Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

The Risks of Over Exfoliation December 5, 2012

Usually I can’t say enough good things about exfoliation.  In my eyes regular, at home exfoliation is one of the most essential things you need to do to maintain healthy and beautiful skin.  Depending on your skin type, how your skin is feeling and looking, and what exfoliation product you use you can exfoliate every day or just twice a week.  The thing is – you need to exfoliate.

Why exfoliate?  New Beauty explains why succinctly:

There are many benefits of regular exfoliation. As we get older, skin-cell turnover slows down and exofoliating can help speed up the normal shedding cycle. Exfoliating can rid the skin’s dull, outer layer as well as all of the flaws that reside there, like fine lines, dark spots and blemishes. Plus, your skin-care products can better penetrate your skin. Here are our top four reasons to exfoliate on a regular basis:

1. Even out skin texture. “The granules polish the skin, leaving it with a softer, smoother texture. It’s like using sandpaper on coarse, unevenly textured wood—step-by-step it becomes smooth,” says Los Angeles aesthetician Ole Henriksen.

2. Fight the signs of aging. With age, the skin’s ability to naturally exfoliate slows down. When the skin is laden with dead cells, lines, wrinkles and dryness become more apparent. “Removing dead skin reveals fresher, brighter, younger looking skin,” says Mt. Pleasant, SC, dermatologist Marguerite Germain, MD.

3. Prevent blackheads, whiteheads and breakouts. When the pores get clogged with dead skin and oil gets stuck beneath the surface, pimples can occur.

4. Minimize dark spots. Long after a blemish has healed, a red, brown or purple mark may remain. But each time you exfoliate, you’re removing the top layer of skin to diminish the appearance of discoloration.

(From Four Reasons You Need to Exfoliate)

And what are different ways you can exfoliate?  Once again I’ll turn to New Beauty to explain:

Manual Exfoliation: exfoliates with beads or spheres
This involves physically removing dead skin with scrubbing spheres or beads, which are massaged into the skin by hand. Some ingredients, like ground-up nutshells, can tear the skin and potentially cause infections, so if you choose to use a manual exfoliant, make sure that you use one with beads or spheres, which are less likely to scratch the skin.
The Upside : Quick and easy to use, manual exfoliators are available in a variety of forms and are best for normal skin types.
The Downside: May aggravate acne or sensitive skin.

Enzymatic Exfoliation: exfoliates with fruit enzymes
Ideal for sensitive and mature skin, enzymatic exfoliators contain enzymes that are derived from fruits like pineapple, pumpkin, kiwi and papaya to purge the skin of dead cells.
The Upside: Can be used on extremely sensitive or reactive skin because they tend not to irritate since there is no physical scrubbing. Plus, they’re excellent for really cleaning out clogged pores.
The Downside: “Enzymatic exfoliators take longer to work because you have to let them sit on the skin for awhile,” says Kirkland, WA, dermatologist Julie Voss, MD.

Chemical Exfoliation: exfoliates with acids
Good for acne-prone and sun-damaged skin, chemical exfoliators rely upon ingredients like alphahydroxy (AHAs), betahydroxy, lactic, malic, tartaric, salicylic, retinoic, uric or glycolic acids to break the bond between the dead skin cells, dissolving and removing them.
The Upside: Deep cleans pores, making it a good choice for oily and acne-prone skin types. Exfoliators with AHAs offer anti-aging benefits too.
The Downside: Can cause sun sensitivity and may be too irritating for dry skin. “These exfoliators are usually found in cream or lotion form, rather than being part of a cleanser, so they require an added step,” says Dr. Voss.

But sometimes too much of a good thing well is just too much.  That brings us to the risks of over exfoliation.  Go overboard with exfoliation and risk red, irritated, dry, flaky, and even thin skin.  The New York Times T Magazine article The Peel Sessions explains:

… the search for perfection often leads to just the opposite. Instead of achieving plump, soft skin, some women are winding up with visages that are “thin and kind of stretched, almost like Saran wrap,” according to Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, an assistant professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine and the director of the Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center in New York. “It puckers like the material would if wrapped tightly on something and looks like if you pricked it with a pin, a clear fluid would come out.”

