Exfoliants: A Breakdown

Lisa Bova

It's finally Spring, and with that comes the anticipation to clear out the winter funk! We look forward to opening all the house windows and allowing that beautiful spring breeze ripe with the scent of fresh blooms to fill the space and cleanse the soul. The same goes for our skin and the desire to chisel off that dull pasty winter blah face, right?! Like the mantle on your fireplace thick with soot debris and dust from winter malaise, our faces has been hoarding layers of dead skin cells, covered by months of thick creams and oils to combat the dry air of winter. Ladies and gents, it's time to get to exfoliating!

There is no better way to ring in Spring Skin Renewal than with some good ol' exfoliation. A nice gentle resurfacing not only removes all that gunk that has built up for months, but it will leave your skin positively glowing. Dull skin is usually a result of piled up debris and dead skin cells inhibiting that gorgeous glow of yours to show through. Once removed, voila! Fresh, dewy glowing skin reveals itself and all traces of winter skin are literally dissolved.

Exfoliation can sometimes get a bad wrap. And to be honest, when used incorrectily it can be more harmful than beneficial. Let's mention all the bad stuff so we can address the very real concerns of using exfoliants. Many types of powerful exfoliants (most notably high % chemical peels) are sold on places like Amazon and Ebay where anybody can purchase them. Without proper education, application or understanding of their power, results can be absolutely disastrous. Skin can be burned, scarred, discolored, and compromised indefinitely. Anybody remember the Alpha Hydroxy Acid obsession of the early-mid 90's? These acids were popping up in so many skincare products and were being overused. When overused, these acids can cause serious and sometimes permanent damage to the skin's acid mantle. This is our skin's slightly acidic protective barrier that once harmed, causes severe sensitization to things like heat, cold, and other skincare products. Years of stripping away at that precious acid mantle with harsh acids or surfactants can disrupt the skin's pH affecting its ability to heal and how it reacts to bacteria. There is a difference between sensitive and sensitized skin. Sensitized skin sadly is usually a result of improper or excessive exfoliation and the overuse of harsh surfactants. Gentle is the name of game when it comes to exfoliants.

Now to the good stuff! I absolutely love exfoliation, resurfacing, buffing, scrubbing, peeling, or whatever else you want to call it. Aside from the smoothing and and glowing, resurfacing also allows treatment products such as serums like Arcadian Winds Beauty's Nourish LUXE Day Protect Serum to actually penetrate into the skin rather than getting caught up in the layers of icky blocking debris Exfoliating products are incredibly varied. There are acids, enzymes, physical textured scrubs, gommage gels and creams. We'll discuss each one and it's benefits.

Gommage gels and creams: These types of exfoliants are pretty old school nowadays as more sophisticated techniques have been developed. This is definitely the gentlest of all resurfacers and essentially these products just use friction and circular motion to remove dead skin cells. Pretty basic, but gentle and effective.

Physical Scrubs: You find these everywhere. They are products that contain some kind of textured element to "scrub" off the dead skin cells. These textured elements can be beads, shells, nut pieces, coffee grinds, you name it. I always advise caution when using these, as with the case of AHAs, they can be overused. Remember, the name of the game is GENTLE. The industry has discovered that some of those old timey scrubs we all used back in the day with nut pieces in them were actually quite damaging. Those nut and shell pieces were causing micro cuts (trauma) to the skin and leaving our skin compromised. Rough exfoliation like this is not cool or necessary. So if you go for a scrub, start with only 1-2 days a week, find a gentle one with finely milled particles and don't apply any excess pressure when swirling the scrub around the skin, always making sure to avoid the eye area.

Microdermabrasion falls into the physical exfoliant category as it uses aluminum oxide particles to blast away surface debris. BUT, I think it deserves its own paragraph! I adore microdermabrasion and would recommend it to everyone(except of course, those with sensitized skin). This is also a great option for those who may be nervous to step into chemical territory. This treatment allows the professional to determine how intense a session the client can handle by the level of inflammation. And unlike a chemical peel that penetrates deeper as the minutes go by, the hand piece of the microderm machine can be lifted off the skin at any point, stopping the process. The number of passes to the skin along with pressure applied to the hand piece determine the intensity of the crystals. I will forever and ever suggest microderms to anyone wanting a super effective skin resurfacing. This was my favorite treatment to perform on clients, as the skin was gloriously radiant with a lovely flush immediately after. Once a month microderms will keep your skin in tip top shape for the entire year. Don't waste your time or money on "diamond tip" microdermabrasion, these are glorified nail filers. Get the real thing done by a professional.

Enzymes: These come in powders, gels, pads, creams and masks. Enzymes are truly the place to start if you are new to resurfacing. They are awesome! Enzymes are typically fruit acids (mango, pineapple, papaya) that aren't quite as scary as the top tier acids such as glycolic or TCA. Enzymes are super gentle and I like to think of them as little pac men. As in Pac Man, the game. These guys just kind of chomp away at all the dead skin cells and debris on the surface of the skin without penetrating the epidermal layers. All skin types can handle enzymes, in fact more conditioned skin can combine them with steam as this increases their activity. Enzymes can remain on the skin for up to 10 minutes and a mild tingle is all one should really feel. Skin feels smoother and softer afterwards with a flushed radiance. Enzymes are also a great way to keep mild acne in check and keep skin clear, and should be used 1-2 times a week.

Chemical Peels: If gommage gels are the bottom rung of the exfoliation ladder, then chemical peels are the top. Chemicals basically dissolve away the bonds holding dead skin cells onto the surface of the skin. Peels consists of several types of acids, from many derivatives. Chemical peels help with many skin concerns. Aside from removing all the unwanted surface debris, peels aid in lightening hyperpigmentation, reducing acne scars, tightening, and brightening. They also actually thicken the skin and aid in collagen production. They come in low concentrations (%) to very high, and regardless type, should always be used with caution, no more than 1-2 times per month. Those interested in peels should always start with the lowest %, slowly working your way up to higher concentrations over time as your skin becomes acclimated. Once you reach the point where you have no visible reaction to a peel in the way of irritation, inflammation, ect, then you are ready to kick it up to the next % level. Acids are typically categorized as Beta Hydroxy Acids(BHAs) or Alpha Hydroxy Acids(AHAs). Salicylic Acid is the most common BHA. This acid is typically found in acne/oily/acne prone skincare products. Salicylic acid is derived from the bark of willow trees and has anti inflammatory properties, making it ideal for keeping breakouts in check. This acid can be found in a lot of leave in topical acne controlling products, but it's powerful enough to be used as a peel.

The most common AHA is glycolic acid. This acid is derived from natural sources like sugarcane, but is one of the big daddies when it comes to acids. This is because its molecular size is smaller than other acids allowing it to penetrate deeper. Not for sensitive skins, this one should definitely always be started at a 10% concentration. Lactic acid is milk derived and a great starting place for all those new to chemical peeling, even sensitive skin. This acid is also a great choice for deeper skin tones that may be more susceptible to hyperpigmentation, or a darkening of the skin pigment after trauma. Possibly the gentlest of the AHAs is Mandelic acid. This acid is derived from bitter almonds and has the largest molecular structure making it the least penetrative. Another good place to start on your peel journey, this acid has some brightening properties to it as well.

So there you have it. Some skin purists will argue that exfoliation is unnecessary and even dangerous. I say if used in moderation and in a gentle manner then by all means, exfoliate away! Ditch the highlighter this Spring and let your freshly resurfaced skin glow from within all on its own.

Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published