Proper exfoliation is essential for helping skin have a fresh glow, but overdoing it or choosing the wrong method, can really damage your skin.
Learn all the facts of exfoliation and why acid peels aren’t scary, at what age you need to avoid microdermabrasion, and why that familiar apricot scrub from the drugstore wreaks havoc on skin.
Clients are always asking me, “What can I do to keep my skin looking great”? Here’s what I share:
Top 3 habits for beautiful skin
- Protect your skin from the sun
For this article we’re going to focus on point #2 and talk about the facts of exfoliation.
Why Exfoliation Makes a Difference
Your skin regenerates itself constantly, and in a typical 30-day period, a cell should make its way to the epidermis, or the outermost layer. However, things like age, pollution, diet, and weather all play a role in dead skin cells not shedding themselves naturally. Exfoliation is important because as we age, our cell turnover gets sluggish and we could use the help. It accomplishes a few things at once: it decongests pores, lightens and brightens the skin, and allows other products (say your moisturizer) to penetrate more deeply, thus being more effective.
What Is Exfoliation?
Most types of exfoliation typically deal with the epidermis and is the process of removing the older, dead skin cells from the top layer of skin. This is called superficial exfoliation.
How Often Should You Exfoliate
Most people need to exfoliate about once a week on their own with a mechanical exfoliator, like a scrub. However once you turn 30, it is wise to get a professional peel or microdermabrasion treatment every other month to encourage cell turnover and keep your complexion clean, bright and youthful.
Keep it Superficial
Stay away from strong, medical peels that reach the dermis, which is the living part of your skin underneath the epidermis. In my opinion, those types of treatments are too invasive and do more bad than good by causing intense edema [inflammation] of the dermis, which ultimately ages your skin.
The Best Ways to Exfoliate Your Face
Acids are a group of cell turnover accelerators that are considered “chemical” exfoliants. They work by loosening the “glue” that holds the skin cells together.
Acid exfoliation dates back to the Egyptians, Cleopatra was the ultimate beauty queen- she knew all the tricks…and as I discussed in my previous article Got Milk…For Your Skin?, she used milk to gently exfoliate her skin. Milk contains lactic acid, which is an alpha-hydroxy acid, or AHA. All AHA’s can be naturally derived or synthetically created.
Out of all AHA’s (glycolic, lactic, malic, etc.) used in cosmetic products, I prefer lactic acid by far. Lactic acid has a larger molecular chain structure, allowing for a more gentle penetration and result. In addition, lactic acid in particular has better lightening properties as well as superior hydrating effects. At once, it is both mild and efficacious.
Glycolic acid is another AHA and is more widely recognized. Glycolic acid has a shorter molecular chain structure, so it irritates the skin easily. However, as far as loosening the glue that binds the skin cells together, it does a great job. As it loosens the glue, the dead skin cells slough off, allowing for a smoother, brighter and clearer complexion.
Beta hydroxy acids, or BHA’s work the same way as AHA’s, they loosen the glue. The most well-known BHA is salicylic acid, which is naturally found in willow bark. The advantage of salicylic acid is that it has the ability to penetrate fats and lipids, so it is great for decongesting clogged, oily skin.
With all acids, my recommendation is to make sure you stay under a 25% concentration.
Over the counter products will always be 10% or lower, however if you get a professional facial, request a percentage that is no higher than 25%. This way you are ensuring a good result without too much irritation.
Scrubs are considered “mechanical” exfoliation. Mechanical because they always consist of a rough or abrasive particle in some type of cream or solution that is meant to “rub” the dead skin cells off the face with manual manipulation.
Scrubs can be dangerous, depending on what’s inside them.
For example, if the rough particle introduced is uneven and jagged, it can cause micro tears in the skin, which over time can wreak havoc on your complexion.
My recommendation is to find a reputable brand and stick with it. A scrub should be used 1-3 times a week (depending on your skin type) for it to be effective in keeping your face free of dead skin cells.
Microdermabrasion is a professional treatment and should only be done by an esthetician or doctor. It is also considered “mechanical” exfoliation and is performed with a machine that has a wand attachment that abrades the skin by sweeping micro-crystals across the face with lightening speed while the suction removes the used crystal particles as well as the dead skin that is being “abraded” off. It sounds scarier than what it is and as long as you have a reputable professional doing the treatment you should be fine. It is really good for scars and pigmentation and has no “downtime” at all. Hypersensitive clients, as well as rosacea sufferers, should not do this treatment as it is too physical and will over stimulate the skin. This treatment is best for individuals who are under 40-years old and thick skinned.
Some Final Words on Exfoliation
There are other ingredients that encourage cell turnover, or exfoliation, like retinols, vinegar and harsh particles like loofah and sand. With all types of exfoliation comes sun sensitivity, mainly because there are fewer layers of cells as protection so be mindful of using your sunscreen and staying out of the sun while it’s at its strongest.