The Beauty Blogger's Guide to Exfoliation

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Exfoliation is one of the most overlooked steps on people’s skincare regimens. It is also one of the most important. People seem to be aware of the fact that using an exfoliant is crucial, but they are often unsure of why it’s necessary.

An Intro to an Essential Skin Care Step

The skin that you are seeing right now is actually dead skin cells. It sounds far-fetched, but your skin sheds approximately 35,000 skin cells per minute. It is part of a 28-cycle where our skin is constantly exfoliating itself. This process slows down around the age of 35 and skin may appear bumpy or uneven and dull as if it has lost its glow.

These skin symptoms are caused by an accumulation of dead skin cells on the sratum corneum, or the top most layer of the skin. When we exfoliate the skin, we are speeding up cell turnover by sloughing off the accumulated dead skin cells. The result? A fresher, more radiant complexion with a smoother texture.

Exfoliation also helps your other skin care products work better. Picture an old door that you would like to repaint. The door is peeling, with layers of paint and environmental debris. If you attempted to paint over the door, the door would still be peeling and worn. It would be uneven and the painted would not be smooth and flat. Instead, what would you do first? To get a smooth paint finish, chances are you would scrape off the old paint, sand it down, and prep it for the rest of your painting.

This concept can be applied to your skin. If your skin is dull and uneven with an accumulation of dead skin cells, your other skin care products will not work as efficiently. Once you have exfoliated, however, the active ingredients in your skin care treatments will penetrate more deeply and reach the pores. Another perk? Your skin will look younger with regular exfoliation.

Mechanical vs. Chemical: Which is better?

There are two main varieties of exfoliation, each with its own advantages. It’s a matter of finding the best treatment for your skin’s needs.

What does the Derm say?

I recently talked to board-certified dermatologist Dr. R. Sonia Batra of Batra Dermatology in Santa Monica, CA to get the scoop on skin sloughing. She broke down the two key types of exfoliation -- mechanical and chemical -- and explained the benefits of each.

Mechanical Exfoliation

Mechanical exfoliation, or physical exfoliation, uses scrubs, sponges, microdermabrasion and brushes to buff off dead skin cells. Dr. Batra recommends this form of exfoliation to older people whose skin is becoming dry or showing signs of dullness, as opposed to those with oily and acne prone skin.

Just say NO to nutshells: What to look for in a manual exfoliant

  • When choosing a facial scrub, be sure it is free of nut shells, as they can scratch the skin and do more harm.
  • Avoid scrubs with polyethelene beads, as these are bits of plastic that harm the earth. 
  • Look for natural fibers in sponges and brushes as opposed to synthetic. 
  • Mechanical exfoliation should be done no more than twice a week. 

Products to try:

Bliss Micromagic Microdermabrasion Treatment contains volcanic pumice and aloe vera to remove surface impurities.

One Love Organics Cleansing Sponge is made of 100% pure plant fibers and bamboo charcoal to gently exfoliate and clean the pores. Simply apply your gentle cleanser to the sponge and use instead of a traditional washcloth. ($10)

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliation is different. You may hear it referred to as chemical peeling, even though a true chemical peel is not a procedure one would do at home. A chemical exfoliant involves the use of skin care products formulated with hydroxy acids (alpha, beta, etc.), retinoids, or enzymes to loosen the connection between skin cells and stimulate cell turnover. Chemical exfoliation can remove several layers of skin, help correct sun damage, and treat wrinkles. Dr. Batra recommends this type of exfoliation is for acne prone skin. NEVER use a manual (scrubby) exfoliant on acne. It is one of the worst things you can do!

Choosing the right chemical exfoliant

  • Beta hydroxy acid (look for salicylic acid) is best for acne, blackhead, whiteheads and rosacea. BHAs, unlike other hydroxy acids, can penetrate and unclog the pores. Another benefit of BHAs is that they are anti-bacterial. 
  • Alpha hydroxy acids are best for sun-damaged or dry skin. These acids cannot unclog pores. Of the different AHAs, glycolic has the smallest molecular size and is best able to penetrate the skin. 
  • Retinol (topical Vitamin A) works to encourage cell turnover from the deepest layers up, as opposed to working primarily on the outer layers. It is effective for deeper wrinkles. 
  • Fruit enzymes are ideal for congested skin. Looks for products containing pineapple or papaya, because they contain bromelain and papain to lift off dead skin cells. 

