Whether your goal is to maintain a youthful glow, battle dry skin, or achieve a clear complexion, exfoliating on a regular basis is integral to achieving those results.
Before we explain why, let’s acknowledge that your skin is your body’s largest organ, and with that comes the need for regular maintenance!
Just like you know you need to eat nourishing foods, and exercise regularly to maintain a healthy body, your skin too needs to be taken care of to be at its healthiest.
Using facial oils, moisturizers and serum that nourish the skin is important for healthy skin, but exfoliation works to soothe, refresh, and aids in cell turnover so you age gracefully. Exfoliating on a regular basis will also help keep skin looking healthy, help skin stay hydrated, and will help keep your complexion clear.
Unfortunately, exfoliation to some people means rubbing their skin with scrubs containing all sorts of synthetic beads and nut shells, which can cause irritation by creating micro tears in the skin. Not only that, but many people also exfoliate too often, also creating irritation.
On the other hand, when exfoliation is done right, it’s a process that helps combat inflammation by removing dead skin cells, promoting proper skin hydration, and aiding in healthy circulation.
In today’s article I hope to clear up much of the confusion you may have about exfoliating and provide you with information on not only why you need to exfoliate, but how to do it properly.
Why do we need to exfoliate?
Your skin is protected by a top layer of dead skin cells called the stratum corneum, which protects the living cells beneath it by providing a tough barrier between the environment and the lower layers of the skin.
This layer of dead skin cells is vital to the health of our skin barrier because it helps protect us from infection, but is also is an integral role in skin hydration and skin elasticity. The stratum corneum not only helps our skin retain water, but is also absorbs water so making sure it is healthy is really important when dealing with dry skin and premature aging. The rate of desquamation, aka the rate at which that top layer of cells sheds, is also directly related to the health of new cells produced at the basal layer of our skin, which in turn affects our skin’s elasticity!
When it comes to acne prone skin, something to consider is that poor skin desquamation can lead to dull, dry skin, but also lead to breakouts. The shedding of the top layer of dead skin can sometimes cause some of the dead skin cells to clog pores, creating the perfect environment for P. Acnes, the bacteria that causes acne, the thrive.
Stimulating cell turnover and removing a thin layer of dead skin cells with regular exfoliation is important to maintain healthy skin no matter what age you are or which state your skin is in. Regular exfoliating helps promote healthy cell renewal and also keeps skin hydrated giving you that youthful breakout-free glow!
How to properly exfoliate
Now that you know that whether your main skin concern is dry skin, acne,or maintaining a youthful complexion, exfoliating will help you achieve those results how to properly exfoliate
To achieve that healthy, hydrated, breakout-free glow, our skin needs to be healthy. Unfortunately, many “anti-aging” and “acne clearing” products, although providing some seemingly good results at first, could be actually be doing more damage than good by either decimating your skin microbiome, damaging your skin barrier, or over exfoliating your skin, creating inflammation and increasing your skin’s vulnerability to oxidative damage, aka speeding up aging.
So while you think you’re doing good for your skin... long term, you will actually start to notice premature aging, irritation, redness, sensitivity, and inflammation.
Examples of exfoliators and exfoliating techniques that could be causing more harm than good:
- Physical exfoliants that cause micro tears like nut shells and beads
- Using strong acids and enzymes on a daily basis
- Using products that contain drying agents like alcohol
“So, what am I supposed to use?”
The goal is to remove a thin top layer of dead skin cells but not too many, because remember this top layers aids in protecting your skin and has an important role in keeping it hydrated!
How do you achieve that?
First, use chemical exfoliants. Chemical exfoliants may sound scary but it’s not what you think, trust me!
Like I mentioned above, physical exfoliants can actually cause micro tears and damage the skin. This buffing action works like sandpaper, tearing at the top layers of your skin, only to open you up to bacteria not to mention... many unwanted skin conditions and inflammation (redness).
