Healthy human skin follows a renewal cycle every 28 days, a process known as cell turnover where cells move from the lower levels to the surface, and are removed by a process known as desquamation. As we age the renewal process automatically slows down increasing the accumulation of dead cells on the surface or uneven desquamation. Factors like excessive oil production also hinder this process.The skin looks dull, patchy and uneven in texture, the pores get clogged leading to bacterial growth and acne. This is where the process of exfoliation comes in, where we assist the removal of the dead surface layer of the skin to expose healthy skin underneath.
Exfoliation is broadly classified into Chemical, mechanical and physical exfoliation. Chemical exfoliation is where chemicals like alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids etc. are used. Mechanical exfoliation is done by using tools like rotary brushes and microdermabrasion techniques to remove dead cells. Physical exfoliation is where we use granular products to manually scrub the dead cells off the skin.
The process we were going to discuss today is physical exfoliation as it relates to our “Essential Skin Care” routine.
Physical exfoliation is where granular products called scrubs are manually massaged into the skin to slough off the dead cells and other skin debris. The size of the granules determines how mild or harsh the product is. Generally larger granules are used in products used for body exfoliation and ones used for the face are much finer and gentler in texture.
Benefits of Exfoliation:
- It clears away the dead skin cells and debris off the skin exposing healthy skin underneath.
- It unclogs pores of the skin and prevents compaction in the form of blackheads and white heads.
- It prevents the accumulation of bacteria inside the follicles of the skin that cause acne and other skin infections.
- It helps in better penetration of products into the skin.
- It helps in evening our skin tone gradually in those suffering from hyperpigmentation and acne scarring etc. by removing the surface cells gradually.
- It improves the cell turnover function of the skin.
- It improves circulation and lymphatic drainage which is like a detox for the skin.
- It stimulates the production of collagen in the skin helping the skin look younger.
How often should you exfoliate:
Physical exfoliation must not be done more than 2-3times a week at most. Don’t scrub the skin for more than 3minutes and use minimal pressure. Listen to your skin. If your skin gets red and irritated or stings when you apply a product after exfoliation, it is a sign for you to reduce the frequency of your exfoliation and to use products that are less harsh. When it comes to exfoliation, there is such a thing as, ‘too much of a good thing.’
How to select an exfoliant:
Pick one which is gentle on the skin. It must feel granular to touch but not so harsh as to be abrasive. Look for finely milled granules within a moisturizing base, that won’t scratch or harm the skin. If making an exfoliant at home, consider its properties and counteract the negative properties, when using them as a scrub Eg. salt and baking soda are extremely harsh and drying to the skin so use a medium that is extremely moisturizing like olive or coconut oils, where as white sugar granules are big in size and abrasive hence when using this, apply to the skin and wait a few minutes till it partially dissolves in the moisturizing medium before you start scrubbing.
Read about how to make a physical exfoliator at home here..
Dry skin types:
Aim: Scrub away the flaky patchy skin on the surface.
Look for: Scrubs in a hydrating base like shea or cocoa butters, natural oils etc. which won’t further strip the skin of oils. Use it once or twice a week depending on your skin needs and follow up with a good moisturizer.
Oily Skin Types:
Aim: Deeply cleanse the pores and prevent clogging. Balancing the oil production of the skin.
Look for: Scrubs containing salicylic acid as an ingredient which deep cleans pores, ingredients like seaweed etc. which control oil production. Follow up with a lightweight oil like jojoba oil which mimics the sebum of the skin but won’t clog the pores.
Sensitive Skin types:
Aim: To remove the dead cells without irritating the skin.
Look for: Products with gentle micro beads which are very gentle on the skin. Look for ingredients like chamomile, which soothe the skin after. Scrubbing once a week at most is enough for such skin types.
When exfoliation does more harm than good..
The cells that form the upper layers of the skin are held together with lipids in a fashion identical to bricks and mortar in a wall.
- Excessive exfoliation damages this lipid barrier present between the cells of the skin and causes loss of water from the skin making it dehydrated, leaves the skin prone to irritation, bacterial infections and prone to sun damage, stimulating excessive melanin production and hence leading to hyper pigmentation.
- Those with active and inflamed acne must stay off physical exfoliants which would only end up puncturing the active acne, leading to scarring and spreading the bacteria on the surface of the skin leading to more breakouts. Chemical exfoliation is recommended for those with this skin condition.
Exfoliation, when done right can improve the skin tremendously while at the same time when done wrong can damage the skin greatly and cause a host of additional skin issues. It is better to err on the side of caution and treat your skin gently.