This is the over-exfoliated face. For the past few decades, the most dominant recipe for radiant skin has called for removing the dead layers of epidermis to reveal newer, brighter, less-wrinkled skin. But not everyone knows just how often to slough, and some women have been misled into thinking that the more often you do it, the better. Or women exfoliate constantly to ensure that anti-aging or anti-acne serums are delivered more effectively. Exfoliate too frequently, though, with chemical peels or Retin A, and you could encounter a multitude of problems: redness, a strange waxy look and, over time, the thin skin Alexiades-Armenakas described. It can look crepelike and translucent, with capillaries showing (if you’re Caucasian), and is far more prone to fine lines, not to mention increasingly vulnerable to cancer-causing UV rays, than untreated skin. For those with darker complexions, overpeeling can also cause hyper-pigmentation, which can be permanent. …

At-home treatments can have their downsides as well. Retinoids like Retin A increase skin turnover and should be used at the correct strength and frequency. “Everyone used to put it on every night — you brush your teeth, you put on your Retin A,” Enterprise recalled. “Cheeks were getting very thin and people had that glossy look. That waxy skin makes you look older and can make you look dated in the same way your hair or makeup can.”

Abuse of drugstore or beauty-emporium products is also a danger. “I’ve done R&D for a large cosmetic company, and unfortunately to launch these over-the-counter peeling agents, the rule of thumb is to recommend twice-weekly use,” Alexiades-Armenakas said. And why is that? “Because if you don’t use it that often, you’re not going to see any results. It’s so weak compared to a dermatologist’s peel, and to compensate for this they have people overuse it.”  …

Of course, disrupting that barrier at just the right rate — either by peels, Retin A, lasers or other means — is how you stimulate the skin into creating collagen. Alexiades-Armenakas is at work on a new method for doing so, testing pixelated radiofrequency technology and ultrasound to push anti-acne or anti-aging drugs into the skin. It’s another form of fractional resurfacing, whose advantage, she said, is that most of the epidermis is left intact. Eventually, according to the dermatologist, this science will make its way into an over-the-counter product, in the form of a hand-held roller.

There remains, however, the conundrum of what to do until those futuristic gadgets arrive. For now, Alexiades-Armenakas recommends relying on a much older technology — that of the body itself. “The skin turns over every 28 days,” she said. “I’m of the firm belief that you’re better off having a strong peel just once a month at most, giving the skin a chance to recover, rebound and rejuvenate itself.”

Furthermore, according to the article Exfoliation: When Is Just Enough … Enough?  by Annet King explains that exfoliation:

… a course of action intended to keep the skin vibrant, supple and youthful, may result in a skin which is more fragilehas less natural ability to protect from UV, is easily sensitized, heals more slowly and lacks in general structural fortitude. Parchment paper comes to mind.

We now know that much of what we call aging is caused by inflammation. And overly aggressive exfoliation, along with other cutaneous assault such as pollution and UV exposure, set off the cascade of dermal interactions known as inflammation.  It is very important to note that skin which is past the age of 25 or so recovers more slowly from inflammation. In fact, inflammation, whether in response to a heavy handed microdermabrasion procedure or some other inflammatory condition such as adult acne, may result in extremely persistent redness—and by persistent, we mean that it may not ever really dissipate.

The good news is, our skin is genetically designed for remarkable resilience. The human skin produces about 1,000,000 skin cells every 40 minutes, which equates to over 36 million skin cells per day. No wonder we think nothing of obliterating them with scrubs, enzymes, acids, sonic brushes and other procedures! …

LESS IS MORE
Gentle exfoliation keeps the debris from accumulating. Today, the market is full of exfoliants which are gentle enough to use daily, such as superfine micropowders and precise dose leave- on serums containing silky microparticles of rice bran, phytic acid or salicylic acid, botanical extract combo’s. These lift dead cell debris, gently resurface using only the mildest bit of mechanical action, and still leave the lipid barrier robust and intact. …

Often, problems arise when clients start to “help the program along” by being over enthusiastic with different products in the confines of their bathroom or while in the gym sauna! Also discuss their comfort-level, perhaps from years in the gym with masochistic fitness trainers, many consumers believe that pain is required part of an effective regimen. This may be true of acquiring a rock-hard six-pack—but it definitely is NOT true of effective skin care.

