shower loofah
The body exfoliation conundrum - we ask several experts if the loofah belongs in the shower or the bin. Image Credit: Flickr/Marco Verch

Admit it – lockdown madness had us all verbal vomiting our deepest darkest secrets. Strangers oversharing anything from trauma to shower routines on social platforms was by far the only activity that kept us sane.

Then came the infamous celebrity ‘to bathe or not to bathe’ debate that unearthed some disturbing hygiene practices in the non-celeb community. (No, a quick swim in the pool does not count as a day’s shower nor does skipping soaping up your legs.) But it also got us thinking about the internet’s next obsession: exfoliation.

Just when an inexpensive bright green washcloth from South Korea was doing rounds in beauty circles, shower loofahs were being dragged through the mud online. Both are popular exfoliators, but the question is – do you even need them?

Gulf News got a handful of UAE-based dermatologists on the round table to crack that nut for us.

To exfoliate or not to exfoliate is the question

A thorough body scrub under hot water has all the hallmarks of a well-deserved self-care routine. For one, you’re getting rid of the dead skin cells, and two, you know you’re coming out of that bath or shower feeling squeaky clean.

But our largest organ is so good at taking care of itself, you might not even need to exfoliate at all. Specialist dermatologist Dr Muneer Mohamed of Aster Clinic says our skin cells shed naturally on their own.

The skin cells migrate from the deepest layers to the top most layers and slough off roughly every 35 to 50 days, which is known as epidermal cell turnover time. So body exfoliation is not a necessary thing that every individual has to do.

- Dr Muneer Mohamed, specialist dermatologist at Aster Clinic

“The skin cells migrate from the deepest layers to the top most layers and slough off roughly every 35 to 50 days, which is known as epidermal cell turnover time. So body exfoliation is not a necessary thing that every individual has to do,” he added.

Just your regular bath will do. This is unless factors like age or a special skin condition slows down the process, which calls for physical exfoliation. If you’re still iffy about leaving it out of your routine completely, then let’s talk moderation.

How often should I scrub?

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It all depends on the type of skin you have, but in all cases daily scrubbing is not advised. Image Credit: Pexels/cottonbro

Certainly not every day – it is a once a week to at most a month affair. Scrubbing your skin with an abrasive mitt, loofah or pad can seriously injure your skin’s outermost layer, the epidermis.

“Scrubbing or peeling can be incredibly satisfying, but going overboard can do more harm than good. You can damage your skin’s protective barrier,” said dermatology specialist Dr Shruti Kakar of Medcare Medical Centre. “We need to find a balance.”

If your skin is dry you can exfoliate once a week, however with normal to oily skin, we can go up to two to three times a week.

- Dr Shruti Kakar, dermatology specialist at Medcare Medical Centre

Our skin shields us from the environment, keeping at bay harmful ultraviolet rays, dust, pollution, while locking in natural moisture. If the epidermis layer is scrubbed raw, you can end up with dry skin that could react to anything and everything. Moderation is key.

Finding out the right frequency for you depends on the type of skin you have. Dr Kakar recommends full body exfoliation once a week for those with dry skin, while normal to oily skin types can push it to two to three times a week.

Though according to Dr Mohamed, exfoliating once every month is A-Okay, even when it is chemically done.

Chemical or mechanical exfoliation?

chemical exfoliation
Chemical exfoliation might be the answer to your scrubbing needs. Image Credit: Shutterstock

When we use a loofah or a washcloth, we’re engaging in mechanical exfoliation to manually scrub off the dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliation involves applying alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids (AHA or BHA) as a leave-on.

“If exfoliation is necessary at all, then only go for chemical,” said Dr Mohamed, who calls it “the right way” if it is a matter of choice between the two. “Loofahs or any other physical exfoliating products are not recommended as it can lead to a pigmentation disorder of the skin like frictional melanosis and macular amyloidosis.”

Repeated scrubbing of the skin not only damages its protective barrier, but can leave you with brown or black hyperpigmentation in the long run known as frictional melanosis. With macular amyloidosis, you can end up with gray-brown patches on the upper back.

Loofahs or any other physical exfoliating products are not recommended as it can lead to a pigmentation disorder of the skin.

- Dr Muneer Mohamed, specialist dermatologist at Aster Clinic

Over-the-counter AHA and BHA exfoliators avoid all the physical scrubbing caveats. You will find the acids in cleansers, toners, moisturisers, scrubs and more. The general rule of thumb is to go for alpha-hydroxy acids when you need healing from sun damage and dryness since it only tackles the surface. Look for beta-hydroxy acids to tackle clogged pores, bumps and blemishes.

“It is always better to get chemical exfoliation done by a dermatologist as a clinical procedure,” advises Dr Mohamed.

Bin your loofahs, bring in brushes and sponge

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Switch to brush, pad or sponge instead of loofah. Image Credit: Pexels/Karolina Grabowska

Then again, if you still prefer a traditional rubdown, there are ways to do it right without looking like a red tomato. And, you might just need to bin your mesh loofah, a tool dermatologists strongly discourage.

Neither too soft nor too harsh, it is probably what makes loofahs an attractive choice for many, despite being a cesspool of bacteria.

Out of all available exfoliators in the market, the best tools are brush, pad or sponge instead of scrubs, especially for sensitive skin. Examples are bristle brush, silicone brush or konjac (fibrous Japanese plant) sponge.

- Dr Nishit Bodiwala specialist dermatologist at Prime Medical

“Loofahs are a reservoir of bacteria or fungus if they are hung unused for days without a good rinse. They are not sanitary since they are very porous,” specialist dermatologist Dr Nishit Bodiwala at Prime Medical told Gulf News. “You have to disinfect them by soaking in diluted bleach or essential oils.”

You can never tell whether the dense layers are completely free of soap suds, which is a warning in and of itself. So, what do we use?

“Out of all available exfoliators in the market, the best tools are brush, pad or sponge instead of scrubs, especially for sensitive skin. Examples are bristle brush, silicone brush or konjac (fibrous Japanese plant) sponge,” added Dr Bodiwala.

konjac sponge stock
A konjac (fibrous Japanese plant) sponge is far less abrasive on the skin. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dos and don’ts of manual exfoliation

The verdict is in: You don’t need to scrub your body every time you bathe, though you can add it into your routine once in a while. Keep this helpful listicle in mind for do’s and don’ts before you reach out for an exfoliator:

  • Always rinse body with lukewarm water once done – do away with hot showers.
  • Make gentle circular motions with your tool for 30 seconds at a time.
  • Avoid exfoliating if you have open wounds, cuts, body acne or are sunburned.
  • If you are using a loofah, replace it every two to three months and disinfect it every week.
  • Remember to rinse the tool thoroughly and dry it in a cool place after each use.

And finally, always follow up with a ceramide-rich moisturiser to help restore the skin’s natural barrier with fatty acids, advises Dr Anna Lisniak of Lutetia Clinic.

Happy safe scrubbing!