Why Is Exfoliation Important?

Exfoliation Is Part of Good Skin Care, But Don't Overdo It.

••• Microdermabrasion is an aggressive form of mechanical facial exfoliation. Getty Images: GregorBister

Exfoliation is the removal of the dead, keratinized skin cells sitting on the skin's surface.  Exfoliation leaves the skin smoother and fresher looking, and makes it easier for expensive facial products like serums to penetrate the skin's surface. It is an important part of both professional facials and body treatments. 

However, exfoliation is a double-edged sword.  It is easy to overdo facial exfoliation, especially, at home with overzealous scrubbing and cheap products like apricot kernel scrubs.

 The skin on the rest of your body can take more vigorous exfoliation, more frequently.

Why You Shouldn't Over-Exfoliate

If you exfoliate your face too much, your skin can become sensitized.  That means you have literally made it prone to redness and irritation.  Instead of taking care of your skin, you've made it worse.You also have to be careful about exposing yourself to the sun after you exfoliate.  Don't get an aggressive chemical facial peel at a spa in Arizona and then go lay out in the sun. 

Another issue with consequences for the environment is the presence of microbeads in many facial and body scrubs. They are cheap for manufacturers to use and consumers may feel they are "working", but the microbeads wash down the drain, pass unfiltered through sewage treatment plants and make their way into rivers and canals, where fish may eat them.  ALL companies have to stop using microbeads in their products by July 2017, according to federal law.

 In the meantime, there are plenty of exfoliants that don't use microbeads.  

Understanding Two Types of Exfoliation: Mechanical and Chemical

There are two main types of exfoliation. Mechanical exfoliation literally rubs the dead skin cells off with some kind of abrasive, anything from jojoba beads to a diamond-tip microdermabrasion machine.

Chemical exfoliation uses acids -- anything from gentle fruit enzymes to super-powerful peels --  to dissolve the glue-like substance that holds the cells together.  Here are more examples of each type of exfoliation. 

1) Mechanical Exfoliation. The dead skin cells are physically rubbed off with an abrasive. Examples of mechanical exfoliation include a salt glow, a body scrub that might use sugar or coffee grounds, or skin brushing. On the face, scrubs should use small, round, gentle abrasives like jojoba beads. Stay away from something harsh like apricot scrubs, which can cause micro-tears in your skin. A more aggressive and effective approach to mechanical exfoliation is microdermabrasion, which comes in two types - crystal and crystal-free, or diamond-tip, such as facial and body scrubs, body brushing and microdermabrasion.

2) Chemical Exfoliation. Enzymes, alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) or betahydroxy acids (BHAS) loosen the glue-like substance that holds the cells together, allowing them to slough away. Facial peels are a form of chemical exfoliation. Chemical peels can either be very gentle or very aggressive, depending on how the strong the peel is. Body treatments might use mild chemical exfoliants like pineapple enzymes.

Why Is Exfoliation Important?

The skin is constantly generating new skin cells at the lower layer (the dermis) and sending them to the surface (the epidermis). As the cells rise to the surface they gradually die and become filled with keratin. These keratinized skin cells are essential because they give our skin its protective quality. But they are constantly sloughing off to make way for younger cells.

As we age the process of cell turnover slows down. Cells start to pile up unevenly on the skin's surface, giving it a dry, rough, dull appearance. Exfoliation is beneficial because it removes those cells that are clinging on, revealing the fresher, younger skin cells below.

If your facial skin has a dull, pasty look, as it often does in older people who don't exfoliate, an exfoliating treatment will make you look younger.

 If a cloud of white particles fly into the air when you peel off your jeans, you need a good body scrub. 

Things To Remember About Facial Exfoliation:

  • Be extra careful with the delicate skin of your face.
  • It's easy to overexfoliate. Talk to a good esthetician about the product and frequency that is best for your skin. Your should be especially cautious if you have sensitive or aging skin.
  • Be careful not to overdo microdermabrasion. It can make thin, aging skin even thinner if you get too many treatments too quickly.
  • Don't overexfoliate, especially in summer or in very sunny climates. You're making it easier for your skin to be damaged by the sun.
  • Never use body scrubs on the face. They're too rough.
  • Be very careful with peels. Don't get one peel and then go somewhere else to ask for another. You can remove too much of your protective layer and end up exposing the living dermis. Again, be careful about going out in the sun afterwards, or doing it in summer.
  • Never wax if you've had a peel recently. It might expose raw, living skin, which will have to scab over to heal.

Things To Remember About Body Exfoliation:

  • You can use a body scrub once or twice a week with no problem.
  • Body brushing every morning is a gentle way to exfoliate -- and wake up!