NIX THE MIX
Combining products and procedures “freestyle”, without the close supervision of a licensed therapist, is where consumers often get themselves into trouble. The trumpeting claims of lunchtime lasers and other medi-office procedures along with powerful products may prove irresistible, especially with the advance of age, and especially with the impending arrival of a pivotal life passage such as a high school reunion or a daughter’s wedding.

Lastly, another reason to stop with over exfoliating – you may be causing breakouts.  According to Allure:

Convincing people that they’re exfoliating too much “is one of my great challenges,” laughs [ Ranella] Hirsch, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine. “Over-exfoliating is probably the single most significant cause of breakouts. For some reason, people think exfoliating means ‘torture my skin like it has secret government information.’” In particular, Hirsch shakes her finger at skin-care overachievers: “The person who is exfoliating too much is also putting on actives [such as Retin-A and salicylic and glycolic acid], is doing facials, is doing microdermabrasion. Each of those things on their own is good, but when you add every form of treatment together it leads to injury.”

So how can you exfoliate effectively?  Once again according to Allure:

Hirsch insists that for the most part skin knows how to exfoliate itself and says using just one exfoliator should be enough. And instead of having a set routine for how often you use your product, leave it up to your face. In other words, don’t exfoliate because it’s 7AM—exfoliate because you feel like you need to. “You have to listen to your skin,” says Hirsch. “Something that’s right at one moment can shift in real time. Just listen and adapt.”

Bottom Line:  Everyone needs to exfoliate just don’t overdo it.  Check in with your skin regularly to see if you need to adjust your exfoliation routine.  Strive for balance (I know – much easier said than done)  Experiencing breakouts and clogged pores turn to a salicylic acid product for exfoliation.  Flaky yet normal skin?  You could use a gentle scrub.  Want an effective anti-aging product?  Find the right retinol or Retin-A product for you.  Just remember – when your skin starts to feel irritated and sensitive or is constantly red you could be overdoing it.  Then it is time to reevaluate your exfoliation routine.  Keep in mind that correct exfoliation will make your skin soft, smooth, and bright.  Since everyone is different don’t look to others – figure out what your skin needs.  Check in regularly with your skin to make sure you are doing what is best for your skin.

My Related Posts:

Image from realbeauty.com

 

3 Responses to “The Risks of Over Exfoliation”

  1. [...] Ask An Esthetician discusses the risks of over-exfoliation. [...]

  2. Idebenone Says:

    Very interesting points! I think my method is pretty much in the middle. Some weeks my skin is smooth and I never exfoliate, but some weeks every time I step in the shower I feel skin flakes, so I scrub them off. My skin always lets me know when it’s up for a good scrub. That, plus a very mild facial wash, and I never need moisturizer unless I’m going out and need sunscreen. I just use plain baking soda, as my skin is very sensitive and reacts badly to chemical exfoliators, or facial scrubs with a lot of different ingredients. So, I guess in my experience more exfoliation and less moisturizing is definitely a good thing to play with.

  3. Jennifer Says:

    I think I may be the one person who can’t exfoliate at all. I have normal skin, never had acne ,and no sensitivity. This year I’m turning 40 so started a skincare regimen that includes carefully researched products that contain no toxic chemicals or irritants (mostly natural and/or organic) and exfoliation. I started with a Clarisonic brush and for the first time in my life started breaking out. I tried to wait out the “purge” period for two months but was still breaking out even after I reduced my use to just once a week. I returned the Clarisonic and tried a range of products (both chemical and scrubs) designed to be extremely gentle, good for sensitive skin, no harmful fillers or irritants, ph balanced, etc. and reduced my use to once a week. It doesn’t matter what I use or how seldom I use it, I break out after exfoliating even though my skin is otherwise plump, radiant, and healthy looking. I think my skin is just resistant to exfoliation, period. (And yes, I did the process where I eliminated all products then gradually added them back in one at a time to see if that’s what was causing the breakouts, but it wasn’t. The breakouts always happen immediately after I exfoliate.) I have stopped all exfoliation, and my skin is very happy and healthy once again.


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