Skincare 101: Exfoliation

Skincare 101: Exfoliation

Exfoliate verb /eksˈfoʊ.li.eɪt/

to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, in order to improve its appearance

From the Latin "exfoliare”, “to remove leaves."

According to Wiki, the Egyptians get credit for first recording exfoliation of the skin.  In Asia the practice goes back hundreds of years, as in does in Africa and the Middle East.  Ancient Romans exfoliated the skin with oils and blunted blades as a method of cleansing after the baths.  

In the modern skin treatment room, exfoliation gets broken down into two categories: physical / mechanical exfoliation, and chemical exfoliation.

Physical/mechanical exfoliation uses a brush, scrub or other physical or mechanical means to remove dead skin cells. In my treatment room I use a Volero brush and peeling gels (a Korean product that sounds like it should be a chemical product but is actually physical - we'll come back to this one) and I offer microdermabrasion and dermaplaning, all of which are examples of physical/mechanical exfoliation. With physical/mechanical exfoliation, you are using an active means - in this case, scrubbing, sanding, or shaving the skin - to remove dead skin cells.

Chemical exfoliation uses acids like BHA or AHA or other chemicals to dissolve the glue that holds dead skin cells to the top of the skin. If you think of the topmost layer of the skin as a rice crispy square, chemical exfoliation melts the marshmallow (intercellular cement) holding the rice crispies (dead skin cells) together so the rice crispies (dead skin cells) can slough off.  Chemical exfoliation has the potential to go deeper than physical exfoliation while (if used correctly) causing less irritation in most people.

As babies, our skin sheds and renews every 17 days, which accounts a great deal for that plump juicy baby skin - they smell so fresh and new because they really are!  By our teens and into our 20s our skin renews every 28 days. At some point in our mid-20s we stop growing and - as one teacher I had in aesthetics school put it “everything comes to a screeching halt.”

Think of your skin as a factory - from the time you are born until you stop growing in your mid-20s, your body is constantly placing new orders for new skin.  Once you stop growing, those orders slow down. Your "factory” holds steady for a while, but then starts to lay off workers. Productions slows down. The remaining workers start to get old, and retire.  At some point in your mid 60s (earlier if you had a lot of one or more of the three Ss - Sun, Smoking, Stress) productions slows to a crawl and your levels of collagen, which have been decreasing steadily since your 20s, drop.  

Exfoliation is like placing an order for new skin cells.  Sloughing off the top layers of skin cells sends a message to the skin that new cells need to be made.  Since as the body ages it stops making skin as smoothly and evenly as it did before (think of all those overworked 'skin workers’ counting the days to retirement), exfoliation (especially chemical exfoliation) can clear pores, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, reduce hyperpigmentation, increase hydration, and of course, smooth the skin.  

I am a big fan of regular exfoliation,  in your home regimen (this will vary depending on your skin's individual needs from once or twice a week to twice a day), and monthly or quarterly treatments for deeper exfoliation.

For at home use I carry several products for gentle exfoliation.  My current faves are Manyo Factory Galactomy Mist for daily use, SkinScriptRx glycolic/retinol pads (2-3 times a week) and "peeling gels” which are not a peel at all but actually the gentlest of scrubs.  I currently have the Korean Dr. G's Brightening Mild Peeling Gel, and the Japanese wonder product, Cure Aqua Gel, in the studio.

For monthly or quarterly treatments, I offer an array of mechanical/physical and chemical options, and also use them in combination as needed.  Come in for a consult if you haven't seen me already. If you are already a regular, we have already incorporated some form of exfoliation in your treatment!