On weekends, when I have a little extra time, I remember to exfoliate. There are two basic types of exfoliators: chemical and physical. The physical ones usually have some kind of micro-beads that polish off dead skin cells. The chemical ones do their work by reacting with the upper layer of the skin, weakening the binding properties of the lipids that hold dead skin cells together. This allows the outer skin to "dissolve," revealing the underlying healthy skin.
So, what's the point? Dead skin cells cling to our skin, and they make us look and feel dry, flaky, and dull. In order to renew and refresh our skin, we have to exfoliate. Sure, skin exfoliates over time without any help, but not fast enough!
There are only a few physical exfoliators that I can use, given my "reactive skin." Most of them are way too rough, no matter how little pressure I use when applying. I have successfully used My Blend Skin Polishing Cleanser ($70), a nice, although pricey, gel-based product that cleans as you exfoliate. It's gentle and non-drying, and I can use it a few times/week. I like the two-for quality of using it. My Blend products are a bit "obscure." I was introduced to them at Saks, and the only one of the My Blend products I tried that really grabbed me was this exfoliating cleanser. I would purchase it again.
My skin likes the glycolic acid exfoliators best. These are the basis for chemical peels administered in high concentrations by physicians. Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and is one of the most powerful and penetratable alpha hydroxy acids. We can purchase glycolic acid products in many brands at lower, safer concentrations than are used for in-office procedures.
I have used the 20% Natura Bisse Glyco Peeling 25% Pump (there is a 50% pump available too, but at an even higher price), and Glycoderma Revitalizing Facial Cream (25%) - the latter meant to be used as a leave-on cream, but I use it as a treatment.
There are also many moisturizers with glycolic acid. You leave these on, as opposed to the treatment products above. M.D. Forte Facial Cream I (15%) and Alpha Hydrox Enhanced Cream (10%) both work well. However, I prefer a treatment product I can use for 20-30 minutes and then wash off.
These exfoliators represent a wide variety of price points - from the $10.99 to $130. I'd recommend starting with the least expensive one you can find.
Watch out for salicylic acid in chemical exfoliators if you have sensitive skin. It burns my skin. I stay away from all products with this ingredient. I think it's good for younger, particularly acne-prone or oily skin.
I'm always looking for a newer, better exfoliator, so please send recommendations in the comments.
Photo courtesy of Saks.