Blue Suit Mom

Exfoliating your face: How often? What type? Why?!

By Dr. Alicia Zalka, Founder of

Exfoliation refers to intentionally sloughing surface skin cells. The reason is to make the upper layer of skin look and feel smoother and also to stimulate the natural course of cell turn over, allowing new, plumper cells to replace those being shed away.  Another reason is to minimize the plugging of the skin’s pores also resulting in smoother skin surface.

Exfoliation is one of the most important steps in keeping the skin looking its best.  And, for most people  – especially busy moms — it is optimal to exfoliate daily and gently as your individual skin tolerates it.  Like with a fitness regimen, a little bit daily is better than overdoing it all at once.

The only thing more important than exfoliating in my opinion, is keeping the skin protected from the sun by using a moisturizing sunscreen or sunblock every day, no matter what time of year and what the weather is.

Exfoliation can be broken down into two categories: mechanical and chemical.

Mechanical “skin sloughing”: Examples are using an implement or product that by virtue of its rough texture, smoothes skin as if it were sand paper to wood. Mechanical exfoliation includes salt and sugar scrubs and other abrasive cleansers, sponges, washcloths, facial cleansing cloths, brushes, and microdermabrasion, to name a few.

Chemical exfoliators:  They slough the skin by way of an interaction a particular compound has with the epidermal surface that relies on a chemical reaction as opposed to using friction or rubbing to accomplish the goal. The most common chemical exfoliating substances usually contain some form of acid.  Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, retinoic acid, trichloracetic acid, are all examples of compounds used in cleansers, masks or peels that exfoliate the skin.

I am often asked which is “better” between chemical and mechanical exfoliation. There is no clear cut answer. Both serve the skin well in different circumstances. People with very oily skin tend to do better with chemical peels or acidic skin treatments. However, both types of exfoliation work well and are often used interchangeably.

One important step to take after exfoliation is a moisturizer application. Immediately after a skin polishing (exfoliating) face wash or peel, it is critical to seal the skin with moisturizer. If this is skipped, the skin can easily become irritated and inflamed. Exfoliation and moisturizing should always go hand in hand. This is the best way to achieve a dewy, soft and fresh skin complexion.

As busy as motherhood and juggling can be, you should never neglect the health of your skin!

Dr. Zalka is on staff at Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital, and is a Clinical Attending at the Yale University Department of Dermatology. In private practice since 1995, Dr. Zalka is President and Managing Partner of Dermatology Associates of Western Connecticut. She is an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Medical Association, and the Connecticut State Medical Society. She was the president of the Connecticut State Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery Society from 2003 to 2006.  Dr. Zalka founded Surface Deep in 2012, when she saw a rapidly growing need for a bias-free voice of experience in educating and guiding consumers about caring for their skin.  (

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