Essentially, exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin.
Exfoliating is a very important process of skin health. It is essential if you want to have skin that is as clean and fresh as possible and that regenerates itself to best effect.
Exfoliating can be done manually with a scrub or cloth, and for many people that is all they need to do on a daily basis. But it is also wise to look to have a more advanced approach to exfoliating. In some cases, a face mask is a good idea. For other people, exfoliating with ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids or enzymes is a way to maximize the removal of dead cells.
The idea from all exfoliating is to encourage cell turnover, resulting in brighter, smoother, and healthier looking skin. When your skin is too dry or clogged up with dried sweat or blockages in the pores, cell turnover slows down, and this causes a build-up of dead skin cells which can cause skin to look dull. Sometimes it also causes blackheads that lead to spots. By exfoliating, you give the fresh cells a chance to come through and bring health back to your skin.
Benefits of exfoliating
The main benefit of exfoliation is skin renewal. It is wise to unclog your pores, and sometimes normal daily life does not do this without some specific focus from you on skin regeneration.
Good exfoliating also improves product absorption, which is really important. It means moisturizer goes deeper and nourishes your skin more. It also allows a shaving cream to seep down and soften the skin better, enabling more protection as you shave.
Exfoliation is therefore at the heart of having skin that is less dry and dull. It is also widely thought to reduce wrinkles, make people look younger, and bring you optimum skin health. For most people, regardless of age or gender, these are all really positive aspects of life.
Different Types of Exfoliation
Chemical exfoliation is the process using special acids or enzymes in order to dissolve away dead skin cells, dirt, and other impurities that block pores. Alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, and polyhydroxy acids are all popular forms of chemical exfoliation. Although these might sound forbidding, they are actually usually gentle in their effect and most people can use them extremely safely.
Having said that, you are well advised to talk to a dermatologist or aesthetician to check the right product and application for your particular needs. Most people do not need anything strong here. Skin is responsive to even light stimulus and you will notice a difference even after very mild chemical exfoliation.
Enzymes are a type of exfoliant that can be highly beneficial to the skin. Enzymes are proteins that naturally break down dead skin cells and other debris from the surface of your skin and this is what makes them highly effective exfoliants.
In addition to dissolving away dead skin cells, enzymes also possess anti-inflammatory properties which soothe the skin and provide intense hydration. They are therefore a good way both to exfoliate and also to nourish the skin.
These can sound rather grim, but they are not at all problematic for most people’s skin.
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are some of the most common ingredients used for exfoliation. Their effectiveness comes partly from being natural. AHAs are plant derived acids and they work by dissolving the chemical bonds between old and new skin cells, which then helps the upper layer of skin get sloughed off, thus enabling the fresh skin cells beneath to come to the surface.
BHAs, also natural, are slightly different. They are oil-soluble, which means they can penetrate deeper into the pores and reduce breakouts of mild acne or rosacea. For acne prone skin they may be a better option.
Exfoliation need not be burdensome or involve any products at all. For many people, simply rubbing the skin with a soft-bristled brush or cloth in a circular motion is enough to stimulate the skin cells and wipe off the dead skin that has gathered on the surface.
You might add a cleanser, or even water, but this is not actually necessary in some cases. If you need to freshen your skin while you are clothed, and you do not want the hassle of water, a simple rub with a dry face cloth will still work to improve your skin’s appearance.
This is an approach that few have heard of and it tends to be for more significant exfoliation.
In essence, microdermabrasion is a type of exfoliation that works by using a handheld device that sprays ultra-fine crystals onto your skin. These crystals are the active agent in the process and they help to remove dry, dead skin cells in a way that’s both safe and effective.
In spite of the abrasion in the title, this is actually a very mild approach. It’s not as harsh as other exfoliation techniques and it also has beneficial side effects, such as reducing some acne scars and blemishes.
Though it can be done by yourself with the right device, some people prefer to have this process carried out by a dermatologist. Contact your local clinic for prices. In most cases there will be a charge, as most skin care of this type has to be paid for privately.
Facial Scrubs and Cleansers
These are what we see in so many shops nowadays and some are excellent. Facial scrubs are typically most effective when used as part of a deep exfoliation approach. They are usually mildly abrasive, with either sugars or salts as the active exfoliating agent.
