The case for exfoliation

Lynnette Peck / 09 March 2016

To exfoliate your skin or not, that is the question. We explore the options and ask the experts.



The skin on the face is delicate and becomes thinner and more sensitive as each decade rolls by and should be treated with care. We all know this. So should we be exfoliating our skin with products that strip away dead cells? This is what the experts think.

Ada Ooi, facialist, therapist and founder of 001 Skincare London

“Exfoliating the skin can slow down the rate at which skin ages. It helps radiance return and allows skincare products to penetrate more effectively afterwards. But when testing a new exfoliating product use every other day to see how sensitive your skin is to it.

“In terms of usage, the higher the level of exfoliant you use, such as acids, the less the treatment should be performed.  For acid formulas, I recommend two to three times a week.  If using a very high-grade peel treatment, then just use once a month. I don’t personally recommend electronic brushes as I feel they ‘sandpaper’ your skin on a superficial level.”

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Kate Bunyon, marketing director at Finders International, who own organic skincare brands Dead Sea Spa Magik and Spa Find

“It is best to exfoliate at least once a week after cleansing to get rid of any dirt and dead skin cells. Also exfoliate before applying a mask to help increase the effectiveness of the penetration of the product.

“Don’t use a body exfoliator on the face, as it will be too rough and can cause broken capillaries. When applying a facial exfoliator add water or a cream cleanser to make it go further and for it not to feel too harsh on your skin.”

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Andrea, Cosmetic Nurse Practitioner at dermacaredirect.co.uk

“Exfoliation should be the first and most important step in your skincare regime.

“As you age, skin cells turn over more slowly which can leave skin dull and lifeless. Removing dead skin cells will reveal radiant new skin. This also enables your serums, moisturisers and other skincare products to penetrate deeper into the skin and work more effectively. 

“Microdermabrasion is an enhanced form of exfoliation and can be performed at home once or twice a week. Home use exfoliation products typically contain crystals or environmentally damaging microbeads.

“Professional microdermabrasion treatments are carried out in salons using professional machines  - use these no more than once a month. Do not exfoliate after having facial peels.”

Sharon Hilditch MBE, Managing Director of Crystal Clear

We shed our skins more often than a reptile does and as we age that natural desquamation of dead skin cells slows down. Exfoliation really can have an instant rejuvenating effect, as skin immediately looks brighter and smoother and more hydrated as exfoliation allows better absorption of your moisturiser. Think of burnt toast - the butter sits on the top, whereby a nicely lightly toasted piece allows the butter to penetrate through. You can apply the same principal for the skin.

“Plus, avoid any products that contain exfoliates with jagged sharp edges that do not dissolve such as pit fruit seeds and nutshells.”

Does your moisturiser work?

Exfoliating ingredients to look out for

  • Glycolic Acid – for normal skin that is sun damaged or skin with pigmentation
  • Salicylic Acid – for oily skin to loosen excessive sebum in blocked pores such as black or white heads, acne and milia
  • Lactic Acid – for sensitive and dry skin, this is gentler than glycolic acid and has a humectant so absorbs water content into skin to stop it dehydrating.

Exfoliate in moderation

Remember, you are sloughing off the top layer of dead skin cells - but if you overdo it, you'll end up scratching the surface of new skin underneath, which could lead to inflammation and redness. 

Let your skin be your guide - if it gets red or painful, simply give the exfoliating products a break for a bit. And don't forget to moisturise afterwards!

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.