Everyone needs to exfoliate, and you’ll be delighted with the results if you do.
Why Should You Exfoliate?
First off, the term exfoliation refers to the removal, either by peeling, rubbing, or sloughing off, of dead skin cells on the outer layer of the epidermis -the stratum corneum. The exfoliant is the product is that helps you with this process. The benefits of exfoliation are numerous and include:
Helps unclog pores – an essential benefit for anyone with acne
Improves the skin’s ability to retain moisture
Allows for better product penetration
Easier make-up application – no caking of your make-up
More even toned skin
If you suffer from breakouts exfoliation is a key step in your home skincare routine. As I discussed in my earlier post How Acne Forms acne begins to form when your pores are clogged with dead skin cells and oil. People who suffer from acne need to help their bodies slough off the dead skin cells so that they don’t clog the pore and so oil doesn’t get stuck in the pore as well. Regular exfoliation is the key to keeping your pores unclogged.
As we age our cell renewal factor or cell turnover rate slows down. The cell turnover rate is the process by which our skin produces new skin cells which travel from the lowest layer of the epidermis to the top layer and then shed off the skin. Think about this – a baby’s cell turnover rate is 14 days, a teenager’s is 21-28 days, a middle age person’s 28 to 42 days, and someone who is in their 50s or older the rate is between 42 to 84 days. That means that as we age the top layer of the skin, the one we see, touch, and even agonize over, becomes dull. We lose our “glow”. And think about this – if the top layer of your skin is really lots and lots and lots of dead skin cells (between 15 to 20 layers) how much of the antioxidant and retinol serums you are applying actually are getting through and doing what they are supposed to be doing? We can help keep the top layer of skin from getting too thick with dead skin cells by exfoliating.
Can You Over Exfoliate?
Actually you can over exfoliate. As I’ve already mentioned exfoliation is an essential step in any skincare regime but it should be done gently. If you over exfoliate you are actually causing your skin more harm than good. By removing too much of the top layer of your skin you are opening yourself up to redness, irritation, dryness, and even infections. So moderation is key. Our skin needs that top layer to stay intact since it plays a very important role in protecting our skin. We don’t want to remove it; we just want to keep it thin.
Also remember that using too many products with exfoliating ingredients will cause irritation and redness. Unless you are a teenager with acne doubling up on products with AHA like glycolic acid will probably prove too irritating for your skin.
How Do You Exfoliate?
There are numerous ways to exfoliate and how you choose to exfoliate will depend on your age and lifestyle. Since as we age our cell turnover rate slows down dramatically you can exfoliate more often and with stronger ingredients as you get older. If you suffer from acne you might find that you also need to be exfoliate more than twice a week. For people in their 20s and 30s with normal skin a twice weekly facial scrub might be all they need to keep their skin even toned and glowing.
Mechanical exfoliants are scrubs that rub dead skin cells off your body. The beads in the scrubs that do the exfoliating can be made from crushed nutshells, oatmeal, or tiny synthetic beads. Start by using the scrub only once or twice a week in the evening.
Mechanical Scrubs to Consider Trying:
Exfoliating Lotions/Serums generally have beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid) or alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic, lactic, citric, or malic acid – to name a few) in them and are applied in the evening after cleansing. Depending on your skin needs you could apply the products every evening or only a few times a week. You need to be the judge of what is best for your skin so you can get the great benefits of exfoliation without unneeded irritation.
Lotion/Serum Exfoliants to Consider Trying:
Paula’s Choice – I can only vouch for the BHA lotion. It works great. A good thing about Paula’s Choice is that you can buy samples for very little money so you can try her products without much of a monetary investment.
Cleansers and Moisturizers with AHA (alpha hydroxy acids) or BHA (beta hydroxy acids) are yet another way to exfoliate. Using a product like this eliminates the need to buy a separate product just for exfoliation which is important for some people. Just remember that these products can be strong – they are meant to exfoliate after all – so you might only want to use them a few times a week. Everyone’s skin is different so some experimentation might be necessary to find the right balance for yourself. See my post Amped Up Cleansers for more information about cleansers with added ingredients.
Cleansers and Moisturizers with AHA and BHA to consider using:
At-Home Peels should not be confused with professional peels since any product that is marketed for home use will be buffered so as not to cause irritation and/or peeling to the user. You actually want to see peeling after receiving a professional peel. Nevertheless this is yet another option for superficial exfoliation at home.
At-Home Peel Product to Consider Using:
Exfoliating Masks might not be a great choice for everyone, but they are another exfoliation option worth considering. You can simply apply the mask before entering the shower and wash it off at the end of your shower.
Exfoliating Masks to Consider Using:
Professional Exfoliation Treatments to Consider
Both microdermabrasions treatments and chemical peels are a wonderful way to exfoliate and treat the skin. Be sure to get those treatments from a trained professional. A series of treatments is usually needed to see more dramatic results, but even one microdermabrasion treatment or a chemical peel will leave your skin smoother, more even toned, refreshed, and glowing.
Though Mae West said “too much of a good thing is wonderful”, and I think she is right when it comes to chocolate cake, french fries, and cheese it certainly doesn’t apply when it comes to exfoliation. Remember that exfoliating will make your skin more vulnerable to the sun’s rays so be extra vigilant about using sunscreen and reapplying throughout the day. If you are using a retinol product be sure to go easy on the exfoliating in order not to irritate your skin.
All things in moderation would be a better motto for exfoliation. Find the right exfoliating product for your skin and stick to it. Your appearance will thank you.
Sources and Further Reading:
- The Mind Beauty Connection by Dr. Amy Wechsler (paperback edition) – pages 35-38
- Milady’s Standard Fundamentals for Estheticians, 9th edition – pages 229-231
Exfoliating Benefits All Skin Types by Paula Begoun