How to exfoliate skin properly

Do I need to exfoliate? Yes – but not this way!

Regular exfoliation gives you back fresher, younger looking – and behaving – skin. The fact is, our natural cell turnover slows down from the moment we’re born.

We are all ageing beings, but past aged 45, your skin is now taking twice as long to turnover (50% slower at 50 than when we were 20!). So, if you’ve already noticed rougher, dull, flaky, lined skin, start to exfoliate as one extra step in your regime to see a difference overnight. If you already exfoliate, try switching formula from a physical grainy scrub (powdered grains, nut shells) to a liquid enzyme exfoliator (from fruits such as papaya and pineapple to chemicals such as salicylic acid.)

And, in my honest opinion – avoid these harsh facial brushes (shown above): skin experts and dermatologists regularly see the results of skin that has been stripped of its natural protective barrier by overuse of these often stiff ‘agressive’ brushes – plus avid users invariably get a little ‘carried away’. Persoanlly I love a musline cloth (even a damp towel -as long as they are cleaned regularly.

What to use?

Enzyme exfoliators, with an AHA and/or BHA complex, are deemed gentler than a grainy scrub, as we can seriously underestimate just how heavy-handed we can get when we’re scrubbing. That’s partly why face brushes became popular as they place less pressure on skin, but equally a lot of dermatologists don’t like these as the bristles can be too harsh. I’m not a huge fan myself anyway as I don’t like anything that sits around and attracts germs.

AHA V BHA confused?

Both are great for smoothing the surface, fine lines and unclogging pores…

AHA, aka alpha-hydroxy acid, from glycolic to malic or citric acid,  is best for drier skin, lines and wrinkles that need firming. JOGB faves? Alpha-H Liquid Gold (1) is an amazing skin resurfacer that I’m loving: a little tingly at first but the skin looks amazing after a few days; and Ole Henriksen Moment of Truth 2-in1 Polishing Sugar Glow Mask (2) with rosehip is great for mature skin.

BHA, aka beta-hydroxy acid, basically salicylic acid, is gentler and best for those with sensitive skin issues such as rosacea. Check out Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion Exfoliant (3).

…Other brands I’d say check out: Skin Ceuticals, Perricone and Peter Thomas Roth.



If I use a grainy scrub it has to contain powdered rice bran that softens when mixed with water. It’s the key ingredient in the iconic Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, and my all-time favourite Shiseido Super Exfoliating Disc, (4) double-sided face puffs abrasive one side and velvety the other. Also try Bobbi Brown Buffing Grains For Face, or the new Dior Hydra Life Time To Glow Ultra Fine Exfoliating Powder.

PSST! FYI Try to avoid a scrub with ground nuts such as walnut or apricot kernels. Obviously, since microbeads have been banned, brands are replacing with other particles, but the whole point of microbeads was that they were perfectly spherical and kind to skin, whereas ground particles potentially have tiny sharp edges that may cause tiny scratches in the skin (much like the brushes) and impair it’s natural protective outer layer.



  1. Whichever type you choose, always apply after cleansing, to slightly damp skin (skin cells are all plumped up and receptive to skincare). Apply an AHA or BHA with cotton pads (some come ready-made) or fingertips. Rinse off a grainy scrub but remember that if you use a muslin cloth that also exfoliates, so if you’re feeling sensitive, lighten up.
  2. Avoid the eye area unless the product states otherwise, and even then be wary. The skin around the eyes is far more delicate than on your cheeks or chin and needs more TLC.
  3. Apply any follow-on skincare serum, oil and/or cream while your skin is still damp to encourage the best moisture retention.
  4. Exfoliate at night, especially in summer. That way you’re not exposing freshly buffed skin to UV, pollution and the elements.

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