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Full Guide to Exfoliating and Toning Your Skin

Exfoliating is a very important part of your skincare routine. Exfoliating removes dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin, making the skin appear more smooth and even-toned.

The difference between exfoliating and toning

Most people believe that exfoliants and toners are the same thing, however there are subtle differences.

An exfoliating product will work by removing dead skin cells from the epidermis (top layer) of the skin. Typically contains ingredients which remove skin cells more thoroughly. Exfoliants can be chemical or physical.

A toning product is designed to 'refresh' the skin by gently removing dead skin cells and

prepare the skin to absorb the essence/serum in the later steps. It also usually claims to adjust the pH of the skin after cleansing. Only chemical.

The importance of exfoliating/toning

Cell turn over takes place every 28 days for the typical person. This means that when a skin cell is made in the dermal layer of the skin, it takes 28 days for it to be later shed. During the skin's cell cycle, the skin cells become more flattened and eventually die. They appear dull on the surface of the skin, therefore we can help remove them to give a more radiant look to the skin.

Exfoliating can also reduce the signs of fine lines and wrinkles as it stimulates cell renewal.

This is also a step which helps the ingredients from serum/essence products to absorb more effectively into the skin, helping you get the most out of your products.

Types of exfoliants and toners

Chemical exfoliants:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

  • Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

  • Poly hydroxy acids (PHAs)

Physical exfoliants

  • Scrubs

  • Medical procedures

Exfoliating and toning ingredients

Alpha hydroxy acids

AHAs are water soluble and breaks down the very top layer of the epidermis by breaking bonds between the outermost dead skin cells. It is not oil soluble, so cannot penetrate the skin much.

It's great for treating pigmentations and fine lines.

Beta hydroxy acids

BHAs are oil soluble, which means that they can penetrate deeper into the skin's lipid bilayer. This means that they are great at unclogging pores, and giving you that amazing inner glow.

Beware though, BHAs are known to be slightly irritating and are not suitable for sensitive skin.

Poly hydroxy acids

PHAs have a higher molecular weight, which means that they are less able to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin - meaning that they only work on the very surface of the skin initially and take time to work.

This is ideal for people who have sensitive skin.


Scrubs are a form of physical exfoliation where particles such as micro-beads are used to perform an abrasive action which exfoliates dead skin cells from from the surface of the skin.

However, this can sometimes be irritating to the skin, especially if applied too often or massaged in too harshly.

Issues with exfoliating and toning

Right time to exfoliate

Admittedly, exfoliating can leave your skin a little red and puffy. Therefore to avoid having visibly red skin, exfoliate at night. This will give your skin enough time to regenerate and adjust - and I'm sure your pillow won't judge you.

Using the wrong exfoliant

Sometimes, people are using the wrong exfoliants for their skin... especially people with sensitive skin.

Using BHAs can be harsh on the skin, but the main culprits are scrubs. Scrubs can be really irritating to the skin, and cause sensitisation. Always use more gentle exfoliants first, to build up your tolerance.

Exfoliating too often

More isn't always better. Especially when it comes to exfoliating.

This is probably going to be the harshest step in your skincare routine, so you need to pay attention to your skin's condition. If you are exfoliating every day and you see signs of irritation, reduce the amount of times you exfoliate or the type of exfoliator (or even switch to a toner which is more gentle).

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