Chemical exfoliants to try at home:

ZENMED AHA/BHA Complex is used like a toner and exfoliant in one. AHA helps to improve the look of patchy, flaky skin while the BHA works to unclog bacteria from the pores. ($20)

RoC Retinol Correxion MAX Wrinkle Resurfacing System targets deep lines and wrinkles over time using a stable form of retinol. ($30)

Caudalie Glycolic Peel features papaya enzymes and glycolic acid to stimulate cell renewal. It works well on sun damaged skin. ($39)

You can get too much of a good thing.

A word of caution when it comes to skin exfoliation. Many people are so happy with the results they see from their exfoliation that they decide to do it daily instead of as recommended. Excessive exfoliation can damage the skin and even make you look older. Use your products only as recommended and you’ll see your long-lost glow beginning to return.

Defining Beauty

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

This piece originally is one I wrote for a recent edition of CosmoBiz Salon, a print publication I write each month for. I thought I'd share it here, too.

I had this idea for an article. It would be easy. I just needed to ask women an age-old question: “What makes you feel beautiful?”

Such a simple concept. What I found, though, is that many women struggled to answer what seems like a benign enough question.  

I then asked myself what makes me feel beautiful and I sat here looking at my laptop screen without an answer. My mind instantly moved to things about myself that don’t make me feel beautiful: the freckles on my face, the pesky lines around my mouth, and the fact that the back of my thighs are a wee bit more squishy than I would like. I was disappointed and surprised to feel this way about myself.

One of the women I spoke to answered the question I posed to her by saying, “I honestly can say I've never really felt beautiful. Pretty, yes. Beautiful, not so much. I can do my hair and makeup and still feel just okay about myself. Low self esteem and no confidence really sucks. I'm pretty good at pretending though.”

She was not alone in her response.

Mirriam-Webster defines beauty as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit .”

I pondered the question some more. I have worked in the beauty industry for many years. I am surrounded by beautiful people, beautiful packaging, beautiful surroundings and beautiful products that work magic. And I can’t help but be haunted by the ugly reality of how women speak to themselves. Their inner dialogue often became their outer words when I was applying their makeup:

  • “I look so old. I wish I looked younger.”
  • “I hate my skin.”
  • “Can you make my face slimmer?”
  • “I wish I could get plastic surgery.”
  • “If only my nose weren’t so big.”
  • “I used to be beautiful -- years ago.”

The most rewarding part of my job over the years was for women to look in the mirror after getting their makeup done and smiling. Knowing that some strategically applied highlighter or a quick wash of color can completely help women see themselves in a new light -- when they were already beautiful to begin with -- is humbling. Sadly, that feeling of “I look beautiful!” tends to be fleeting.

The hardest part, truthfully, is knowing that women can be so hard on themselves. Instead of looking in the mirror and feeling beautiful, we sometimes look and only see what we view as our flaws. We say “I wish I look like I did when I was 22” instead of “I am 40 years old and my husband still can’t keep his hands off me.”

Why is that? I wanted to look deeper and I decided to interview an expert. Peggy Derivan, MS, founder of Discoveries Counseling, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and National Certified Counselor (NCC) in western New York. She tells me that this happens to be one of the most important topics in her practice.

Derivan describes a common scenario with teen girls and women: ”Even when they are told by others that they are, in fact, beautiful, they often don't believe it about themselves. Being beautiful and feeling beautiful are two different experiences. Feeling beautiful is actually connected to feelings of self-worth.”

This absolutely makes sense. This is what I used to see in my makeup chair day in and day out -- women who often didn’t think they deserved a compliment or to hear, “You have stunning cheekbones” or “Your blue eyes really pop!”

Let’s work on this. Every single woman is beautiful in her own way and, more importantly, deserves to feel beautiful.

On an encouraging note, I had several women who answered my question right away. This confidence was truly refreshing -- and I found it to be empowering. So what makes women from all across the USA feel beautiful? Here are some of the responses:

Amy: “You would be surprised the difference lipstick or a colored lip gloss, eye liner and mascara will do for you face. No expert make up application techniques needed and takes less than 5 minutes. I feel like I stand a little taller when I wear lipstick.”

Becky: Getting my eyebrows done and taking time to "do" my hair--blow dry, straighten, products. Makeup wise, eye liner makes a big difference for me.”

Christina: “A cute pair of heels and a smile -- and maybe a great mascara and lip gloss.”

Stephanie:A tan! I know that shouldn't be the answer, but it feels so good!”

