This is a topic that causes confusion all the time and you will read conflicting advice in every magazine article you pick up so today I want to simplify the subject of exfoliation: what is it, do you need to do it and what should you use?
Exfoliation is the shedding or peeling of dead skin cells from the upper layer of your skin. It occurs naturally in healthy skin but like all body processes it slows down as we age and if our skin cells aren’t getting enough of the proper nutrition to function well. So, as we age it becomes necessary to help the process along with skincare products. The idea is to gently encourage the natural shedding process in order that the skin surface appears as smooth as possible. This new, smoother surface reflects light better than dry, dying skin cells so you see an immediate radiant effect. This can be quite addictive and I think may be the reason for what I see as a national obsession: over-exfoliation!
It is not unusual for someone to tell me that they exfoliate twice weekly or even (horror of horrors) daily when they first come for a consultation. There are even products, and lots of them, available to buy for ‘daily exfoliation’. Let’s look at this scientifically for a moment; cell turnover in a healthy skin occurs on average as follows:
Age: 20’s 14-25 days
Age: 30’s 30 days
Age: 40’s 40 days
And so on, slowing down by a few days for every decade.
So, assuming that you exfoliate on the first day of the month and you are in your 30’s, then there is a fresh layer of skin on the surface that won’t turn over completely for around 30 days. What possible benefit can there be in exfoliating again the next day or even the next week? None at all, you are just hurting that fresh skin which will in all likelihood shorten its lifespan and therefore the length of time it reflects light well.
It is plenty to exfoliate healthy skin once per month, more often of you are in the early stages of correcting a skin condition.
What should you use?
In my opinion the only safe home exfoliator is an enzyme based product. This is because they work by triggering the cells own process of breaking down in the right conditions and therefore won’t break down the ‘cement’ between cells that are still healthy, in the indiscriminate way that a glycolic acid or similar will.
Never use grainy scrubs, they will scratch the skin. For acid peels, microdermabrasion or other peels I would recommend only ever having them performed by a skincare professional who is trained in the procedure. In any case, over the counter versions of these peels are never comparable to what is available in a salon, if they were we would be seeing far more disasters all the time!
If you attend a good facialist she will perform any necessary exfoliation whether you need a superficial or deep treatment during your salon visits and provide the relevant homecare to keep your skin in top condition until your next visit.
Microdermabrasion is a very popular form of deep exfoliation that is available from most salons. I would caution on the overuse of these machines. While they are great if used correctly, unless you are dealing with a particular issue such as scarring or otherwise damaged skin then two or three times a year is enough to boost your homecare regime.
Finally, (sorry this became a very long post), a quick word on Vitamin A, also known as retinol. Any product containing any derivative of Vit A or retinol will already be progressively and slowly exfoliating your skin so it won’t be necessary to use another exfoliator at home. Also, discontinue use of any of these products for 3 days before and after any waxing of the area and before any salon facial treatment.