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5 tips for your patients considering exfoliating their skin at home

Here are some recommendations you can provide to your patients regarding how they can safely exfoliate their skin at home, according to an Illinois-based dermatologist courtesy of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

While some people believe that exfoliation improves the appearance of their skin, dermatologists from the AAD say it’s not for everyone and—if not done properly—could do more harm than good.

“For some people, exfoliation can actually make their skin worse—with increased redness or acne breakouts,” said Dr. Rebecca Clare Tung, associate professor of dermatology at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.

Since every type of exfoliation may not work for every skin type, Dr. Tung says it’s important for a person to consider their skin type before choosing an exfoliation method.

Types of at-home exfoliation methods and considerations

There are two main methods for at-home exfoliation consisting of mechanical and chemical. Mechanical exfoliation uses a tool, such as a brush or sponge, or a scrub to physically remove dead skin cells. On the other hand, chemical exfoliation uses chemicals, such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids, to dissolve dead skin cells, according to the press release.

To prevent skin damage while exfoliating, Dr. Tung recommends the following tips:

  1. Consider the skin care products currently being used: Some medications and even over-the-counter products may cause a person’s skin to be more sensitive or peel, such as prescription retinoid creams or products containing retinol or benzoyl peroxide. Exfoliating while using these products may worsen dry skin or even cause acne breakouts.

  2. Select an exfoliation method that is best suited for a person’s skin type: Patients with dry, sensitive or acne-prone skin may prefer just a washcloth and a mild chemical exfoliator, since mechanical exfoliation may be too irritating for this skin type. Those with oily, thicker skin may want to use stronger chemical treatments or mechanical exfoliation. People should, however, avoid strong chemical or mechanical exfoliation if they have a darker skin tone or if they have noticeable dark spots on their skin after burns, insect bites or acne breakouts. For some people, especially those with darker skin tones, more aggressive forms of exfoliation may result in dark spots on the skin, Dr. Tung cautioned.

  3. Be gentle when exfoliating the skin: If a scrub or chemical exfoliator is used apply the product gently using small, circular motions. Do this for about 30 seconds, and then rinse off with lukewarm—not hot—water. If a brush or sponge is used, then short light strokes are recommended. Additionally, areas of the skin that have open cuts or wounds should be avoided.

  4. Follow with a moisturizer: The application of a moisturizer immediately following exfoliating is recommended because exfoliating can dry out the skin.

  5. Establish a schedule best suited for skin type: How often a person can exfoliate depends on their skin type and their choice of exfoliation method. Generally, the more aggressive the exfoliation, the less often it needs to be done. Be careful not to over-exfoliate, as this could lead to skin that is red and irritated.

These tips are demonstrated in a “How to exfoliate at home,” video posted to the AAD YouTube channel.

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