We often think of exfoliation as being just for the face, but the rest of your body needs exfoliation too. The question is what to use: Is an exfoliating body scrub the answer? A loofah? A body brush? Below, we go over the DOs and DON'Ts of body exfoliation and explain why the best body exfoliator is the one you leave on your skin.
Benefits of body exfoliation
You might wonder why we should exfoliate the body. With age, accumulated sun damage, and certain skin issues, the skin’s natural ability to invisibly shed dead surface cells becomes faulty—sometimes stopping altogether. The result is a buildup of dry, ashen-looking skin that can make your arms, elbows, and legs—pretty much everywhere—look dull, uneven, and older than they really are.
But what should you use to exfoliate your body?
The best body exfoliation products
The best body exfoliator comes in the form of a leave-on AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) exfoliant. When well-formulated, a chemical exfoliant for the body will gently dissolve the bonds holding dead skin to the surface, revealing the fresh, healthy-looking, bump-free skin beneath.
Use an AHA body exfoliator that contains glycolic or lactic acid to improve the look of dry, crepe-like, sun-damaged skin. AHAs also help enhance skin’s ability to hold on to vital hydration and promote visibly firmer skin, like no body scrub ever could.
If your skin from the neck down is prone to clogged pores, blemishes, and redness, or is rough and bumpy, look no further than a BHA body lotion that contains 2% salicylic acid. Research shows salicylic acid is soothing and oil soluble, which allows it to penetrate pores and clear up these skin issues. (If you didn’t already know, salicylic acid and BHA are different names for the same ingredient.)
How often are you supposed to exfoliate your body?
Generally speaking, daily application of a hydroxy acid body exfoliant will deliver the best results. For stubborn skin concerns (think rough skin on your elbows and feet, bacne, or bumpy arm skin), you can even consider twice daily application to get the issue(s) under control.
Are body scrubs bad for your skin?
With very few exceptions, almost all body scrubs are too abrasive. They exfoliate at the expense of skin, causing tiny micro-tears, which gradually erode your skin’s protective barrier, leading to dryness, sensitivity, and other problems.
Exfoliating body scrubs can also be highly fragranced, including essential oils. This causes further issues that can trigger irritation (although they do smell good, which does make them tempting).
This goes for body scrubs that contain all different types of exfoliating ingredients, from polyethylene (also known as plastic microbeads, which are being phased out due to environmental concerns) to walnut shells, pumice, volcanic ash, sugar, and sea salt.
Which body scrub is best?
If you can find a gentle scrub that contains environmentally friendly materials (such as jojoba beads) that naturally dissolve as you massage them into the skin, that would be OK to use. But keep in mind even these types of body scrubs aren’t going to be as effective as leave-on AHA and BHA body exfoliants.
Loofahs and dry body brushes are no better. In fact, their rough, too-firm textures and mode of use can make them even worse than scrubs, leaving skin redder and rougher than before. If you want to give this form of exfoliation a try, Board-Certified Dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman recommends, “a brush with silicone bristles that is more gentle than other options.”
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References for this information
IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, 2022, ePublication
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Volume 4, December 2016, ePublication
Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, August 2015, pages 455–461
British Journal of Dermatology, September 2014, Supplement 3, pages 19–28