Exfoliation is an important part of a good skin care regimen. It involves the removal of dead skin cells from the outermost layer of the skin. When done right, exfoliation improves the skin’s appearance, makes it smoother and increases the skin’s ability to retain moisture. It can be useful for people with different skin types and skin conditions including dry or oily skin, aging skin and acne-prone skin.
The two major forms of exfoliation are physical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation. Physical exfoliants use abrasive agents to manually remove dead skin cells. Some physical exfoliants include scrubs, washcloths, pumice, loofahs or fancier methods performed professionally such as diamond or crystal microdermabrasion. Chemical exfoliants, on the other hand, involve the use of acids or enzymes to loosen the bonds that hold dead skin cells together on the top layer of the skin, making it easier for them to slough off without the need for scrubbing. Some common examples of chemical exfoliants are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid, lactic acid and tartaric acid. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid are chemical exfoliants too. These agents can be used in the form of chemical peels administered by a trained professional or can be incorporated at lower concentrations into over the counter lotions, creams, masks, cleansers and many others. When using alpha and beta hydroxy acids, having the right concentration in a specific pH is important for optimal results. However, this information is not always readily available on many over the counter products.
Excessive exfoliation can cause dryness, irritation, redness and even scarring. It is important to consider one’s skin type in determining the right exfoliant that would result in the least amount of irritation. It is important to let your aesthetician/dermatologist know your current medications prior to starting any exfoliation regimen as some of them such as topical or oral retinoids can increase the risk of unwanted side effects.
Exfoliation improves skin function and increases the turnover of skin cells leading to a clearer and smoother, well-toned skin. Exfoliation can also help increase the absorption of other skin treatments making them more effective. While many over the counter exfoliants are gentle enough for regular use, your skilled skin care professional can help you pick the best exfoliating agents to get you the results you desire.