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What is a scrub?
Before we can discuss whether using scrubs on acne prone skin types, it is important to understand exactly what scrubs do and what exfoliation actually is, especially since there are quite a few misconceptions surrounding this skin care tool.
Exfoliation can be summed up as a way to remove dead skin. Removing this skin typically makes your face feel softer and smoother while treating a ton of different skin concerns like dark spots or dullness. There are two types of exfoliation, mechanical and chemical, and both cater to specific skin types to help keep everything looking glowy and bright.
The difference between manual and chemical exfoliation
Scrubs and other products that contain physical grit are considered manual exfoliation. With manual exfoliants, grainy pieces like walnut shell fragments, peach pit pieces, and other natural components all make for fantastic ingredients that are generally relatively safe.
Synthetic exfoliants are not recommended since they can clog your pores and cause other issues so try to avoid things like plastics and silicons. It is a good idea to avoid them when possible since they are damaging to your skin and overall health and have a negative impact on the planet.
There is a common concern surrounding the usage of manual exfoliants. If the grit is too large it can cause microtearing in your skin that can result in acne breakouts due to bacterial exposure through the tears and general irritation. Due to this, many people do not recommend using scrubs and other manual exfoliation products on acne prone skin.
Chemical exfoliants are much more suitable for acne prone skin types and do not cause as much friction and tearing. In general, more and more people are flocking to chemical exfoliation products, also known as chemical peels, due to this concern.
More About Chemical Exfoliation
If you have ever used a product containing salicylic acid, tea tree oil, or a facial peel, you have already introduced yourself to chemical exfoliation. Chemical exfoliants act as a non-textured, chemical based alternative to the common facial scrub.
Since it does not contain physical scrubbing particles, it does not run the risk of microtearing your skin. This makes it more suitable for those with acne since it does not create new avenues for bacterial entry or enhanced irritation.
There is still a cause for concern that comes with using chemical exfoliants, like any other skin care product. Some people with particularly sensitive skin will potentially experience a reaction while using these products, depending on which ingredients they are sensitive to.
To offset this risk, be sure to research any products that you are considering to ensure that they do not contain ingredients that trigger a reaction for you personally. You can use online resources to help cross check products for specific ingredients and get recommendations for products that are safe for your skin.
Common Chemical Exfoliants
There are two main types of chemical exfoliants that are commonly used: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs).
Alpha hydroxy acids are composed of ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, and mandelic acid. Typically, you will see glycolic and lactic acid in skin care since they are safer and more suitable for topical usage.
Beta hydroxy acids most commonly are represented by salicylic acid and other similar ingredients. These differ from AHAs in quite a few ways, namely AHAs are water soluble while BHAs are oil soluble. AHAs also can cause sun sensitivity and require sunscreen applications when outdoors while BHAs actually offer a bit of UV protection, though sunscreen is still recommended.
If you suffer from dryness, AHAs can be a massive beneficial factor to help add hydration into your skin. AHAs are a sort of natural humectant that can help to trap moisture into your face, preventing flaking and dry patches.
Alternatively, BHAs are fantastic for those with acne since many of them, especially salicylic acid, have been known to help treat acne due to their ability to help soothe inflammation and irritation. BHAs are frequently used to alleviate redness and swelling due to this, as well.
If you do not want to purchase a specific product and want to play around a bit at home with chemical exfoliation, you can actually take part in quite a few do it yourself options.
If you have oily skin, you can opt for a blend using aspirin tablets and lemon juice mixed with soothing ingredients to help remove excess oil while delivering exfoliation. Salicylic acid is actually a type of aspirin so this makes sense on a scientific level, as the mask acts as a BHA peel!
If you have significant acne scarring along with your breakouts, you can try an apple cider vinegar peel. There are dozens of recipes online that give the details on making this type of mask but all that is absolutely required is apple cider vinegar and apple sauce for a simple mask that gets the job done. Just blend one teaspoon of vinegar with one tablespoon of sauce and you are set!
For sensitive skin, you can actually use cucumbers! Cucumbers naturally contain ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, which is known to be soothing and can aid in relieving redness and irritation without irritating acne or other skin issues.
If you want something a little more intensive that also treats fine lines, opt for egg whites as your main ingredient. Apply it after mixing with your other active ingredients and let it sit for twenty minutes or so to fully get the effects of the egg whites.
Is it okay to exfoliate with acne?
Of course! Exfoliating your skin can help with a ton of different skin issues, including acne. Exfoliating can actually help reduce redness, irritation, discomfort, and appearance issues associated with acne breakouts. Some people also notice a decrease in the duration and intensity of their breakouts, as well, especially with ingredients like salicylic acid which are commonly added to acne treatments.
Can scrubbing cause acne?
In a way, yes. Exfoliating with scrubs can cause allow bacteria to enter your skin if it causes microtearing which can cause inflammation and breakouts. Physical exfoliation can also lead to overall damage to your skin, especially if you have acne prone skin that is already perhaps damaged from breakouts with acne scarring or other issues. Generally, chemical exfoliation is a safer route for those with acne if their skin can tolerate such treatments.
Should you exfoliate acne prone skin?
A general of thumb with skin care is to exfoliate unless you have a reason not to. A dermatologist can advise you fully on what would and would not be recommended for your skin type but generally exfoliation can benefit you in one way or another. If you want to give it a try there are plenty of natural options available that are safer than more intensive products that may be a bit too harsh.