Exfoliation is a beloved skincare treatment which can be done at home with easily accessible products, but some treatments are more complex and require visiting an aesthetician or a dermatologist.

Exfoliation is the removal of the top most level of the skin which consists of dead skin cells. The goal is to have deep-cleaned, soft and youthful looking skin. There are different ways this can be achieved, but they all work on the same principle, and to understand the mechanics of any of the treatments, you have to be aware of the structure of the skin itself.

The skin consists of two layers: The dermis (young skin cells) and the epidermis (dead skin cells), with the epidermis being the outer, protective layer of the skin. The epidermis is the home to wrinkles, blemishes, dark spots and peach fuzz. Exfoliation removes the top coat of the epidermis, removing with it the spots and lines which were formed on it – this is how exfoliation achieves its effect.

That top coat of skin has other purposes than making us look less attractive, of course. It’s the barrier between the new skin and the outside world, which is great protection, but it doesn’t discriminate between good and bad influences. The layer of dead skin cells makes it difficult for the beneficial ingredients of crèmes, lotions and cleaners to reach the dermis and resolve the problems which stem from the deeper layers of the skin.

Removing this layer of dead skin cells allows us to carry out a deep and thorough cleaning of the pores, and it helps the absorption of medicinal and cosmetic products.

Let's review the five most popular exfoliating techniques to help you decide which is best for you!

Physical Exfoliation

Physical exfoliation, also known as a scrub, is a treatment that includes the use of a physical exfoliant-lotion, face mask, crème or gel. These are made of natural ingredients, such as ground down products like plant extracts or nuts. This is applied to the skin and then scrubbed off with a tool, in the likes of a brush, cloth, glove or a sponge.

The physical exfoliant draws out the dirt from the pores, while the tool, moved in a circular motion, removes it. This is a fairly simple treatment that anyone can do at home with the right tools. However, it isn't recommendable to people with sensitive skin. The tools used to scrub of the dead skin cells, the dirt and the leftover exfoliant are harsh, and the scrubbing process itself can be too harsh for those with sensitive skin.

Currently, physical exfoliants are mostly made of natural ingredients, but the treatment lost some popularity after it was determined that the microbeads that some of the exfoliants included were non-biodegradable and therefore not environmentally friendly. So make sure you read the packaging before making the purchase!

Chemical Exfoliation

Although the word “chemical” raises alarms in most people’s minds, chemical exfoliation is actually suited for sensitive skin and a much milder and gentler treatment in general. As opposed to physical exfoliation which scrubs of the layer of dead skin cells, chemical exfoliation uses chemical exfoliants to dissolve them. Chemical exfoliants are acids, namely lactic acid, glycolic acid and citric acid. All of the acids have natural sources, like dairy products, sugar cane and fruit.

Like physical exfoliants, they can be found in the forms of lotions, crèmes, or gels, but in contrast to physical exfoliation, chemical exfoliation is a leave-on treatment. Generally, chemical exfoliation is considered superior to physical exfoliation in many ways. As mentioned earlier, it’s less aggressive, which makes it suitable for sensitive skin types. Secondly, as the chemical exfoliants deeply penetrate the epidermis, the cleanse itself is deeper and more effective.

It also boosts the production of collagen and elastine, improving skin elasticity and slowing down the aging process. On top of that, it’s a great solution for people who struggle with acne. Just like physical exfoliation, you can do it at home without professional assistance needed. On top of all that, it’s totally eco-friendly!

Rechargeable Brushes

Rechargeable facial cleansing brushes are exfoliating tools which you can use to perform physical exfoliation or microdermabraison at home. Today, there are many rechargeable brushes on the market, some of them advertised as a “face massage” at the same time.

They are usually compact, easy to use, clean and carry on trips. Most of these brushes come with different heads and different speed settings. The brushes are used for deep cleaning, as tools for a scrub, and as make up removers. Whether you'll decide to use a regular brush, sponge, glove or a rechargeable, automated brush is up to you and how much you trust your own scrubbing technique. It’s undeniable that an electronic gadget will clean your skin faster and more evenly than you would do yourself, but it’s also undeniable that these sort of brushes are much more aggressive.

Some people see this as an advantage, but those with sensitive skin can find themselves getting seriously hurt by such a harsh instrument. The brushes are known to cause redness and swelling, and can also cause small cuts which could lead to infection. People with serious acne problems are also advised against using such instruments as they can damage the skin and spread infection across the face, worsening the situation instead of fixing it.

Microdermabrasion

Microdermabraison is a treatment you could do at home if you found the right tools, but it’s generally done at cosmetic salons where any aesthetician or technician can perform the microdermabrasion. During the treatment, your skincare professional uses a specialized tool which sprays microscopic, abrasive crystals of aluminum oxide, sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate over the skin to dissolve the top layer.

The same tool is then used to go over the skin, steadily moving over a focused patch and putting pressure on it. This way, the tool collects the leftover dead skin cells, as well as any of the used up crystals. The treatment leaves you with redness and a bit of swelling, but it never lasts for more than a day.

Normally your skincare professional will give you lotion to help soothe the skin. The treatment is not recommended to people with sensitive skin, as the reaction may be too aggressive. The recommended course of action is always testing out the treatment on a small patch of skin and finding out how your individual skin reacts to it. (Learn more about microdermabrasion in Silkpeel Dermalinfusion Vs. Microdermabrasion.)

Dermaplaning

Dermaplaning, more commonly known as a scalpel facial, is a bit different than all the other exfoliating techniques. While dermaplaning takes off the top layer of dead skin cells, thus improving the texture of the skin, removing dark spots, blemishes, and fine lines, what it doesn’t remove peach fuzz. (Read Dermaplaning and You: Your Comprehensive Guide to Scalpel Facials.)

Peach fuzz is unwanted vellus hair which grows all over our bodies, but is mostly visible on the upper lip, sideburns, chin and neck areas. Some people have very little or barely visible peach fuzz, while others have excessive hair which bothers them, and getting rid of it is difficult. Laser hair removal and waxing are an option, but only when it comes to dark, thick hair, and skin which isn’t sensitive and doesn’t irritate or bruise easily.

People who have very light, grey, or blonde peach fuzz, and especially those who have very sensitive skin, shouldn't choose these treatments as an option because of the aggressive nature, but also because these treatments can't recognize or remove hair that's too light or too soft. This is where dermaplaning comes in perfectly.

Dermaplaning is always performed by a licensed professional or preferably a dermatologist, and involves the use of a medical grade scalpel. The scalpel is used to scrape off the peach fuzz, naturally scraping of the coat of dead skin cells as well, not only leaving your skin smooth and hairless, but also with all the desirable effects of exfoliation, as well!