Exfoliation is by no means a child’s play. Just as it can make your complexion brighter, smoother, and bouncier, it can also mess up your skin’s barrier and make it more susceptible to damage if things go awry. And things get even trickier when you have to exfoliate sensitive skin — as so many products are aggressive and can cause all forms of irritation. But that shouldn’t be a problem if you know all the how-tos, aka how to increase your skin resistance, how often you should exfoliate, and what type of exfoliation is best for problematic skin. Keep reading to learn everything about how to exfoliate sensitive skin at home.
Is exfoliation good for sensitive skin?
Yes, every skin type should exfoliate regularly, sensitive included, as it’s the most effective way to stimulate cell renewal and promote a more radiant, youthful, and even-looking appearance. Although you may experience slight redness at the beginning, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exfoliate anymore. Since exfoliation sloughs off the buildup of dead cells from the surface, the skin will be weaker until the cells are completely regenerated. However, once it gets accommodated with the process, the tolerance increases hence fewer chances for post-treatment sensitivities.
What type of exfoliation should you use on sensitive skin?
When choosing the type of exfoliation for sensitive skin, you should err on the side of caution. There’s physical exfoliation, which involves using grainy particles or scrubs to strip away surface cells manually. Next is chemical exfoliation, which uses acids to boost cell turnover at deeper skin layers, and finally, enzymatic, which uses fruit enzymes to slough off dead cells. If you have sensitive skin, you should avoid scrubbing as it’s the most aggressive exfoliation method. Instead, you should use a gentle chemical exfoliator like lactic acid or enzymatic agents like papaya and pineapple enzymes.
How often should sensitive skin exfoliate?
Most dermatologists agree that to avoid damaging the protective barrier, people with sensitive skin shouldn’t exfoliate more than twice a week. Yet, starters that have just begun their exfoliation journey are best to limit to once weekly applications until the skin builds tolerance.
How to exfoliate sensitive skin
Now, the juicy part, how to exfoliate sensitive skin at home:
- Perform a patch test: It’s always wise to perform a patch test whenever you add a new exfoliator to your routine to see how your skin reacts and eliminate chances of sensitivities. Simply apply a thin layer of product to a small patch of your face and rinse it after 10 minutes. If it’s a leave-on exfoliator, skip the rinse part. Wait two days without applying any other product to the test patch. If you don’t experience any irritation, you can safely use the product.
- Start slowly to build tolerance: For the first month or so, one exfoliation per week is enough to reap the most benefits and train your skin to be more resistant. This gives the protective barrier enough time to recover and prepare for the next treatment. Once you pass the accommodation period, you can move on to twice-weekly applications. To stay on the safe side, you should also start with low-concentrated products that use less than 6-7% exfoliants and gradually increase the strength as your skin build tolerance.
- Use a mild exfoliator suitable for sensitive skin: Using gentle products is deadly important to succeed in your exfoliation journey as well. That said, lactic acid is one of the best options since it’s the mildest among acids, boosts hydration, and helps consolidate the skin’s barrier. Natural products infused with fruit enzymes are also great for exfoliating sensitive skin as they work on the surface and are less likely to trigger irritation. Regardless of your choice, make sure your exfoliant is formulated for sensitive skin and also contains soothing and hydrating ingredients. And even better if it’s free of alcohol and fragrances.
- Follow with a restorative moisturizer: Applying a reparative and cell-regenerating moisturizer after exfoliation will help speed up the skin’s recovery process and therefore offset possible adverse effects. Look for moisturizers infused with ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, as they’re great for fortifying the skin’s barrier. Hyaluronic acid and glycerin are also a must as they help keep skin moisturized and prevent dryness.
- Monitor your skin: Monitoring your skin constantly can give you a lot of insights on how to improve the exfoliation process and get the most out of it. Are you still experiencing irritation? Reduce the frequency or move to gentle products. Are the results not as you want? Move to more potent formulas. You get the idea.
Before you leave, there are a few other things you should be aware of.
- It’s best to exfoliate your skin at night since the process can increase photosensitivity. And never skip sunscreen!
- Don’t use retinol, vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, or other exfoliants at least 24 hours after exfoliation.
- Microneedling, sun exposure, and other cosmetic procedures are a big no-no after exfoliation.
- Exfoliation boosts the absorption of products you apply after, so you get more benefits from them. This means it’s a great chance to fight your skin concerns and apply targeted products.