Why should I exfoliate?
Every day our skin renews itself by shedding billions of dead skin cells. When we are young, it does this quickly and efficiently, turning over the dead skins cells and replacing them with plump healthy cells from lower down in the skin. As we age, this process slows down and the older we get the slower this becomes. If our skins are damaged through acne scaring, or sun damage, this process slows down even more.
The give away that your skin is not exfoliating itself efficiently and needs help in this area is really obvious. Dull skin, flaky skin, clogged, blemished or skin with white bumps on it are all signs that your skin needs to be exfoliated, or exfoliated differently.
I have clients who have all of these symptoms plus severe dehydration, thickened areas and a dullness about their skins who tell me that they exfoliate……….daily. Daily exfoliation with the incorrect product will cause the skin to become coarse and thick to protect itself from the aggravation, think soles of your feet. When you walk on bare feet your feet thicken to protect themselves. When you wear shoes all of the time the feet become soft as they are protected.
The correct form of exfoliation will help your skin stay soft and smooth, allow treatment creams to penetrate better, kill bacteria and decongest pores.
Under the microscope our skin looks like a baked sheet of puff pastry. The top layer of the skin is only 1 cm thick – this is the layer we can see. At the base of this layer there are plump round fat cells, which on a young healthy skin, work their way to the surface of the skin as plump round cells because our skins are exfoliating themselves efficiently and rapidly. As we age, these plump cells do not renew themselves as well, they slow down and as they work themselves to the surface they become flatter and dryer. Age and sun damage cause the cells to look dry, brown and flaky. The dead skin cells collect makeup, oil, dirt, and bacteria in them, which is why the correct type of exfoliation is important to help keep the skin smooth and healthy.
Scrubs are the most common way to exfoliate your skin, and an easy one for us to do two to three times per week depending on a person’s skin needs. In so saying, many scrubs on the market are either totally ineffective or have granules which are not perfectly round, thus tearing at the edges of the pores causing damage to the skin. For problem acne skins, I would highly recommend staying away from manual exfoliation unless the product has been developed with acne skin in mind, as the scrubbing action can move
the bacteria around the face, creating more acne. Many acne face exfoliants contain Salicylic Acid which is a BHA known for its anti bacterial action. Scrubs with apricot granules will damage the skin. Some scrubs sold off the shelf have very few grains in them and more soap, these are not suitable for any skin as they are stripping and drying, but not exfoliating, as are daily face washes with exfoliating beads in them. This causes the skin to become dehydrated and even more congested than it was before you started! If the scrub has been purchased from a beauty salon and contains perfectly spherical balls, it is a great way to gently, keep dead skin cells at bay between facial treatments, as long as you do not use it more than 3 x weekly.
If you are not a regular facial person, I would recommend that you go for a more intensive form of exfoliation as the scrubs only lift the very surface dead skin cells off, and do not loosen up enough of the lower dead skin cells to help the plump ones work their way to the surface. If you are a problem skin sufferer, and not able to afford facials, I recommend that you look for products with Salicylic acid in them to help keep the bacteria at bay as well as lifting the oil out of the skin and stopping the build up of dead skin cells.
I sell one exfoliating scrub which contains bamboo and green clay as its exfoliating properties. The green clay exfoliates manually and chemically whilst drawing the infection out of the skin. It works like a sponge, removing impurities, and dead skin cells whilst promoting blood flow to the skin helping it to heal.
There are three types of chemical exfoliation. In so saying they do not actually have to be chemical, the term is used to describe any form of exfoliation that is not manual (such as scrubs)
The most popular method of chemical exfoliation is the use of AHAs and BHAs, also known as Fruit Acids. They are Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids. They all come from natural sources. Glycolic Acid comes from sugar, Lactic Acid from milk, Citric from citrus fruits, Malic from Apples, Tartaric from grapes, and Salicylic Acid from willow bark. They are called acids because their ph. is acidic. The lower the ph. the more intense the exfoliation. Beauty therapists and dermatologists work with stronger and lower Ph’s than the products you buy off the shelf.
The way they are believed to work is that they break down the “glue” that holds the skin cells together. Although scientists have since tested glycolic acid and found that it enters into the cells and by creating an overly acidic condition, the cells break down. This is fine if the cell is already dead and flaking on the surface, but not so great if it happens to plump new healthy cells lower in the skin and therefore is killed by the product.
