Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the skin's surface in order to reveal younger, healthier skin. Our skin cells have a 4-6 week life cycle where they travel from the stratum basale (our lowest layer of skin) up to the stratum corneum (our top layer of skin). By the time they reach the top, they are no longer living and naturally shed off. As we age and due to a few other lifestyle factors this natural process begins to slow down, which is why exfoliation comes in handy. By speeding up our cellular turnover it helps achieve glowing, healthy skin whilst tackling a variety of skin concerns including acne breakouts, fine lines and wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. It also means that when we apply our serums and actives these topical ingredients can effectively penetrate the skin.
Exfoliation is a balancing act however, if you skip this stage altogether you could be experiencing a dull, lacklustre complexion however if you start with a strong acid peels before your skin is properly acclimatised, it could result in overly sensitive, red and irritated patches. The key is to build up your tolerance slowly and carefully.
Some tips for exfoliators....
◎ Always cleanse your skin before exfoliating.
◎ Physical exfoliators are often in the form of a 'scrub'....avoid scrubs! Most scrubs can be very damaging to the outer layer of the skin, creating micro-tears on the skin surface which can lead to irritation, sensitivity and/or dry flaky patches. If you pair this with an irritating fragrance then it is a one-way street to unhappy skin. The issue lies with the irregular shape of the particles often made from ground up shells or fruit seeds. Some brands formulate with spherical-shaped granules which won't tear and damage your skin so read the label before you purchase.
◎ The best time to exfoliate is in the evening followed by your topical serums and moisturiser.
◎ 2-3 times per week is normally adequate for most skin types, any more may lead to irritation.
◎ Exfoliators can be found in many different skincare categories from cleanser to toner to masks and within that there are many categories such as glycolics, salicylic, enzyme, AHA's, BHA's...etc. No wonder it is such a minefield!
◎ Find an exfoliator that suits your skin type and helps with your skin goals.
Here are some popular exfoliators....
☞ Lactic acid (Chemical Exfoliator: Alpha Hydroxy Acid 'AHA') is derived from milk. It is very hydrating and has larger molecules than other AHA's so doesn't penetrate as deeply. It is often suitable for sensitive and dry skin types. If you are looking for a DIY solution, try a live yoghurt mask from the fridge.
☞ Glycolic acid (Chemical Exfoliator: Alpha Hydroxy Acid 'AHA') is derived from sugar cane and works deeper that other chemical exfoliators. Ideal for reducing hyperpigmentation or combatting fine lines and wrinkles. It's so clever that it actually signals to the melanocyte cells to stop producing the pigment that is causing the melasma or pigmentation issues. As a general rule, it's best to avoid glycolic if you have sensitive skins, rosacea or eczema as it can cause irritation.
☞ Salicylic acid (Chemical Exfoliator: Beta Hydroxy Acid 'BHA') is derived from willow bark. Because it’s oil-soluble and antibacterial, salicylic acid is able to break through the build-up of bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells in the pore lining and dissolve it, which unclogs pores and can help prevent further breakouts from happening. This is an ideal exfoliator for those wanting to tackle acne, or blackheads or have an oily skin type. However, it can be very drying so avoid if you have a more dry, hormonal acne or use sparingly.
☞ Fruit Enzymes (Enzyme Exfoliator) create a chemical reaction on the skin and help to break down proteins they also have anti-inflammatory properties that soothe irritations, so they’re great for sensitive skin. They will not disrupt the skin's PH levels in the same way that acids do and so are thought to be more nurturing for your skin's microbiome.
☞ Clays, Brushes, Muslin Cloths, Scrubs (Physical Exfoliators) as the name suggests, this works by physically removing the dead skin cells by manually rubbing or massaging the skin's surface. These often work brilliantly for the body and can detoxify the skin.