Scrub-a-Dub-Dub: The Nitty Gritty on Exfoliation

We’re willing to bet our freshly microbladed brows (and maybe a few lashes) that your first exfoliant was none other than St. Ives’ notorious apricot scrub.  

Confession:  So was ours.  

The tantalizing, summery scent and overwhelming endorsement from our ninth-grade posse made the stuff irresistible – so irresistible, in fact, that we were willing to exchange our hard-earned babysitting money for a product that mimics the feeling of taking a cheese grater straight to the face. 

Now that we’re older and much, much wiser, we’ve ditched the drugstore scrub and graduated to more sophisticated regimens.  If you’re still pounding that face like a dirty sink (no judgment if you are, but STOP!) or neglecting this crucial skincare step entirely, read on for a mini-education on how to exfoliate like a boss. 


Before we dive into some nerdy Skin Care 101 supporting the why and how of exfoliation, let’s explore a few important definitions:  

scrub: to rub (someone or something) hard so as to clean, typically with a brush and water; to remove dirt by rubbing hard. [synonym: scour (she scoured the oven)]. 

exfoliate: (of a material) to come apart or to shed from a surface in scales or layers.

Spot the difference?  Scrubbing evokes images of Cinderella going to town on her stepmother’s marbled floors with a wiry sponge.  Exfoliating describes shedding of the unwanted or unneeded, until our natural essence and undeniable beauty are able to radiate from within.  

At least, that’s how we interpret it.  

These terms are often used interchangeably and while this isn’t necessarily wrong, we encourage you to favor the latter.  Our language influences our actions and when it comes to exfoliation, intentional practice and a firm yet gentle touch are key.   

Our skin is made up of two main layers: the epidermis, comprised of dead skin cells, and the dermis.  Within the living tissue of the dermis, there are five additional layers of cells that evolve and migrate towards the top, where they eventually slough off.  This outermost layer, known as the stratum corneum, is essentially a sheet of crusty cornflakes (anywhere from 1-20 layers of cells thick, eek!) that prevents our products from fully penetrating, and keeps us from living our best and most beautiful lives.

Proper exfoliation using the right products and techniques will encourage this layer to skedaddle, but it’s important that we don’t scrub away at our fresh, healthy mugs once it’s gone.  Aggressive pressure and friction remove the protective layer keeping our baby soft skin at homeostasis, strips it raw, and leaves it vulnerable to the environment.  

Now that we’ve reviewed the basics, let’s address the different types of exfoliation – because they certainly aren’t created equal.


refers to any method that manually removes dead skin cells.  

  • Dermaplaning, Melissa’s personal favorite, uses a scalpel to shave off that aforementioned layer of crusty cornflakes and peach fuzz.  Because it takes our cells approximately one month to rejuvenate, we recommend dermaplaning – you guessed it – once per month. 
  • Microdermabrasion is another form of mechanical exfoliation, where dead skin cells are carefully scraped off and sucked away through a vacuum. 
  • At-home methods shouldn’t be overlooked!  A squeaky-clean scrubby, brush, or washcloth can do the trick, too.  Just remember: easy does it.   


utilizes chemicals – usually an enzyme or an acid – to remove dead skin cells.  

  • Enzymes exfoliate by feasting on dead skin cells.  The most commonly used are papain from papaya and bromelain from pineapple (….and now we’re craving a tropical vacation).  Because both are derived from natural plant sources, they tend to be more suited for sensitive skin. 
  • Acids break apart the bonds that hold dead skin cells together and cause them to slough off.  The options are seemingly endless here, so we’ll give you the condensed version: 
    • Water-soluble alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are geared towards dry skin and address pigmentation issues, sun damage, and uneven texture.  They’re fantastic at detaching dead skin cells, but they don’t penetrate the skin all that deeply. Examples include lactic and glycolic acids.
    • Oil-soluble beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), recognized for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, are the gold-standard for oily skin and acneic clients because they penetrate deep down into the dermis.  Look for products containing salicylic acid. 

If you’re pampering yourself with products from MELT, it’s highly likely that one or more of them contains an ingredient that qualifies it as a mechanical or chemical exfoliant.  Right now, we’re obsessed with the Joëlle Martine Vitamin C Polishing Crystals ($46), a beautiful formulation of unbuffered Vitamin C that can be used 2x per week as a polishing paste mixed in with your favorite cleanser .  

So, there you have it.  Let’s continue leading the charge against dull, flaky complexions and keep cell turnover constant!

Until next time, Babe. 


Mel & Em