Storytime: My late husband, Florian, used to have a big brown spot on the side of his face. It was likely from sun damage, and as a practicing esthetician, I had a bit of a personal vendetta against this brown spot. We would be sitting on the couch at night, watching TV, and he would allow me to dab on either exfoliating acids, a vitamin C serum, or a prescription brightening cream with hydroquinone. While these certainly helped, the most significant difference I ever saw in that brown spot was always right after he shaved his face with a razor. The simple act of gliding a razor over the face would literally lighten it up about 30% instantly! The brown spot looked so much lighter, and of course, this esthetician was happy! (And for a guy who didn’t care too much about his skin, he was impressed, too.)
In my 30+ years as an esthetician, this was just one of many examples that proved how important physical exfoliation is when it comes to fading hyperpigmentation. In this post, I’ll explain the two-step exfoliation process, why it works, and how you can use it to fade stubborn dark spots on your face.
What Is the 2-Step Exfoliation Method?
The two steps are simple; the first is chemical exfoliation (like exfoliating acids), and the second is physical exfoliation (like facial scrubs).
Many people overlook physical exfoliants because they have a bad rap, but I firmly believe in the benefits of a facial scrub! And using both chemical and physical exfoliants in tandem is critical if you want to fade hyperpigmentation on your face.
While acids and scrubs both exfoliate the skin, they do so using different mechanisms. Acids lower the skin’s pH to dissolve the keratin or “glue” keeping dry, dead, and discolored cells stuck to the skin’s surface. Physical scrubs, on the other hand, actually lift those loosened cells away to reveal the bright, new cells underneath. By using both, you’ll get a more complete exfoliation.
This two-step exfoliation method is so good for fading the look of hyperpigmentation (whether from sun damage, hormones, or post-breakout marks) that I often use it in my professional facials as well. Every single one of my facials starts with a chemical peel to loosen and dissolve dead skin cells, but to truly remove those cells, I follow up with a physical exfoliant.
How to Fade Dark Spots and Hyperpigmentation at Home
Before incorporating the two-step exfoliation method at home, you’ll need to decide which products to use. For your chemical exfoliant, I recommend using either a chemical peel or exfoliating acid serum for your skin type. For your physical exfoliant, the key is finding a well-formulated facial scrub that will be gentle on the skin. Look for one with perfectly round, biodegradable beads—not the abrasive seed and shell granules that are so often used.
Because I’ve seen such great results from the two-step exfoliation method in professional facials, I created products to mimic these results at home. Our best-selling Triple Berry Smoothing Peel is a chemical peel that gives professional results at home and works for all skin types. I also just launched the Triple Berry Smoothing Scrub as a companion product. It’s a gentle, antioxidant-rich scrub that brightens and smoothes the skin with every use.
How to Use Triple Berry Peel and Scrub Together
Before using the peel and the scrub together, use each one individually to make sure both products agree with your skin. New products should always be introduced one at a time, This way if you happen to have a reaction, you can pinpoint the cause.
Start by introducing the peel. Then, wait 2-3 days before trying the scrub. If all goes well, you can use them together!
Here’s how. Apply the peel and leave it on for 5-10 minutes, as desired. Rinse it off with cool water. Then, on slightly damp skin, apply a nickel-sized amount of the scrub. Gently massage it over your skin in circular motions, focusing on areas of pigmentation. After rinsing off the scrub, you can make it an at-home facial by using a hydrating mask, or you can just proceed with your regular skincare routine.
If you have sensitive skin, you can split these steps up by using the scrub the day after doing the peel.
Other Ways to Incorporate 2-Step Exfoliation Into Your Routine
While using the peel and scrub at the same time is a great way to jump-start a brighter, more even-toned complexion, it shouldn’t be done more than once a week. That said, you can still practice the 2-step exfoliation method in other parts of your routine to fade dark spots.
I recommend most people exfoliate 2-4 nights a week depending on their skin’s needs—those more prone to clogged pores and breakouts typically need more frequent exfoliation. On exfoliation nights, you’ll want to use your exfoliating acid serum. However, to ensure you’re properly removing the dead cells that are being loosened by your serum, substitute in a facial scrub on one of these nights for physical exfoliation. If you have oily skin that’s prone to clogged pores (like Skin Type 1 or Skin Type 3), you can sneak in an extra physical exfoliation by using a scrub as one of your morning cleanses.
There you have it—a two-step exfoliation method that does wonders for stubborn hyperpigmentation! Trust me, I’ve seen the results with my own eyes, and they speak for themselves. If you have hyperpigmentation from sun damage, past breakouts, or conditions like melasma, using both chemical and physical exfoliants is your best bet!
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Her hands-on experience as an esthetician and trusted skin care expert has created a real-world solution — products that are formulated for nine different types of skin so your face will get exactly what it needs to look and feel its best. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”