For the longest time, exfoliation in an Indian beauty routine has been about using a random off-the-shelf scrub or creating one at home with fruit granules—both which have been used as standard practice regardless of varying skin types and concerns. World over, this skincare step also has a bit of a bad name, particularly due to the fear of over-exfoliation drying out your skin. However, when done right, exfoliation can be the key to balancing your skin and retaining a healthy, clear glow. While physical exfoliators have been popular for a while, the chemical counterparts are now hitting the mainstream spotlight. Two Delhi-based dermatologists—Dr Chiranjiv Chhabra, director of Skin Alive, and Dr Kiran Kaur Sethi, founder of IsyaDerm—help clear the air on all things exfoliation, and discuss why it’s the skincare step every single person should do. Below, they answer your most pressing questions.
How does exfoliation contribute to glowing skin and how often should you do it?
Dr Chhabra: “The process of exfoliation helps to clear off the top dead layer and reveal the new healthy and younger skin cells. It is recommended to exfoliate two-three times a week for normal and combination skin, but if you have sensitive skin, avoid [doing it] more than once a week. Over-exfoliating can take away the natural oils from skin, which may result in breakouts on the face. Furthermore, it can make your skin dry and cause skin issues like acne, redness or flaky patches all over in an extreme case.”
Dr Sethi: “It’s quite personal to be honest, depending on how your skin feels after it. The more sensitive and dry [your skin] is, the less you should exfoliate. The oilier and more obstructed it is—blackheads galore—the more you can exfoliate. If you’re not a regular with doing so two to three times a week, at least commit to it once a month.”
What is the difference between physical and chemical exfoliators?
Dr Chhabra: “Physical exfoliators are unrefined and have a grainy texture, usually because of small scrubbing particles that you can feel if you rub the product on your hands. A chemical exfoliator, on the other hand, feels smooth and usually has acids in the form of a liquid, or has them hidden within a cream or serum.”
Dr Sethi: “Physical exfoliators include granules, crystals and beads which will use their physical rough properties to abrade dead skin. Chemical exfoliators induce dead skin to fall off on its own. Physical exfoliators and chemical exfoliators can be used interchangeably, or you can get exfoliators that are both in one. I like chemical exfoliators better than physical ones because they are gentler and deliver more glow to the skin.”
Is there anything to fear when it comes to exfoliation?
Dr Sethi: “It’s easy to get excited by exfoliation, but too much of it will make your skin dull and sensitive. So really listen to your own skin and be gentle. You cannot scrub off your skin concerns, no matter how much you may be tempted to.”
What should exfoliation look like for someone with oily skin?
Dr Chhabra: “People with oily skin should try a chemical exfoliant that has BHA (beta hydroxy acid). These products can be most effective at exfoliating the surface of your skin and inside your pores. You can try a gentle physical exfoliant instead of a chemical one, if you’d like.”
Dr Sethi: “A chemical exfoliator with salicylic acid or mandelic acid is ideal for someone with oily skin. Gently apply in circular motions on damp skin (without rubbing too hard), and wash off after one to two minutes so the actives can penetrate into the skin.”
Is it safe to exfoliate if you have sensitive skin?
Dr Chhabra: “If you have sensitive skin, you should be extra careful to not use a harsh exfoliant. Avoid anything that has high glycolic acid content, and look for gentle exfoliants that are specifically designated as suitable for sensitive skin. Use a very gentle scrub and be modest with your usage.”
Dr Sethi: “Ideally, no more than once every two to four weeks, and only if really needed. Sensitive skin can break into rashes and irritation very easily. Avoid chemical versions and use only physical exfoliants that are meant for sensitive skin.”
Can exfoliation worsen dry skin problems?
Dr Chhabra: “If you have dry skin, you will need something that is soft and can help sooth dry patches. Experiment with how often you exfoliate and decide what works best for you and your skin.”
Dr Sethi: “A physical exfoliant that contains oil, or a chemical exfoliant with lactic acid or urea is ideal—this one is also moisturising. Gently rub onto skin in circular motions and wash off after one or two minutes. Exfoliate no more than once a week.”