Exfoliation 101: Here's What You Simply Must Know About Skin Exfoliation
What Is Exfoliation?
Exfoliation is the process of getting rid of dead skin cells that are on the skin's outermost layer - the epidermis. It's a part of many facial and body beauty treatments. This process makes the skin look younger and smoother, while making it a lot more easy for topical skin care products and serums to penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin.
Every day, our skin secretes wastes, and skin cells die. All of this - dead cells, sweat, sebum and more - accumulates on the outermost layers of the skin, making the skin look dull, tired and sluggish. Exfoliation is the process of removing all of this microscopic gunk from the skin, revealing fresher, more beautiful layers underneath.
Exfoliation is perhaps the fastest ways to radiantly beautiful skin - assuming you do it right, that is.
There are two main methods used to exfoliate skin...
1. Mechanical : Mechanical devices are used to scrub or brush the dead cells off the skin's epidermal layer. Microdermabrasion is possibly the best example of mechanical exfoliation. Hand held microdermabrasion machines that use a rotating brush to scrub the outermost layers of the skin and remove dead cells. But if you are going to be using such a machine, you would want to make sure you are doing so under the guidance of a dermatologist. It is too easy to overdo it and that could result in skin irritation - or worse, inflammation and even scarring.
You could even use a body scrub with coffee grounds or sugar for exfoliation. Other mechanical exfoliants include sodium tetraborate decahydrate granules, polyethylene silica and calcium carbonate. It's always a good idea to use only gentle abrasives. Some people prefer to use harsher abrasives like apricot scrubs. These have sharp edges that actually cause micro-tears in the skin. That may not always be a good idea, especially for someone with sensitive skin.
2. Chemicals and enzymes: Chemicals like salicylic acid are used to slough away dead skin cells and other debris that accumulate on the skin. These chemicals cause the dead cells, sebum and other debris to come loose from the skin a lot more easily - and they are then rinsed away. In addition, they open clogged skin pores and also neutralize bacteria within the pores. This is also thought to encourage the formation of new skin cells.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are the most commonly used type of chemical exfoliants. Glycolic acid (AHA), salicylic acid (BHA), phenol and lactic acid are common chemical exfoliants.
Chemical exfoliants need to be used with the utmost care. Using chemicals that are too strong can cause burns and lead to permanent scarring. You would want to consult a skin care professional before you start doing chemical peels on your own.
There are certain fruit enzymes that are known to be great for skin exfoliation as well. Fruits like papaya and pineapple contain enzymes that are natural exfoliants. Pumpkin also has these enzyme exfoliants as well. These can help you get rid of the gunk buildup on your skin, making it appear younger and feel smoother.
No matter what kind of exfoliant you choose to use, you would want to be gentle and loving towards your skin. Be a bit too aggressive, scrub a tad too hard of use a chemical that's a bit too strong, and you will have no one to blame but yourself. You can end up causing more harm than good to your skin if you are not gentle. Never overdo this - and do not exfoliate too frequently either. You would want to remember that what you are really trying to do is gently cleanse and soothe your skin.
If you are doing this by yourself and If after exfoliating your skin starts turning red, or starts to flake or peel, it's a sign that you have pushed it too far. Leave your skin alone for a few days and give it time to heal. Try applying aloe vera gel to the irritated areas on your skin to soothe it. This should immediately make you feel better.
And the next time, do not be so aggressive. Heavy duty peels are best left to the professionals and should be done under close medical supervision.
For Those Thinking of Using Exfoliant Scrubs...
Some exfoliating scrubs contain grainy substances like ground up nutshells, apricot seeds and other mechanical exfoliants. The idea is to scrub away the buildup on the skin using harsh, abrasive substances. This may not be a very good idea. You see, these ground up seeds frequently have sharp edges that can cause micro lacerations or cuts on your skin. That kind of defeats the purpose of exfoliation. Instead of gently cleansing your skin, you end up cutting up the skin and wounding it. That's not the idea. You can end up with skin inflammations and infections instead of beautiful, smooth skin. You wouldn't want to use these no matter what.
On the other hand, some scrubs contain gentle exfoliants like silicone beads, polyurethane and cornmeal. These do not have sharp edges, and they are gentle. You could use these instead.
When using scrubs, ensure you never apply too much pressure and are always be gentle while rubbing you skin. Apply pressure while scrubbing you could be asking for trouble.
Your Skin Type
How frequently you would need to exfoliate depends on your skin type. In addition, each person has special and unique needs. A good idea would be to start slowly and gently, see how your skin responds and then adapt to your particular requirements.
While you can exfoliate either in the morning or before bedtime, you would want to remove all traces of makeup and other skin care products to start with. Apply the exfoliant all over your face including lips and décolleté - while avoiding the region around your eyes.
Normal skin: People with normal skin would need to exfoliate thrice a week, and can use any exfoliant - mechanical, chemical or enzyme.
Oily skin: This is trickier. Oily skin can get oilier if you exfoliate too frequently, so you will want to find how frequently you will want to exfoliate by trial and error. A clay mask or salicylic acid are perhaps the best exfoliants for oily skin. Enzymes can work well too.
Sensitive skin: With sensitive skin, you need to be extremely careful with using any skin care products as it may react unpredictably. Always use very gentle exfoliants if you have sensitive skin, and avoid chemical exfoliants unless you are under close medical supervision. Finely ground rice powder and oatmeal might be the best exfoliators for sensitive skin than any chemical or enzyme exfoliant. Exfoliating once a week might be good enough for you. Anything more frequent, and your skin might become red and irritated.
Acne prone skin: If you have acne prone skin, salicylic acid might be good for you. In fact, salicylic acid might just be the best exfoliator for acne prone skin. Salicylic acid opens clogged pores and kills microorganisms that cause acne. It also temporarily reduces pore size and prevents pores from clogging up. So It helps fight acne in addition to exfoliating. And someone with acne prone skin should not exfoliate more than thrice a week. You would never want to use scrubs either.
Full Body Exfoliation
Just like you can exfoliate the skin on your face, you can exfoliate the rest of your body as well. You may use the same type of exfoliant that you use on your face on the rest of your body. Do this maybe once or twice a week, and you'll love the way your skin feels. Your arms, legs, torso and hands will all fee silky smooth and soft.