Your skin’s cellular turnover rate is about once per month. However, as we age, cellular turnover begins to slow down and visible signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation become more noticeable.
When we exfoliate, we force our skin to renew itself, revealing younger, brighter skin. There is little point in buying expensive creams or serums if it is only going to be applied to dead skin cells that cannot be re-hydrated.
Exfoliants fall into three categories: Mechanical, Enzymatic, and Chemical. Depending on your skin type, the best results will likely come from combining all three categories into your skin care regimen.
Benefits of exfoliation include:
- Skin appears smoother and brighter
- Reduction in clogged pores and breakouts
- Increased collagen production
- Reveals a clearer, more even-toned complexion
- Reduction in hyperpigmentation (dark spots) from things like sun, age, hormones or acne scars
- Fine lines are softened and are less visible
- Reduction in dryness and flakiness
- Serums, moisturizers and toners all work more effectively
Chemical Exfoliation There are essentially two types of chemical exfoliations, BHA’s (betahydroxy acids), which would be targeted toward breakout prone skin (think B as in Breakout), and AHA’s, which would generally be for pre-mature/mature skin (think A as in Aging).
AHA’s – There are a few types of AHAs and in general they are best for dry or pre-mature/mature skin. These could be: lactic acid (derived from sour milk), glycolic acid (derived from sugar cane), tartaric acid (grapes), or malic acid (bitter fruits). AHAs are used to break apart the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together, dissolving in a smooth, even layer to reveal beautiful new skin. Lactic acid is the mildest of these other AHAs and is also quite hydrating, so it would be best for sensitive skin.
It is extremely important to use sunscreen diligently after using AHAs as they are photosensitizing and you can damage your skin by not wearing sunscreen post-peel.
BHA’s – BHA's (salicylic acid) are derived from salicin so they are not to be used if you have an allergy to asprin. In general, BHA's are targeted towards those with oily and/or acneic skin as it penetrates into the pores to clean and dry out excess oil.
Enzymatic Exfoliation These exfoliants are usually derived from the naturally occurring enzymes of papaya, pineapple or pumpkin. Enzymes eat away at the bonds which hold dead skin cells together on surface of your skin, which reveals a brighter and more uniform completion.
Enzymatic exfoliation is particularly great for oily skin, or non-reactive/resilient skin types. You may want to try a patch test on the inside of your arm to check for sensitivity before you begin.
Mechanical Exfoliation Anything abrasive used to physically remove dead skin cells. Things like sugar, salt, apricot pits, brushes or even microdermabrasion fall under this category. Micro beads found in many products would also fall into this category, however these are thankfully being phased out due to their enormous environmental impact. They are tiny plastic beads that have been found accumulating in water sources…not good.
Mechanical exfoliation would be a good place to start if you are totally new to this process. Just remember to look for a product specific to the face, with small uniform granules and use gentle circular motions.
Where to start For most skin types, an alcohol-free AHA based exfoliant, for three nights on, three nights off would be a good place to start. This way, you’re still getting an intensive exfoliation, but you also give your skin a break. You would then combine this with a very mild facial scrub twice a week to lift off and remove the dissolved skin cells.
Always tone with an alcohol-free toner afterwards (you are giving your skin a glass of water here, not dehydrating it!), followed by your cream and serum. For a mini, at-home facial you could exfoliate followed by a hydrating mask and then apply your toner, cream + serum.
It is especially important to use sunscreen diligently after exfoliating, because your skin will be extra sensitive and vulnerable to sun damage.