by Lisa Johnson
The skin is the largest organ of the human body. It’s our job to maintain it and keep it looking its best. One way we can ensure proper skin health is by exfoliation. Exfoliation is the act of removing dead skin cells from the epidermis.
The question is, why should we exfoliate?
Our skin is constantly generating new skin cells in the dermal layer and sending them up to the epidermis. As our skin cells rise to the epidermis, they gradually begin to die. The dead skin cells are then sloughed off. The process normally takes 28 days for the cells to reach the top. This process is called cell turnover.
Unfortunately, as we age our cell turnover rate slows down. The process that should take 28 days can take up to triple the time. These cells start to pile up unevenly on the skin’s surface giving us a dry, rough, and dull appearance. This is where exfoliating can help because it can help remove the dead skin cells to reveal new, fresher, younger cells from below.
There are two types of exfoliation: mechanical and chemical.
Mechanical exfoliation is the process where the dead skin cells are physically rubbed off by some sort of an abrasive. The main method of mechanical exfoliation is body and facial scrubs. Scrubs can be made of salt, sugar, aluminum oxide crystals, apricot kernels, pumice, almond shells, or even coffee grounds. Another form of mechanical exfoliation is microdermabrasion. Traditional microdermabrasion is a more aggressive from of exfoliation that uses a machine to blast crystals on the skin and then sucks them back up into a hand piece for disposal.
Chemical exfoliation is the act of removing dead skin cells by breaking down the chemical bonds between skin cells with the use of alphahydroxy acids, betahydroxy acids, and enzymes. AHA’s are mild acids that exfoliate the skin. These acids can include glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and malic. BHA’s are acids used for oilier skin types. The most common BHA is salicylic acid. BHA’s are great for people suffering from acne. Enzymes are used to dissolve dead skin cells and tend to be better for more sensitive skin types. The common enzymes used are pineapple, papaya, and pumpkin, among many others.
As with anything, too much of a good thing can be bad. Over-exfoliating can lead to issues with the skin. It can cause excessive dryness if done too frequently and using certain methods too often can lead to premature thinning of the skin. Another issue that can arise with exfoliation is the sensitivity to UV exposure.
Exfoliating is an important part in maintaining healthy skin. Always follow guidelines set by your skin care provider in order to achieve safe and effective results from exfoliation, and remember to always follow it up with sunscreen to keep that youthful glow.