the enzymes in the skin that control the skin’s natural desquamation process.
Did any of these tips resonate with you? Have a tip we failed to mention? Share in the comments!
Thanks for reading!