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5 tips on how to exfoliate skin

We all like our complexion to look and feel a certain way, but did you know that your skin is working hard behind the scenes to protect you from external stress, allergens and infection? Here’s how to exfoliate your way to a soft, glowing complexion while letting your skin get on with the job in hand.

1. Respect your skin barrier

Your skin barrier forms an essential physical, chemical and microbial barrier against environmental stressors and infection. That top layer of skin targeted by invasive exfoliating treatments is actually there to do a really important job! Newly formed skin cells travel from the bottom of the epidermis to the surface, ‘cornifying’ (getting harder and flatter) as they replenish a rigid barrier that gradually desquamates, carrying away dirt, debris, microbes and more. This process usually takes around 28 days, although over time our rate of skin cell turnover slows and careful exfoliation can lend a hand. 

Overtaxing our skin barrier with multiple punishing products or invasive exfoliating procedures can affect its ability to protect us. Products that leave the skin in a very sensitive state (such as those that dramatically increase UV sensitivity and require a sunscreen after use) are easy to overdo and can lead to detrimental side effects unless they are prescribed or handled by a professional. Our approach is to formulate with the long-term health of your skin barrier in mind, giving you great effects with minimal interference to important skin functions. 

One of the benefits of physical exfoliators (which remove old skin cells through manual action) over chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid (which work by disrupting how cells connect) is that you can instantly tell whether the gradient is right for you, meaning you are not going to overdo things! Our exfoliating materials are carefully processed and paired with ingredients that will soften and care for the skin in our formulas. Lush Co-Founder and Product Inventor, Helen Ambrosen explains, “When a Lush product physically exfoliates the skin, the action is always balanced by the addition of softening emollient ingredients such as butters or vegetable oils to prevent the skin from being damaged in any way, so it is left very soft as well as cleansed of any surface skin squames.” From multi-tasking fresh to scrubby , there’s a huge array of meticulously balanced Lush products to suit your skin.

From enzymic face masks and scrubby cleansers to products that can be used as both (try our very own vitamin C-rich Bright & Beautiful), there’s a huge array of meticulously balanced Lush products to suit your skin.

2. Find the right gradient and routine for your skin

When it comes to exfoliating, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and different gradients suit different complexions and needs. Lush Co-Founder and Product Inventor, Rowena Bird explains, “The size of the grain plays a huge part in the effect received. Even a small

particle is enough for you to have a good scrub.Then you come down to how hard it is. If it’s really hard, like the salt in Ocean Salt, you’re going to get a really vigorous scrub. But if you’ve got sensitive skin you need a gentle scrub like the almond material in Angels On Bare Skin. It’s about looking at our collection of scrubs and then finding the grade and size and texture that suits your skin.”

The type of gradient you use might also differ depending on how often you like to exfoliate and whether you are applying product to your complexion or body (the skin on the face is more delicate). There is no hard and fast rule about how often you ‘should’ - it’s about what works best for you. “You may want to exfoliate once a day or once a week,” continues Rowena. “It’s about being aware of your skin and sensing its needs. What you put on your skin and how you treat it, is as important as what you put in your body.”

3. Choose microbiome-friendly exfoliating ingredients

Mother Nature has provided us with a cornucopia of naturally beneficial exfoliating ingredients to use in our products, from polenta in Let The Good Times Roll or aduki beans in Mask Of Magnaminty to golden castor sugar in Illipe Of Faith. Take Happy Skin: a beautifully buffing blend of freshly juiced pineapple (a natural source of alpha hydroxy acids aka AHAs), and 100% biodegradable tagua nut powder which is made from waste nuts. Not only do materials like tagua nut break down harmlessly in the environment, but they are also gentle on the skin’s microbiome: a unique community of microorganisms that help protect us from infection. Complex modern cosmetic routines and highly preserved personal care products are having a detrimental effect on this essential ecosystem, depleting the diversity that is essential to our health. Lush favours ingredients found in nature that we have co-evolved with and used to nourish our bodies (inside and out) for thousands of years. 

We also offer a huge range of scrubs that are formulated to stay fresh, effective and safe to use without the use of synthetic preservatives (as defined under Annex 5 of the E.U Cosmetic Regulations). Our self-preserving skincare is carefully crafted to deliver great effects without exposing your skin to biocidal materials that have the potential to accumulate in the skin and alter the microbiome. By choosing regeneratively sourced, natural ingredients served up in fresh, self-preserving formulas, you can help protect biodiversity on the ground and on your face. 

