What is the difference between exfoliation and a mask?

One of the question I always ask my clients during their facial consultation is if they exfoliate their skin. And I often hear "I put on a mask sometimes." For whatever reason masks and exfoliation have gotten confused and thought to be the same product and/or step. They actually perform two completely different benefits to the skin!

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the act of removing dead surface skin cells. This will remove dry and rough skin, the texture of the skin will be smoother and brighter and it allows the penetration of products to absorb better into the skin. This can be performed by a physical exfoliation such as a grainy scrub or microdermabrasion. There are also chemical forms of exfoliation such as an enzyme or acid which dissolves dead skin cells.

Physical Exfoliation:
These types of exfoliation are made of grainy substances such as sugar, jojoba beads, silica or magnesium crystals. They work best for non-sensitive skin and rough skin texture by buffing away dead skin cells.

Microdermabrasion is not to be confused with a facial polish or scrub. There are a lot of brands that use the word "microdermabrasion" on their jar of facial scrub but they are simply not the same. While scrubs and polishes remove already dead surface dead skin cells. The true definition of microdermabrasion is to shave off microscopic layers of live skin. By doing this you are forcing the skin the reveal newer and healthier skin cells that have little or no damage by outside elements. 

Chemical Exfoliation:
Don't be scared of the word "chemical!" There are no chemicals in them but it is technically a "chemical" reaction that happens on the skin while it dissolves dead skin cells. These types of exfoliation are are usually made of fruits, herbs and plants such as papaya, pumpkin, sugar cane, cranberry, cherry and even yogurt. 

What is a mask?

A mask is a treatment of sorts for the skin that is applied and left on for a certain amount of time. They usually add hydration or nutrients back to the skin and are gel like or creamy. They can also be made of different types of clay which are great for oil absorbing and purifying. 

Cream Masks:
Suited for all skin types and boost hydration in the skin exponentially. Especially wonderful for ultra dry, dry, mature, dehydrated and sensitive skin types and conditions. Since they types of mask do not set, many of them you can apply a thin layer and go to sleep with them on for extra hydration. I have even flown with a light layer of a cream mask on my skin since plane air can ben so dehydrating!

Gel Masks:
Gel masks add moisture to the skin with out adding oil. Since they are cold in temperature usually they are great for calming inflamed skin. In fact, you can refrigerate them for extra cooling! They are great for oily skin, acne-prone, dehydrated and combination. 

Clay Masks:
Many people love the tight feeling a clay mask gives their skin. But in reality they are best for oil absorbing and can dry out an already dry or dehydrated skin type so this is not recommended. Clay masks are best for acne-prone, combination, oily and even spot treating for hormonal skin. e.g. an acne prone oily chin area and a creamy hydrating mask on the rest of the face. 

Sheet Masks:
Sheets masks are made of thin sheets of cotton and saturated in a hydrating serum of sorts. Since they are oil-free they are great for all skin types and super easy and convenient to use since there is no rinsing off involved.

The Confusion
The confusion may come from the fact that some exfoliation methods such as enzymes are applied like a mask and left on the skin to "do the work" then rinsed. Enzymes work in this way by being applied to the skin and left on for the fruit enzymes to eat away or dissolve dead skin cells. So though the action may be the same, mask and exfoliation are two different things! 

Yes! You need both!
Every skin type can benefit from exfoliation and masking. It is best to use the type that is suited for your skin type and conditions. Generally, your skin may need different things at different times. It's nice to have a few different types of masks on hand to give your skin what it needs a the moment.