The Basics: Exfoliation

What is exfoliation:
Exfoliation is best defined as the removal of surface, dry skin cells.

How do I know if I need to exfoliate?
My professional advice is that everyone, with a few exceptions, should be exfoliating once to twice a week. The only exception to this would be people with very, very dry skin. Dry skin tends to be thinner than oily skin and some people, especially elderly people, have very thin skin and exfoliating to much can cause tears in the skin and reduce the appearance of the skin even more.

By the time you reach your 20’s your skin cells will no longer be turning over as quickly as they did when you were much younger..and eventually it will almost stop completely. That’s why exfoliation is important. The older you become the more important this step becomes.

If you skin has a dull appearance, if you notice that your have ‘dry’ patches, black heads or if your foundation is just kind of setting on the surface of your skin and just not looking like how it use to…there’s a very good chance you need to exfoliate.

What are the benefits of exfoliation?
Exfoliation will brighten the appearance of your skin, soften discoloration or uneven skin tone/appearance and it also plays a major role in product absorption, especially the older that you are. If you’re spending a decent amount of dollars on creams and cleansers and you’re not exfoliating, there’s a good chance that you’re not actually receiving as much benefit from the products as opposed to what you COULD be receiving.

What are the two types of exfoliation?
Mechanical and Chemical

Mechanical exfoliation, I think, is the most widely known about method of exfoliation. Even if you don’t care for your skin at all…you probably know somebody who absolutely loves body scrubs. Body scrubs are the perfect example of mechanical exfoliation. It uses a granular substance to rub against the skin and to clear away dead skin cells.

The other form of exfoliation is Chemical. Chemical peel is a fancy treatment form of a chemical exfoliation. Don’t let that scare you though because not all chemical exfoliants are made the same and in fact, are quite regulated by the government. I’m going to spend a little bit more time on this particular form of exfoliation because it’s a very popular method of exfoliation and when done properly, can yield astounding results.

In order for me to explain how the acids in chemical exfoliants work, I have to give you a quick rundown on your BARRIER FUNCTION! This is REALLY super important because your Barrier function is your bodies VERY FIRST line of defense against bacteria, toxins, microbes or even a sunburn but it’s most important function is to prevent the loss of water from our bodies.

Think of your barrier function as a brick wall. The bricks are your dead skin cells and the mortar keeping them together are lipids. Lipids help keep your skin hydrated, firm and soft.

FUN FACT: Once you’re in your 40s your lipids decrease, which makes us prone to dry skin as we grow older.

If your skin becomes flakey, dry, irritated, and sensitive there’s a really great chance that you have crossed the line…and you now have an impaired barrier function, which, is not hard to do. Chances are you’ve impaired your barrier MANY, MANY times.

Basically what happens is that the ‘mortar’ of your skin has either been damaged or is depleted by harsh products, rough handling or environmental issues you skin starts to lose water and becomes more prone to irritants and allergens.

Harsh products such as detergents and irritating chemicals from overusing perfume can cause damage to the barrier, along with excessive cleaning of the skin (you strip the skin of it’s vital lipid supply) or by simply using way to hot of water, heat or high heat.

Now that you’ve got a very basic idea of how the barrier function works you can start to understand how and why chemical exfoliants work.

Chemical exfoliants often use an ‘Acid’ (a liquid with a pH that falls on or below 7.0). The most commonly used acids are: salicylic (which is a derivative of aspirin) Glycolic, Hyaluronic, Lactic, Mandelic, Retinoic, Azelaic and Citric. 
They are divided into groups: Alpha and Beta. Determined by some science stuff based on their chains but chances are you have at least one of these forms of ‘acid’ in your home. For example: Lactic acid is derived from soured milk. 

They all do different things, which i’ll do a separate video on later, and are not created equal. Essentially what they do is they go in and dissolve the layers of ‘mortar’ that holds the skin cells together and allows the layers to fall off and it also dissolves the dead skin cells as it penetrates into the skin.

Chemical peels are a little bit different because they generally use a much stronger acid at a highly concentrated percentage rate. There are limits set by the government as to what is safe amount for estheticians to use as well as what the general public may use. Doctors have access to the much heavier, medical grade chemical peels. I won’t go too much into detail with them but as an esthetician, I am only allowed to work on certain levels of the skin. Doctors can work much deeper, obviously, and some peels are so strong and generally used for medical reasons, that really only a licensed medical provider like a dermatologist can apply them. They require anesthesia to be given.

There are 3 levels:
Light, medium, deep and estheticians only work with light chemical peels. Anything past that should be directed to a physician, that’s at least the law in my state. There might be some other states that allow estheticians to work on deeper levels so I cannot speak for every esthetician, but just wanted to throw that out!

These types of peels require 8 weeks of pretreatment and up to 3 months of recovery time. I personally would never be brave enough to ever get one of these peels done but for individuals that may have a pre-cancerous growth..this could very well be but a small price to pay to save on a lot of pain, dozens of doctors bills and a brush with it definitely has it’s rightful place in the medical world. This type of peel is also effective for people that have deep wrinkles, severe sun damage and scars.