Cleansers can still be effective at exfoliating too, but they are perhaps best thought of as being designed for removing makeup, dirt, and other impurities on the surface of your skin. They often contain ingredients such as natural oils and moisturizers that leave your skin feeling soft and hydrated. Though they may have an exfoliating effect, they are less likely than face scrubs or face masks to exfoliate deeper into the pores.
Preparing for Exfoliation
Cleanse the skin before exfoliating
Pre-exfoliation, you must lightly cleanse the skin. Cleansing helps to remove makeup, oil, and dirt that may be clogging your pores. It enables the exfoliating process to work to maximum effect. A very mild cleanser is really all you need. Use one that soothes too. Look for its pH-balance to check it is mild. Many are now designed to have neutral pH values.
Choose appropriate product
This is both essential, but also fun! The variety of products on the market is now exceptional. The key question is really ‘What benefits am I after?’, but other factors are also important. Do you choose natural or synthetic ingredients? Do you use a liquid or a waxy product? Do you choose a face mask you leave on for a short period of time, or one you let sink in overnight? Do you choose one for oily or dry skin?
And increasingly of interest to us is the range of scents. Do you have a favorite ingredient? Do you use products that are friendly to the environment?
These factors all matter and it is worthwhile looking carefully at products before you choose one. They are not all the same, either in intent or effect, so choose carefully.
Apply moisturizer afterwards
You absolutely need to moisturize after exfoliating. After the skin has had activity on it, it invariably needs rehydrating. Pay attention especially to the neck, where wrinkles and lines gather in life.
Generally you are best to choose a gentle moisturizer that is light and easily applied. Try one with light scented ingredients like chamomile or lavender for a fragrant outcome that is also a healing one.
How to Exfoliate
Start with a small area of skin
This is really important. You need to check the wisdom of a particular product by using it on just a small patch of skin. This will let you know if you are allergic to it.
It’s also important to remember to use gentle circular motions when exfoliating, as this ensures even coverage. It is also a restful motion, and you ideally want to feel calm as you exfoliate. Do not slap the cream or lotion on in big lumps. Once you’ve gotten used to exfoliating this smaller area, you can gradually increase the area that you’re treating.
If you start to feel an uncomfortable tingling or excess heat on the skin, stop straightaway and wipe yourself clean.
Rinse off the product after exfoliating
Rinsing yourself clean is a good part of the process, but you need to make sure not to do so with hot water. Use gently warm water, or have a mid-temperature shower. The skin has been through a significant process when you exfoliate it, so it does not want to be aggravated by too striking a burst of heat. Keep it lukewarm.
Tips for Exfoliating
Use only once or twice a week
Everyone is different, but most people do not need to exfoliate more than once or twice a week.
If you exfoliate too often you can actually disrupt the skin into producing too much oil, which is not what you want, as this leads to skin blemishes and pore blockages. Excess exfoliation can actually lead to an unhealthy skin, as you have stripped away the natural healthy oils all skins need. Those who exfoliate too much are likely to become prone to dry, red or even flaky skin, so be moderate about it all. There is no need for excess. Weekly exfoliation is usually enough for most people.
Avoid harsh scrubbing motions
Too many people, especially men, think that the skin needs harsh treatment to be exfoliated properly. This is absolutely not the case. Even male skin that is mature and used to shaving does not need any kind of harsh treatment to be exfoliated well. Female skin that is gentler to begin with absolutely must not be treated harshly either. Too abrasive an attitude to your skin can really be harmful, so keep it sensible and mild when you think of exfoliating. It is only skin, remember, that you are trying to slough off. You are not having to wipe anything clean; you are just enabling fresh skin to come through.
Gentle, circular motions with light pressure – that is what you are after, no matter your sex, age or skin type.
Because exfoliating removes the outer layer of your skin, your skin is therefore potentially susceptible to external stimuli, so to give your freshly revealed skin the best start in life, make sure to give it moisture.
Moist skin is also better at keeping out air pollutants, so it really does serve a purpose. Always invest in a good moisturizer that works very well for your skin. The vitamins, fatty acids and overall texture of a good moisturizer work wonders on skin, and enable a good environment on your skin for healthy cell renewal, which is what exfoliating is all about.