Chemical exfoliants on the other hand can be made from natural acids (also known as alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs) and enzymes (from fruits and plants) that aid in the exfoliation process. These types of exfoliants work by gently loosening the “glue” that holds that top layer of dead skin cells together, gently removing them without irritation.
Alpha hydroxy acids can be either naturally occurring or synthetic, and are derived from various sources, namely organic fruit sugars or plants and flowers.
Below is a list of the natural sources of AHA’s:
- Glycolic acid is the most common AHA and is derived from sugar cane juice or other fruits and vegetables including pineapples, papaya, and tomatoes. It has the smallest molecule size out of all AHAs making it highly effective at penetrating the skin to help remove dead skin cells that can cause blocked pores. For this reason, it is wise to use this acid sparingly as overuse can lead to over exfoliation.
- Lactic acid is the second most known and researched AHA (other than glycolic acid) and is derived from milk, buttermilk, yogurt, honey, bilberries, or molasses.
- Citric acid comes from many different types of citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, and grapefruits.
- Malic acid is most well known to be sourced from apples.
AHA based chemical exfoliators work by dissolving instead of scrubbing loose the bonds that bind skin cells, allowing gentle removal of dead cells and bringing forth a smooth skin surface. Products containing AHAs come in different strengths depending on the source, the AHA, and the potency. Some exfoliants are extremely potent, causing stinging. When using very powerful exfoliating masks, you need to be careful not to over exfoliate, making your skin look youthful in the moment, but also making it more susceptible to premature aging and dehydration.
Instead, we prefer masks that are more gentle, and only remove a thin top layer, achieving results while maintaining healthy skin. Our Hibiscus Exfoliating Mud, contain a low concentrations of acids, making it ideal for regular use (about 2-3x per week). The acids found in our mud are naturally occurring in the raw plant ingredients that make up the mask, making them more gentle on the skin.
AHAs come with many benefits, offering a smooth skin texture, without using harsh manual scrubs. They also minimize fine lines and wrinkles, acne scars, and dark spots by going to work right at the stratum corneum. Using a regular exfoliating masks also helps promote healthier skin differentiation and cell turnover, which promotes collagen and elastic production, as well as proper skin hydration.
Another great alternative to physical exfoliants for the face are enzymatic exfoliants derived from natural ingredients.
This plant active based exfoliant is gentler on the skin than physical and alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) based skincare, making it the optimal choice for those with sensitive skin types.
Fruit enzymes have a proteolytic effect, meaning they bring forth radiant skin by targeting and breaking down dead or diseased proteins in the skin while leaving the living healthy skin cells in peace.
When used in tandem with your other skin care products, you’ll immediately see an improvement in your skin’s texture and firmness.
The most common enzymes you’ll see in exfoliants are:
- Papain which is derived from papaya fruit
- Bromelain which is extracted from pineapple
- Pumpkin enzyme which… well, I’m sure you can guess where this comes from
Before you become best friends with enzymes, I do have to mention that there is a catch…
They’re tricky ingredients to work with because they need just the right ph and temperature to thrive, or they simply won’t work.
I know, fussy right?
This means if the product is kept in direct sunlight too long, or gets too hot, it’s highly likely the product will go bad.
Save yourself the heartache of wondering why the enzymes aren’t working on your skin, simply by making sure your products are always kept in a cool, dark place.
How often should I exfoliate?
This is an important question, so pay close attention…
I typically see two extremes when it comes to exfoliating.
Some people either go way overboard by exfoliating every single day while others don’t exfoliate nearly enough (such as once a month).
Ideally, you should be exfoliating 2-3 times per week with a gentle exfoliator to prevent sensitivity and inflammation.
Remember over exfoliating and using potent AHAs concentrations can increase your photosensitivity. Using a lower concentration of AHA combined with antioxidant-rich skincare and a daily SPF will allow you to benefit from exfoliating without the side effects of accelerating extrinsic aging.