When did you start exfoliating?
I started dabbling with scrubs when I was around 15. Every Sunday evening, I’d massage the grainy mixture all over my face, before rinsing it off with lukewarm water.
The ritual made my skin softer than a baby’s. But I didn’t dare do it too often. You often hear that starting using exfoliants (or retinol/vitamin C/whatever) too soon can damage skin in the long run.
I had no idea if that were true, but I played it safe – just in case.
Now that I’m older and wiser and know a thing or two about skincare, I think I did start a bit too early – but not for the reason you think (and nope, starting early didn’t damage my skin at all. Phew!).
So, at what age should you start exfoliating? Let’s find out:
Why Do You Need To Exfoliate?
Did you know your skin already exfoliates on its own?
Every month, it sheds its old dead cells and replaces them with a brand new layer of younger cells. This is why your skin is always so soft and bright when you’re young (ok, one of the reasons…).
But, as you get older, your skin starts to slacken on the job. Its natural exfoliating process takes longer and longer, so dead cells start accumulating on its surface.
All of a sudden, your skin is rougher to the touch. Your complexion has lost its glow. And pimples start popping up everywhere. It’s not a pretty picture.
That’s your cue to start adding an exfoliant to your skincare routine to give your skin a helping hand at removing those pesky dead cells.
Here’s what happens when you exfoliate:
- Clear skin: If dead cells are off your skin, they can’t fall into your pores and clog them up. No clogged pores = no acne.
- Smoother texture: Dead cells accentuate wrinkles. When you remove them, your fine lines and wrinkles look smaller to the naked eye.
- Even-tone complexion: The older dead cells are the most damaged by the sun. That means they’re usually the darkest in colour. By replacing them with younger, lighter-coloured cells, you can fade away dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
- Radiant glow: Smoother skin better reflects light. Hello, dewy glow!
- Enhanced penetration: Too many layers of dead cells can make it harder for skincare products to penetrate deeper into your skin.
I bet you want to exfoliate now. But… should you?
Related: 10 Reasons Why You Should Exfoliate Your Skin
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At What Age Is It Safe To Start Exfoliating?
This is one of those annoying skincare questions that doesn’t have a clear cut answer. It’s different for everyone.
Your skin exfoliates on its own remember? Giving it a helping hand when it starts to slacken on the job can do wonders for your skin.
But doubling down on exfoliation when your skin is still doing the job well on its own? That can do more harm than good…
I recommend you start exfoliating only when you notice your skin isn’t doing the job well anymore. That means:
- When your skin has lost its glow and no hyaluronic acid serum in the world helps.
- When you’re dealing with acne – hello puberty!
- When dark spots are making an unwelcome appearance on your face.
Lots of girls (and boys) get acne as soon as they hit puberty. Get yourself a salicylic acid exfoliant (more on it below) and spare yourself this circle of puberty hell.
If you’re one of those lucky souls who’s not experiencing acne as a teen, congratulations! You can hold off exfoliating until you get dark spots or your skin is duller/rougher than usual.
Doesn’t matter how much everyone is raving about exfoliation. There’s no point in wasting money on something you don’t need.
Related: How To Deal With Teen Acne
How Do You Exfoliate?
When I first started exfoliating, I’d use scrubs. Big mistake! They contain small particles with rough edges, like apricot kernels and walnut shells, that can scratch and irritate skin.
These days, I prefer chemical exfoliation. I know the word chemical has become synonym with harmful, but that’s nonsense. When it comes to exfoliation, nothing works better than exfoliating acids.
The best part? There’s a chemical exfoliant for every skin type. Here’s how to find the right one for you:
Oily And Acne-Prone Skin: Salicylic Acid
If you experience any type of acne (blackheads, whiteheads, pimples), you need Salicylic acid (a.k.a. BHA).
Salicylic acid is is the only exfoliant that gets inside your pores, removing all the crap that’s clogging them up and gives you acne. Use it regularly and it’ll clear up your face (plus, prevent those nasty buggers from coming back).
While it’s at it, Salicylic acid also exfoliates the surface of your skin, reduces redness and inflammation, and helps regulate oil production.
You’d be crazy to use anything else!
- Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboois Glycolic Night Serum: Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Facetheory BHA Exfoliating Serum S3 (£18.99): Available at Facetheory
- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ($29.00): Available at Dermstore, Look Fantastic, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges
- The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid ($10.99): Available at Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
Related: The Complete Guide To Salicylic Acid: What It Is, What It Does, And How To Use It
Dry Skin: Glycolic Acid
Glycolic Acid is the smallest member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family.
Size matters here. Glycolic acid is so tiny, it can penetrate the skin better than all its relatives. That means it works better, too!
What does it do? It exfoliates the surface of your skin, hydrates it, and fades away dark spots.
- Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00): Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion ($29.00): Available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, and Paula’s Choice
- The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£6.80): Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid: What It Is, What It Does, And How To Use It
Sensitive Skin: Lactic Acid
Like Glycolic acid, Lactic acid is a fellow member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family. It exfoliates skin and hydrates it to boot.
The difference? Lactic acid is a bigger molecule. That makes it a little less effective – but also less irritating. If you find Glycolic acid too drying and irritating, this is the perfect option for you.
- Sunday Riley Good Genes (USA Version) ($105.00): Available at Sephora
- The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum ($12.990: Available at Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
- The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% ($6.79): Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Sephora
Related: Glycolic Acid VS Lactic Acid: Which One Is Better For You?
The Bottom Line
Start exfoliating skin when you need it. For most people, that’s when they get acne during puberty. But if you don’t experience that, hold off until you see signs of roughness, dullness, or uneven skin tone.
At what age did you start exfoliating? Share your stories in the commemnts below.