How many times a week should you exfoliate?

It’s the middle of January. On this fine little island I’m perched on this means about 30 seconds of daily sunlight, rain instead of snow, and a strong temptation to stay inside with fuzzy socks, Netflix and a glass of full-bodied red until Spring arrives. In addition to the emotional challenges of winter, dry, cold conditions can take a toll on your skin, leaving you with dull, uneven skin texture. The key tool to avoid this – in any season in fact – is regular exfoliation. Just how regular, however, is actually a point of contentious debate amongst skincare experts.

The minimum recommendation for exfoliation is once a week, while the most extreme recommendation I’ve come across recommends exfoliating every single day. So who is right?

What what does Kim's doctor say?

Let’s start with the full-on, fist-pumping, can’t stop won’t version of exfoliation endorsed by Dr. Harold Lancer. Dr. Lancer is a well-known Beverly Hills dermatologist whose patients include none other than Kim K and whose line of skincare products are sold at places like Harrods here in London. Frankly, any skincare routine good enough for a Kardashian is likely more than good enough for me, so I figured his method was worth taking a serious look.

Dr. Lancer prefers physical exfoliation, which works via mechanical stimulation, over chemical exfoliation, which clears dead cells via acids and enzymes. In his book, Younger, he describes the benefits of physical exfoliation:

“Gentle exfoliation sends a message to the dermis that repair should begin and fresh cells are needed, expediting the turnover of cells in your epidermis…The controlled injury achieved by exfoliating turns back the clock by reenergizing the repair process, giving skin a younger, fresher look.”

As we age, our “epidermal growth factor,” the proteins that regulate cell growth and activity, slow down, impairing our skin’s ability to regenerate. The idea is that consistent physical exfoliation manually activates these proteins, basically tricking your skin to act like it’s younger by stimulating collagen growth.

It sounds fantastic, so it’s not entirely surprising that Dr. Lancer recommends physical exfoliation as the first step in your daily two-step cleansing process. That said, many of his detractors argue that this method is too harsh and can end up doing more damage than good.

Too much of a good thing?

In order to get a more moderate resolution to this dilemma, we caught up with Dr. Nisith Sheth, Consultant Dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon at Cedars Dermatology Clinic on Harley Street.

Dr. Sheth recommends that the average person exfoliate only once or twice a week. In fact, he generally does not advise daily exfoliation, even if your skin isn’t sensitive, as over-exfoliation can leave your skin red, tender and more sensitive to external factors such as UV rays.

In terms of physical vs chemical exfoliation, Dr. Sheth recommends a combination of the two over the course of the week, depending on the reaction of your skin. He advises that some of his patients find chemical exfoliation “easier” but notes that physical scrubs can give you more control as they allow you to alter the amount of pressure you apply.  

My conclusion (I tested it so you don't have to)

After reading Dr. Lancer’s book about a year ago, I bought into it hook line and sinker and was scrubbing (gently, but still) nearly every day. In the first week or two, I saw a dramatic improvement in the brightness of my skin, but about a month into the new routine I noticed my skin was getting dry and uneven as it was probably just taking too much abuse!

After my own reading and research, including the resources above, I’ve come out somewhere in between these two schools of thought. Overall I tend to agree with Dr. Sheth’s more moderate diet of exfoliation several times a week, taking turns between physical and chemical products. These days, I exfoliate 3-4 times a week with an acid/enzyme toner or treatment (Read about Acids here) and do a nice scrub exfoliation just once a week (Read about Physical and Enzyme exfoliants here).

Bottom line, be consistent and gentle and just listen to your skin. Like your entire skincare routine, how often you exfoliate will change based on season and your body, so feel free to change it up as your body directs you.

Now back to the sofa, don’t want to keep Mr. Robot waiting…

By Renee Parker

#welcometothesisterhood

Dr. Nisith Sheth, Consultant Dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon:                              

Cedars Dermatology Clinic, cedarsderm.co.uk