This is why today most companies prefer to use Lactic and Salicylic acid over glycolic acid. Their molecules are larger and therefore they can only work on the surface of the skin and in the skin’s pores. They only remove the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, and clean out the build up of oil and dirt in our pores, not damaging and killing off the plump healthy cells lower down in the skin. Glycolic molecules are smaller and so they can penetrate deeper into the skin, drying and killing the healthy plum cells causing the skin to become thin and damaged.
Salicylic acid breaks down the oil blockages in pores and fights infection; it allows the pores to be cleaned out and to function healthily again. Lactic acid is the only acid that increases moisture content in the skin allowing the skin to regenerate and heal itself. It has the most effect of all of the AHAs and BHAs in stimulating collagen growth so is often the main acid used in anti aging peels and anti aging products.
Another popular form of cellular renewal comes from Vitamin A. Vitamin A is one of the best vitamins for your skin, it is a potent antioxidant, and works to protect your skin from free radicals, generates cell growth, and repairs damaged cells. There are a few forms of Vitamin A used in Skincare. Retinyl Palmitate is a gentle yet effective form of Vitamin A found in many products for its healing and strengthening ability. Then there is Retinol, which belongs to a group of chemicals called retinoid. There is also a prescription only version of Vitamin A available called Retin A which is often prescribed for acne and severely sun damaged skin. It should be the last resource as it can cause severe irritation and redness and extreme sun-sensitivity.
When applied topically, retinol stimulates the production of new skin cells and helps inhibit the breakdown of collagen, the strong fibres that help skin stay firm. By improving these aspects of skin function, retinols are effective in reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and discoloration.
Retinol also attacks acne by curbing the production of oil, which clogs pores and harbours blemish-causing bacteria. In addition, retinol can fade discoloration and scars that acne leaves behind.
Few skincare ingredients are supported with such convincing scientific research as retinol. Since the 1960’s when the skincare benefits of retinol were first recognized, scientists have worked to incorporate it into products targeted to treat signs of aging and acne.
Yet this is a product which comes with many instructions and is not friendly if you are a touch heavy handed, and do not keep out of the sun. I personally feel that it is suitable for use at night and should not be used during the daytime. It will cause your skin to become more sun sensitive and can in the early days cause your skin to flake. Then on the other hand, it has been known to normalize cell activity and therefore can be used to treat psoriasis, which is caused, due to cells growing to quickly!
Enzymes are another effective form of exfoliation. The most popular and commonly used exfoliating enzymes are naturally derived from pineapple, papaya and pumpkin Pineapple contains the strongest of the three enzymes, bromelain. Papaya contains the enzyme papain, and pumpkin is rich in the enzyme protease. You may also find enzyme exfoliants derived from mushroom, fig, cherry, raspberry, grape and pomegranate.
Enzyme exfoliants are known for their ability to gently break down the bonds holding dead cells onto skin, accelerating the skin’s natural exfoliation process. They’re able to digest keratin protein and the upper layer, or stratum corneum, of our skin, which is made up of primarily dead keratin cells.
As a bonus, enzymes also strengthen the skin with natural antioxidant vitamins as they exfoliate. Pumpkin protease, for example, contains vitamin A, while pineapple bromelain contains vitamin C.
A treatment growing in popularity is Microdermabrasion which removes the top layer of skin by using a device that sprays aluminum dioxide crystals. This has been around for nearly 20 years but has only just gained popularity in the last 5. Originally it was used for thickened skin which was sun damaged and often leathery. Today it is often used for everybody.
Having been part of the launch of the original microdermabrasion machines, I am a little uncomfortable with how often these machines are used instead of a gentler approach in salons. I know the machines have come along way, just as have AHAs and Retinols, but like all of the exfoliants, I feel that they all have a role to play and need to be used for the correct skin at the correct time, not because the therapist can get to play with their machine and make a lot of money out if it at the same time!
Is it Possible to Exfoliate Too Often?
Yes you can. Manual exfoliation products should never be used more than 3 times per week, or the daily agitation will cause the skin to develop a barrier by becoming thicker to the touch and instead of feeling smooth, becomes dryer and uneven, exactly the opposite to what you were trying to achieve in the first place! Retinol products should only be used at night every second night. Although they strengthen the skin’s top layer called the epidermal layer, too much of a good thing again is not good. Lactic Acid and Salicylic acid depending on their strength and the way the product is blended can be used daily. If they contain glycolic however, this should be used only once or twice per week. Enzyme peels can be used three times per week. These peels are possible to use daily if the skin is very congested and oily as they only eat the dead skin cells so are a gentler and less intensive way to exfoliate the skin, because if there are no dead skin cells they will not eat anything!