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Cleanse and Exfoliate: Creating a Canvas for Healthy Skin

The first steps to any smart skin care routine, cleansing and exfoliating, create a clean slate for healthy skin. A proper routine helps to eliminate dullness and allows skin care products to absorb—and work—better.

As with any skin care regimen, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to cleansing and exfoliation. Though all skin types respond uniquely to different routines, less is usually more: Using a thorough, effective cleanser and controlled method of exfoliation means you don’t need to scrub your skin in order to see results.

A proper cleansing regimen encourages the skin’s natural renewal process and removes makeup and environmental pollutants that can build up throughout the day. And for acne sufferers, cleansing is an important step toward reducing bacteria on the skin.

Cleansing also provides some manual exfoliation due to the natural exfoliating action that occurs when the hands massage the skin. If your cleanser contains salicylic, glycolic or alpha hydroxy acids, these chemicals will also help to gently break apart dead skin cells.

Climate plays a big role in the type of cleansing that is best for your skin type. Humid weather is more forgiving to the skin, whereas a cold, harsh climate can dry out the skin, especially when these effects are exacerbated by harsh cleansers.

Oily and acne-prone skin types often benefit from a salicylic acid-based cleanser, which works to reduce surface bacteria on the skin and break up the “glue” that binds dead skin cells together. If a patient suffers from inflammatory or body acne, I recommend a cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide to unclog the pores and provide anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Every skin type can use a mild, soap-free cleanser twice daily, like SkinMedica® Facial Cleanser. The tendency is to rush through cleansing, so I use (and recommend) a facial toner to help restore pH balance and remove any leftover dirt and grime.

Regardless of the cleanser you choose, don’t skip this important step. I’m a medical professional, but I’m also a realist—if you’re too tired or simply don’t have time to wash your face, a gentle, pre-moistened cleansing towelette is an adequate substitute and better than ignoring cleansing altogether.

The goal of exfoliation is two-fold: to remove dead surface skin and uncover new, healthy skin. Proper exfoliation removes dead skin and increases the absorption of topical products applied afterward, since products will have a thinner barrier to penetrate through that will not be diluted by dead skin cells.

Exfoliation in moderation is key. Aggressively scrubbing—whether with a washcloth or a facial scrub containing rough particles – will lead to irritation, especially in acne-prone or sensitive-skinned patients. Over-exfoliating can actually strip the skin of its natural barrier. The skin often compensates by producing more oil, making an already-oily complexion even worse.

Chemical exfoliants—like those containing salicylic and glycolic acids or fruit enzymes—are great for acne-prone skin. They help remove dead skin cells and help unclog pores without abrading the skin or causing acne lesions to revolt and become even more inflamed.

If you prefer a physical exfoliant (one that uses tiny particles to slough off dead skin), look for a formula with a refined texture, like SkinMedica® Skin Polisher, to gently lift away dead cells without abrading the skin.

At your dermatologist’s office, professional chemical peels are a wise investment to enhance exfoliation. A skin care professional is able to cater in-office peels to your skin type and can control the depth and penetration of the peel. This helps topical and at-home treatments work even more efficaciously.

Check with your doctor before adding any type of exfoliator to your regimen to ensure that the product you choose compliments your overall regimen and treatment plan.