Swapping This Step in Your Skincare Routine Could Totally Transform Your Skin

Woman exfoliating 
Photo: Cavan Images/Getty Images

I've committed plenty of skincare sins in my time. I've over-cleansed, over-treated, and indulged in products that I knew were wrong for my skin type, just because I wanted to try them. However, one thing I was always sure of? The steps in my skincare routine. That is: cleanse, exfoliate, and moisturize. I always thought that was the gospel order of skincare, never to be deviated from.

But Dr. Harold Lancer — the skincare guru who's treated Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Ellen Degeneres — disagrees.

The Beverly Hills dermatologist to the stars believes that skin exfoliation should happen before you cleanse. He says that this simple change in the traditional order of skincare allows for a deeper cleanse, more efficient delivery of active ingredients, and more robust cell renewal.

"Say you want to replace a tile floor," he explains. "If your epidermis is the floor, the exfoliation is the gentle lifting process that breaks up the old worn tiles. Next you have to scoop up and sweep away the debris.The cleanse step washes away the exfoliant, excess oil and dirt. Finally new, fresh tiles have to be laid, or what I call the Nourish Step, which stimulates rapid self-repair of the skin."

Lancer arrived at this conclusion from empiric observation and a better understanding of skin cell biology. It's the basis of The Lancer Method, a three-step regimen Lancer's clients swear by, regardless of how sophisticated they are about cosmetics or how far they have gone with invasive procedures. The Lancer Method is simple: polish/exfoliate, cleanse, and nourish with serum or moisturizer.

"It works at actually reversing the natural slowing of cellular function and some people see improvements in as little as three to five days," he says. "You will rejuvenate your skin by naturally restoring a system that becomes damaged by time and lifestyle. The principle of the Lancer Method is to stimulate your skin to repair itself. You're physically manipulating the surface from epidermis to the dermis so there's a signaling that begins which increases skin cell turnover."

Dr. Tara Rao of the Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, agrees. "Our skin cells are constantly cycling. Just as we shed a few hairs, we shed skin cells everyday. When the outermost retained cells are removed with exfoliation, the deeper stem cells are triggered to produce more new cells, giving a healthy new layer."

One important thing to note before you change your routine, though: If you wear makeup, you still need to remove that before exfoliating.

"The aestheticians at Lancer Skincare use olive oil or grapeseed oil to remove makeup," Dr. Lancer explains. "You can also use your cleanser to remove makeup; then polish and then cleanse again. Just remember to follow the three steps (polish, cleanse, nourish) after you remove your makeup." Lancer encourages daily exfoliation (and recommends exfoliating at night), but some of his patients exfoliate twice a week (or even twice daily), depending on their skin.

The argument for exfoliating before cleansing certainly makes sense — so why isn't it the convention? According to Dr. Lancer, it's simply a matter of habit. Additionally, Dr. Rao says that while skin exfoliation before cleansing can be effective, it's really up to the individual. "Ultimately, the order you choose may depend on the specifics of the products or what feels good to you."

In other words: like all skincare, swapping this step in your routine could work for you — but it might not. And of course, both Dr. Rao and Dr. Lancer suggest talking to your dermatologist if you're worried about making any major changes

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