4. Tailor application to how your skin is feeling on the day

We advise wetting the face before use, this helps to plump the skin up a little and protect it whilst exfoliating. Using circular upward motions helps to boost circulation and tone the skin, and you can also tailor your exfoliating action to how your skin is feeling that day. Add less or more water to a pinch of one of our fresh cleanser rolls like Angels On Bare Skin, Herbalism, Let The Good Times Roll and Dark Angels for your preferred texture, whether that’s a firming paste or a gentle cleansing milk.

The same tip applies to Body scrubs. Simply apply one of our potted body exfoliators (such as Magic Crystals) to your skin before getting in the shower or bath, using circular motions to invigorate the skin. More sensitive skin will benefit from gentler exfoliating actions and a softer gradient. Bestselling Angels On Bare Skin is gentle enough for sensitive skin on the face and body, thanks to its softening blend of almond, rose, glycerine and lavender. Listen to your skin and skip exfoliating that day if your complexion is feeling stressed.

5. Pair with simple but effective before and aftercare

To get the best results from your face exfoliator, it’s advisable to ensure the skin is clean of any makeup or sunscreen first. A gentle, oil-based and humectant-rich cleanser like Ultrabland or Ultraplant will lift away excess sebum, dirt and residue, as well as draw water into the epidermis - perfect for prepping the skin for a scrub. After exfoliating, you may wish to use a toner to remove any scrub residue and lightly hydrate the skin. We suggest following with a facial moisturiser as adequate moisture levels are essential to keep the skin desquamating healthily, and to avoid scale or flaking (the water content of a healthy top layer of skin should be at least 10%). 

Emollient ingredients like evening primrose oil and murumuru butter fill the gaps between desquamated skin cells on the surface, creating a smoother appearance, while occlusive ingredients like beeswax, jojoba, argan and olive oils protect the skin from transepidermal water loss. Some super ingredients like cocoa and shea butters do both! Bestselling Vanishing Cream hydrates without heaviness meaning it’s ideal for oily or breakout-prone skin or those who prefer a lighter touch to their moisturiser, while customers tell us that Celestial is especially good for extra sensitive skin. Imperialis is perfect for middle of the road complexions that err between oily and dry, while dry skin can be quenched with Skin Drink, Peace, or Skin Shangri La. For the most luxurious skincare ingredients, opt for Gorgeous: our glow-enhancing blend of organic avocado oil, orange blossom honey water and cold-pressed grapeseed and evening primrose oils carefully formulated to support your skin barrier.

Ready to exfoliate with confidence? Check out our full range of face and body exfoliators.

Further reading

Maibach, H et al (ed) 1999. Dry Skin and Moisturizers: Chemistry and Function, CRC Press.

Del Rosso JQ et al, 2011. ‘The clinical relevance of maintaining the functional integrity of the stratum corneum in both healthy and disease-affected skin. Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology, Volume 4, issue 9.

Nguyen AV et al 2019. ‘The Dynamics of the Skin's Immune System’, International Journal of Molecular Science, Volume 12, Issue 20

Niyonsaba, F et al 2017. ‘Friends or Foes? Host defense (antimicrobial) peptides and proteins in human skin diseases’, Experimental Dermatology, Volume 26, Issue 11.

Chiller, K et al 2001. ‘Skin Microflora and Bacterial Infections of the Skin’, Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings, Volume 6, Issue 3.

Baquero, F et al 2021. ‘Epidermis as a Platform for Bacterial Transmission’, Frontiers in Immunology, Volume 12, Article 774018.

Wallen-Russell, C et al 2019. ‘The Role of Every-Day Cosmetics in Altering the Skin Microbiome: A Study Using Biodiversity’, Cosmetics, Volume 6, Issue 2.

Staudinger, T et al, 2011. ‘Molecular analysis of the prevalent microbiota of human male and female forehead skin compared to forearm skin and the influence of make-up’, Journal of Applied Microbiology, Volume 110, Issue 6.

Datir, M et al 2020. ‘The effect of preservatives used on cosmetics in skin microbiome’, World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, Volume 9, Issue 7.

Holland, T et al 2002. ‘Cosmetics What is Their Influence on the Skin Microflora?’The American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, Volume 3, Issue 7.

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