Exfoliation is the process of removing dead cells on the skin’s surface to make room for newer cells. Our skin cells turn over anywhere from every few days (in babies) to every 40 days (in older adults); for the average adult it’s about 28 days. This is the reason babies have such soft smooth skin while some adults struggle with dull looking skin. As we get older exfoliation becomes important to help offset this significant slow down in the cell turn over process.
Types of Exfoliation
There are two categories, primarily based on how the exfoliation action is performed.
Physical exfoliation quite literally involves manually using tools (brushes, and washcloths etc) or abrasive materials (scrubs) to loosen the dead cells on the outermost layer of the skin through friction from rubbing against the skin.
Chemical exfoliation mainly uses hydroxyl acids to dissolve the bond that holds the dead skin cells together, making them easy to remove. Alpha hydroxyl acids (AHA) and Beta hydroxyl acid (BHA) are the two main categories of chemical exfoliants. Glycolic acid (see Bolden’s Nighttime Repair Serum) and lactic acid are the most popular AHAs while BHA refers to salicylic acid. Fruit enzymes can also be used for chemical exfoliation and tend to work well for sensitive skin as they are slower to act.
Chemical exfoliation gets the edge primarily because of potency, which can be dialed up or down to achieve better results. It is also generally considered gentler, more efficient, and safer than physical exfoliation since it does not involve rubbing the skin which may cause irritation. Physical exfoliation provides instant gratification but is sort of a one size fits all deal. It however sometimes gets a bad rap when the abrasives used are large granules, or are from crushed nut shells which may have uneven edges.
Regardless, both physical and chemical exfoliation can get the job of removing dead skin cells done, and have roles to play in a balanced skincare routine.
A few things you can expect by adding exfoliation to your routine:
- Even skin tone as dark spots fade from the removal of dead skin cell containing the darker pigment.
- Unclogged pores which helps keep breakouts at bay.
- A more youthful look from the newly exposed layer of skin.
- Improved efficacy of your skincare products as the active ingredients will be better absorbed.
It is important to note that over exfoliating can also cause irritation and skin damage. Increased skin sensitivity is a telltale sign of over exfoliating, so pay attention to what your skin is telling you. The good news is that the skin is pretty good at healing itself with time. If you suspect you may have gone over board with exfoliation, just stop using everything except a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen until your skin heals.