Chantel: “Throw away ALL your ratty underwear. I kid you not! I am not talking about going out and spending a fortune at some fancy lingerie shop--just something not faded  or with worn out elastic. Your confidence and attitude can go A LOT higher when you are wearing something pretty under your clothes.”

Jennifer: “For me, what makes me feel the most beautiful has nothing to do with clothes, hair or makeup. It's me coming downstairs and having one of my girls say I look nice. Or my husband grabbing my hand out of the blue or really laughing at something I say. Or even just that quick second head look from him when I've taken an extra minute with my appearance. There are so many things.... If I had to pick something I would say getting my nails done. I love getting a really good mani/pedi. Pretty flip flops and painted toes is just an awesome feeling for me “

How can we get more women to feel beautiful? Derivan says, “Our culture has miles to go when helping women believe they are worthy, important, and deserving of such a designation as beautiful.  When I work with ladies and they begin to value their worth, they also start to see their beauty.  It's funny - we might think that knowing our beauty would help with our worth, but it really works the other way around.”

Small steps, folks. We can get there. You are beautiful. Each of you.

Make Your Own Pumpkin Face Mask

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The skin benefits of pumpkin are abundant. Today, we're making a fabulous powdered face mask. Powder is used here for two reasons: 1. So you can have a long-lasting mask "base" to use without needing a preservative and 2. So you can add whatever ingredients to the mask you'd like, whether it be Greek yogurt, rosewater, aloe juice, etc.

Why Pumpkin?
  • Pumpkin contains an abundance of anti-aging Vitamin A and antioxidant Vitamin C to promote collagen production. As we age, collagen in the skin breaks down, resulting in a loss of firmness and elasticity. Applying products with pumpkin may improve the look of lines and wrinkles and help ward off skin aging.
  • Pumpkin also contains carotenoids, helpful in the anti-aging process. Alpha-carotene, which is abundant in pumpkin, is believed to slow biological aging. Anecdotal evidence suggests the same may be true for its impact on the skin.
  • Pumpkin is also rich in natural fruit enzymes and alpha hydroxy acids, which help to gently exfoliate the skin. The enzymes boost cell turnover and work to shed dead skin cells, revealing a more radiant, glowing complexion. 
  • Beta-carotene in pumpkin helps maintain the look of healthy skin. In fact, it is essential for overall skin health. If you are one of the many people out there who suffers from Melasma, the beta-carotene in pumpkin may help treat the areas of hyperpigmentation by gradually and gently lightening them.

When I had my skin care business (which was featured by Martha Stewart in one of her magazines in 2008), I made a dry mask called the Pink Pumpkin Mask that was really lovely for dry, mature, and delicate skin types. 

Today we're going to make that same recipe. Here it is, beauties!

Pumpkin accounts for over half of this mask. Added to this are Pink Kaolin Clay, Buttermilk Powder, Honey Powder and pure Lavender Essential Oil.

This is an all-natural dry mask. It will help your skin achieve a glow and youthful radiance, naturally.

What do the ingredients in this mask do?

  • Pumpkin soothes, hydrates and protects the skin with its abundance of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, potassium, alpha-carotene, zinc, beta carotene, and lutein.
  • Honey is known for its anti-bacterial properties. It can help to treat and prevent acne, while still having the ability to moisturize the skin.
  • Buttermilk is high in emollients and natural fats from the milk. It helps to cleanse and soothe at the same time.
  • Pink Kaolin Clay is the gentlest of clays. It will not dehydrate the skin, nor will it draw out oils and strip the skin. It acts as a very gentle exfoliant and helps to boost skin circulation without the redness associated with other kaolin varieties.
  • Lavender is always a favorite of mine for its ability to be so calming and soothing to sensitive and irritated skin, while being effective at clearing up acne. I purchase all of my essential oils these days at Plant Therapy. The quality is stellar. I am often asked about the popular direct sales oil companies such as Young Living. I cannot in good conscience recommend these oils.

To Make:

For the proportions, use 50-60% pumpkin powder. The other powders/clays can be split equally to make up the remaining 40-50%. Then add in 10 drops of essential oil. Store in a jar or even a Ziploc bag.


You will only need a very small amount of the powder, which you may dilute with water, buttermilk, cream, milk, rosewater, or aloe vera juice.

Apply to the skin which has been already been cleansed and rinsed with tepid water.

Leave on your skin for about 10 minutes.

Rinse off thoroughly with warm water. Follow with your favorite toner and moisturizer. I do this at night and I use my cleanser, homemade mask, Clinique Mild Clarifying Lotion, and Decleor Aromaessence Neroli Night Balm.
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