Exfoliating your skin is kind of like eating leafy green vegetables; you know you’re supposed to do it, but you probably skip it more than you actually do it. And just like leafy green vegetables, you probably know exfoliating is good for you, but if asked to explain why, you might not be able to offer the most detailed answer.
And that’s 100% OK. ;-)
This article helps explain why exfoliating is important and breaks down the different types of exfoliators. This will help you choose which one is best for you based on your skin type and concerns.
Why It’s Important to Exfoliate Your Skin
Our skin is our greatest protector… literally. It keeps all of our internal organs, bones, vessels, muscles, etc. from being exposed to the outside world. Externally, our skin absorbs and blocks harmful irritants, pollutants, and UV rays to keep them from penetrating our bodies.
For our skin to keep protecting us, new skin cells are constantly produced in the bottom layer of the epidermis of the skin. These fresh, plump baby cells leave travel to the keratin (top) layer of the skin. By the time these fresh baby cells reach the top layer of the skin, they have flattened out and died. On average it takes about 30 days for skin cells to reach the surface of the skin.
As we age, these new skin cells take longer to reach the surface of the skin (up to 90 days). Without this quicker cell turnover, skin starts to look dull or wrinkled, and feel rough, or flakey to the touch.
When skin is exfoliated on the surface, it allows the newer, fresher cells to show. This increases the look of evenness, softness in texture, and an overall radiant look. And that is why exfoliating is important!
The Different Types of Exfoliants
This one is pretty self-explanatory; physical exfoliants use small rounded beads or crushed ingredients to manually rub off dead skin cells on the surface of the skin.
This cleanser is a good example of a physical and chemical exfoliant (more on chemical exfoliants in a bit).
Who Loves Physical Exfoliators
Anyone that likes the feel of a gritty or textured scrub on their skin. This type of exfoliant is recommended for just about anyone EXCEPT those with acne-prone or sensitive skin. The small beads can tear the skin spreading bacteria from pimples, or tear already thin skin.
Derived from the acids in fruits like pineapple and papaya. Enzymatic exfoliators break down the "glue" that holds dead skin cells together. When this material is broken down, the surrounding cells are sloughed off without having to manually scrub the skin. They can also be called “gommage” products, which means “to erase” in French.
A great example of an enzymatic exfoliant is Cosmedica’s Mineral Enzyme Exfoliator.
Who Loves Enzymatic Exfoliators
Enzymatic exfoliators are ideal for individuals with sensitive, thin, or skin that's prone to irritation. Or, if you just really really love instant gratification products. ;-)
The two most popular chemical exfoliants are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA’s).
AHA’s are typically derived from natural substances like citrus (citric), milk (lactic), apples (malic), grapes (tartaric), and sugarcane (glycolic). These ingredients are all water-soluble acids which support the skin’s moisture levels. They work by melting the intercellular glue that holds skin cells together and this helps the skin’s natural exfoliation.
BHA’s are naturally derived from willow bark and are also known as salicylic acid. This is an oil-soluble acid and can be preferred by people with oilier skin, because they help thin and strip oil from the skin. They penetrate deeper into the pores and help thin the oil and draw out the excess (think of it like a Roto-Rooter for the pores).
Who loves Chemical Exfoliators
AHA’s can be better for sun-damaged, sensitive, and dry skin types because they exfoliate the skin’s surface gently. BHA’s can penetrate deeper in to the skin and are great for more oily skin types. Both work well for anyone concerned with breakouts, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation.
A cleansers that contains ingredients like glycolic acid helps slough off dead skin cells on a daily basis. For more intensive treatments, upping the percentage of glycolic to 10% can help boost the exfoliation process, if desired.
How Often Should I Exfoliate?
Sometimes too much of a good thing is no longer good. Always read the directions and use suggestions, but most exfoliants should be used 2-3 times a week. Over-exfoliating the skin can lead to excess redness, and sensitivity to the sun and environment.
Now that you know why it’s important to exfoliate and which products to choose based on your skin type and concerns, we recommend you get shopping!