Triple Threat Exfoliation: Why It Works For Me and Why It *Might* Work For You
There are those whose faces redden at the mere thought of a fruit scrub. Then there are those who need not one, not two, but three types of exfoliation to get to that happy-face medium. Leo Louie is one of those people. How he discovered that he needed triple threat exfoliation for his skin to look its best — and how he got there (spoiler alert: VERY. SLOWLY).
I’m going to start with a warning at the top of this article that this triple threat exfoliation routine may not be a great fit for everyone. This is a little bit less of a Your Mileage May Vary/#YMMV scenario and more me telling you firmly that if you’re newer to exfoliation or find your skin is very easily over-exfoliated, proceed with caution.
My skin, on the other hand, is not at all what I’d describe as sensitive, and being oily-combination as well as very congestion-prone, I’ve learned I can put my skin through a lot. I pulled way back on my exfoliation routine this past year and slowly ramped it up over months. What I discovered is that my skin started smoothing out (it’s still very much a work in progress) when I experimented with a variety of different exfoliation methods rather than just playing with the frequency of exfoliation.
So here’s the journey I took last year in which I discovered my triple threat exfoliation routine and how once again, my skin proved just how needy it is. Ugh.
Phase 1: Burn it to the ground
I started with just skincare acids. Acid exfoliation isn’t anything new on the scene, and I feel like over the last few years, we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of different formulations at a variety of strengths and price points. AHAs are my current choice in tackling both my pigmentation and congestion with their ability to help loosen up dead skin cells (the classic COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid is a perfect intro AHA if you’re new), but I’ll definitely be looking to incorporate an acid toner with a blend of different acids once summer rolls around and my pores pump even more oil than they already do.
These combo acids give me that jolt of skincare excitement because of their ability to tackle multiple things at once — as much as I love my steps and playing with my routine, I’m all about killing two (or three) birds with one stone. Purito recently launched their combo acid product, the ABP Triple Synergy Liquid (the ABP stands for AHA, BHA, and PHA), which I will be gifting to literally everyone for their birthday this year. For my stubborn skin, I’m also finally going to give the infamous Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 a shot as well, but that product is far from gentle or soothing. I believe @AnnaPark has tried one of its variants and can attest that it is not something you casually start using without caution.
Phase 2: Your face is a buffet
After a few months of just acid use, I had worked my way up to five nights a week and found I was still getting clogs and dead skin buildup. So on to the next.
Enzymes became my next project, specifically in the form of cleansers and masks. In the beauty world, when we’re talking about enzymes, more often than not they’re derived from some type of fruit that you’d probably blend into a morning smoothie or — let’s be real — a (preferably large) margarita, like a papaya or pineapple.
They can basically eat away at the dead skin cells hanging around on your face. If you’ve ever eaten too much pineapple and felt your gums or the roof of your mouth getting irritated, you know what I’m talking about.
My thought process was to loosen up my skin cells with the acid exfoliant one night and use the enzymes the following night as cleanup crew to feast on all the little bits that the acids have knocked loose. Do I have any scientific evidence to support that this is what’s happening? Definitely not. Is it a fun scenario I’ve constructed in my head to explain to myself why I’m doing what I’m doing? Absolutely — and it worked great!
I’ve used the Eclado Enzyme Deep Cleanser with success in achieving that smoothed-out feeling after cleansing (it’s a powder cleanser as well, so it’s perfect for traveling), but I’ve found I like using a more cream or oil-based cleanser that has enzymes to get a good facial massage in for 5 to 10 minutes. It’s super relaxing, has really benefited my skin in multiple ways, and also gives the enzymatic action on my face some more play time before I rinse it off. I love the Jordan Samuel Aftershow Treatment Cleanser, and Laneige just launched their Multi Deep-Clean Cleanser with papaya enzymes, which looks like it has a great texture for this.
Phase 3: I need physical therapy
All jokes and my very real back pain aside (anyone else here a part Team Sciatica), I found that I was still itching for more exfoliation and I had some stubborn clogs that still wouldn’t surface. My skin felt very smooth and still healthy with my combo of acids and enzymes, but I still had bumps on my skin that weren’t pimples or whiteheads of any kind. They appeared to just be pockets of built-up oil trapped by remaining dead skin. Sounds really sexy, right? If you’ve experienced this, you understand the frustration of having your skin look relatively clear in terms of breakout activity, but the second you put on foundation or highlighter, all these little bumps seem to magically appear out of nowhere.
This is when I knew I wanted to go back and try physical exfoliation. With all the other stuff I have going on, I only use a scrub type product once a week, and this is where I’d advise all of you to exercise the most caution. If you’ve gotten to a point where you’re using acids and/or enzymes, adding in physical exfoliation, especially with something that contains actual abrasive particles, can lead to a whole bunch of problems. @JudeChao, myself, and many others have experienced this with overuse of that abomination of an apricot scrub on our faces.
Don’t be like us. A peeling gel would work great for most people (the Secret Key Peeling Gel is still one of my favorites), and if you want to edge into something with abrasive particles, I’d say to start with something like the Klairs Black Sugar Scrub where the particles themselves can dissolve, making it less likely that you’ll over-exfoliate. I’m serious y’all, do not go full throttle on this. Leave that to Charlie’s Angels (please comment if you got that joke) and go slow.
My skin still has texture, my pores are still sizable, and I still have clogs hanging out. This routine will not somehow magically save your skin — no routine will, trust me. What this routine has done for me is show significant improvement in the issues I personally am wanting to tackle and also given me a true sense of what my skin can handle and needs at this point in time.
I encourage all of you to become the expert of your own skin and definitely be patient! This took me like 10 months to figure out, and I’m still not done. But let’s be honest — are any of us skincare junkies ever done?
How much exfoliation can your skin handle, and which kind do you prefer (acid, enzyme, physical)? Have you ever experimented with varying levels of exfoliation, and how’d it go? Share your experience in the comments!