In case you missed it, earlier this month, Kylie Jenner announced the launch of her new beauty brand, Kylie Skin. And while there's nothing particularly new about the Kardashian-Jenner clan revealing a new project or brand, this time around, the beauty community went into a meltdown due to one of the products in the new collection. Kylie took to Twitter for a little self-promotion to announce that her "secret to a fresh face" was her new Kylie Skin Walnut Scrub, and people just weren't having it. Twitter comments ranged from "Don't do it walnut scrubs are soooooo bad for your skin" to "Manual exfoliants such as walnuts scrubs create micro-tears in the skin which can lead to infections that cause breakouts." As well as my personal favourite, "The secret to having a fresh face is being 21 years old lol."
It's about now that I have a confession to make, and it's a particularly guilty secret as a beauty editor: I'm partial to using St. Ives Apricot Scrub a couple of times a month. Yes, I'll admit it—there's something about that gritty crushed-walnut-shell exfoliator that I just can't shake. I know it is something of a throwback beauty product (I've been using it since my early teenage years), but on days when I just want to give my skin a really good scrub, I don't think you can beat it.
Although I'd always heard mumblings that manual exfoliators weren't necessarily the kindest thing to use on your skin, it was only when Kylie Walnutgate happened that I started to really think about whether I should be using them at all.
To help me get to the bottom of it, I asked for the advice of some top skincare experts. It turns out that there might just be one skincare product that they wish we'd all stop using. Keep scrolling for the lowdown.
Can Manual Exfoliators Damage the Skin?
"Manual exfoliators can cause a lot of irritation if used too vigorously on the skin, as well as drying out the skin by breaking the natural lipid biolayer that holds moisture in," said David Colbert, dermatologist and founder of New York Dermatology Group.
"Imagine that you have a microscope to follow the skin exfoliation process," explained skincare expert and brand founder Susanne Kaufmann. "You will see the particles generating tensions on the skin's surface and mechanically removing debris. After a while—and depending on how sharp the particles are—you will see the particles starting to damage the skin surface, almost like a powder that scuffs glass."
"When speaking about manual exfoliators, it’s important to do it safely—especially to avoid inflammation on the skin," said Rahi Chadda, a skincare clinic owner. "Every exfoliation doesn’t work for every skin. It’s important to review your skin and see what would suit your skin best. For example, is it dry, oily, combination or sensitive? I personally do not use manual exfoliators, as my skin is quite sensitive."
As far as my beloved apricot scrub goes… so far, so not good.
Manual Versus Chemical Exfoliation
"Manual exfoliators such as ground-up, plant-based products can cause micro-tears in the epidermis," explained Colbert. "Chemicals can be harsh and sometimes hard to control the depth of the exfoliation. While chemicals break the bonds between skin cells, manual ones chafe off a layer [but] both can be great for the skin if used properly."
And not all manual exfoliators are created equal. Susanne Kaufmann's Hand Peel is mechanical (aka manual) exfoliator that actually repairs the skin alongside removing dead skin cells. "The exfoliating particles combine all the advantages of the existing exfoliation solutions while eliminating their disadvantages," explained Kaufmann. "This exfoliation is produced by means of a patented process. Mainly composed of cellulose, they [the exfoliating elements] are sustainable and eco-friendly."
So it turns out that as long as you're savvy about the formulas you choose, there might just be a place for manual exfoliation in your skincare routine after all.
Why Should We Bother Exfoliating Anyway?
"If done properly, exfoliation can make the skin look brighter and increase the blood flow," said Colbert. "[Exfoliation] cleans and removes dead skin cells," agrees Kaufmann. "At the same time, it stimulates the cleansing process and invigorates the supply of blood to the [skin] tissue."
"Exfoliating is a very important part of a healthy skin routine, but in moderation—without causing inflammation or swelling to the skin," said Chadda. "Sometimes when I exfoliate, it can cause me a slight breakout, but after that, it settles. Exfoliating helps new skin cell growth, leaves the skin smoother and helps to remove dead skin cells."
But how often should we be doing it? "Thicker, oilier skin types can tolerate exfoliation better than thin, sensitive skin," explained Colbert. "If done gently and only a few times a week, most people will benefit."
"I like to exfoliate two times a week," said Chadda.
Shop the Best Face Exfoliators
"I love the Colbert MD Tone Control discs because they’re the perfect combination of physical and chemical exfoliation," said Colbert. "You can also control the force of the exfoliation."
A gentle chemical exfoliator that uses mild fruit acids from apples, papayas and kiwis to gently slough away dull skin without irritation.
If you enjoy having the texture of a manual scrub, then this is a great option. It uses biodegradable micro beads to gently polish the surface of the skin and pore-clearing salicylic acid to purify beneath the first layer.
I've recently made the switch from my beloved St. Ives to this sugar-based scrub. It has a really creamy texture, and the sugar starts to break down when you massage it into your skin so it doesn't feel as abrasive. I use it about once a week.
A truly unique approach to exfoliation, this powder uses water-activated fruit enzymes to remove dead and damaged skin cells. Pour a small amount into wet hands and massage into wet skin to decongest pores and brighten skin without any abrasion.
These handy pads are soaked in exfoliating salicylic acid, brightening caviar lime (which is rich in vitamin C) and nourishing extracts to dissolve excess sebum and exfoliate pores. Use two to three times a week for clearer, more even skin.
One of my favourite chemical exfoliator options, this nourishing formula uses papaya and pineapple extracts to smooth and clarify the skin. Vitamin E and marine algae also work to moisturise and repair the complexion.