When it comes to the fundamentals of grooming, most of you guys have it figured out: wash morning and night, use sunscreen during the day, and apply a moisturizer at night.
But, what about exfoliating? Because if you think cleansing your face twice daily is enough to keep it in the best shape possible, you’re wrong. And it turns out, there is a big, fundamental difference between washing and exfoliating.
The bottom line? You need to do both to keep your face looking its absolute best. “Face washes and cleansers are meant to wash away dirt and impurities from the skin surface, while leaving the skin layers intact,” explains Dr. Shilesh Iyer, Dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group. “Scrubs go further, by removing portions of the dead skin layer that sits on top of the skin.”
That top layer of your skin, also known as the epidermis, serves a couple very important purposes: to protect what’s underneath, and produce new skin cells. But as you get older, this new skin cell regeneration slows down. This leads to them accumulating and piling up, resulting in clogged pores, dull skin, and a rough texture. “Using an exfoliator can help smooth and improve skin texture, unclog pores, and even help with acne,” says Iyer. “Overall, exfoliators can give the skin a more polished appearance and reveal a more radiant glow.”
While a good exfoliant can, quite literally, help sweep away a multitude of skin concerns, another great perk is that smoother skin absorbs anything you put on it afterwards (think serums, moisturizers, even acne treatments) more quickly and deeply.
Now, what should you look for when shopping for an exfoliant? While fragrance and texture are completely up to you, you’ll want to look for a formula that “contains exfoliating granules such as sugar, salt, fruit, grain, or nut particles,” recommends Iyer.
Scotch Porter Charcoal & Licorice Exfoliating Face Scrub
Founded by Calvin Quallis, this hip grooming line touts slick packaging and innovative, yet eco-friendly formulas. Fortified with a bevy of skin-healthy botanicals like turmeric root, green tea, and licorice root, the brand’s scrub also stars charcoal, which is known to help detox the skin by drawing out impurities.
$18.00 at Amazon.com
Kiehl's Facial Fuel Energizing Scrub
Developed expressly for men (but beloved by women, too), this product feels especially good during warmer months. Menthol provides a cooling and refreshing sensation — it’s like an igloo for your face — while caffeine helps reduce puffiness and temporarily tightens skin. Apricot kernel oil prevents your face from drying out, while adding lightweight moisture.
$20.00 at Nordstrom.com
St. Ives Fresh Skin Apricot Scrub
Iyers isn’t the only person who’s a fan of this product, because chances are you know at least one person who swears by the stuff. And the wallet-friendly price is just the beginning. The formula is pleasantly creamy, lightly scented, and packed with crushed walnut powder, which gently buffs your skin for a healthy, smooth glow.
$5.87 at Amazon.com
Dove Men+Care Deep Clean Face Scrub
As the name implies, this formula is especially effective on oilier and thicker skin types. It features pumice powder, which smoothes away dead cells and unclogs pores. And as with all skincare products from the brand, it leaves skin feeling soft and hydrated.
$4.55 at Amazon.com
As for how frequently you should use a face scrub, that all boils down to your skin type, and how potent or active your scrub is. For example: if you’re using a product with AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), you’ll want to use it less frequently than something that relies solely on physical exfoliating particles. But as a general rule of thumb, Iyer advises: “For my patients with more sensitive skin, I recommend exfoliating no more than once weekly, while men with thick and oily skin may tolerate exfoliating every other day.”
And if you think you don’t need a scrub because you’ve got dry skin, think again. The truth is most skin types will benefit from exfoliating. The key to scrubbing dry skin right and proper is enlisting a more gentle approach and milder formula. But, if you’re a guy with super sensitive or rosacea-prone skin, Iyer advises that you steer clear of scrubs altogether, “as they may exacerbate facial redness and capillary formation.” (If you’re still unsure of your actual skin type and how often you should scrub, ask your dermatologist or aesthetician for guidance.)
When you’re ready to exfoliate, always begin with lukewarm water, because “excessively hot or cold water can be irritating and drying,” explains Iyer. And though this might sound obvious, wash your hands thoroughly before scrubbing your face. (The whole point of exfoliating is to remove gunk and grime from of your face, not spread it around.) When your face is completely damp, take a pea-sized amount of the exfoliant and use “gentle circular motions” to apply it, says Iyer. “Start with the thicker, more oily areas on the forehead and work your way down to the chin.” Though it might be tempting to use more force or product, don’t.
Remember: the key to proper exfoliation is to be as gentle as possible. Let your product and the light, circular motions of your hands do all the work. If you’re oily or thick-skinned, pay extra attention to problem areas like your t-zone, nose, and chin. And here’s a pro tip: don’t forget to exfoliate your lips — you (and your partner) will appreciate how soft and smooth a little scrub can instantly make them.
The one area you never want to exfoliate, though, is around your eyes. Because the skin is so thin and fragile, you’ll just want to use your everyday cleanser here. After you’ve exfoliated your face, thoroughly rinse off all the product with generous amounts of warm water. When you're finished, gently tap your face with a clean, dry towel. Never rub freshly-exfoliated skin, because it can potentially irritate and redden.
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