Everyone cherishes to look youthful and have radiant skin. Exfoliation lends you a helping hand in fulfilling this wish. By exfoliation, the outer dead skin cells are removed or exfoliated to make way for new skin cells. This helps maintain the skin texture. It also eases penetration of skin care products. When done correctly, exfoliation leaves the skin on the face and body smoother and fresher.
Why is exfoliation important?
Our skin is constantly forming and undergoing changes. Basal skin cells are the germinative cells of the epidermis and the basal cell layer is a rapidly dividing layer. Skin cells formed in this deep layer migrate outwards to the skin surface and get keratinised or cornified. These keratinised skin cells are essential because they give our skin its protective quality. But they are constantly sloughing off to make way for younger cells. As a person ages, especially after menopause in women, this process of skin recycling becomes irregular and the cell turnover slows down. Cells start to pile up unevenly on the skin’s surface making the skin uneven, dry, rough, and dull.
Our face is most sensitive to exfoliation. The shedding of the outer layer unclogs pores, keeps skin clean, and helps reduce acne breakouts. Exfoliation should always be done after cleansing the skin. Over-exfoliation causes drying and irritation of the skin and may further lead to wrinkle development.
Types of exfoliation
Exfoliation is achieved through either mechanical or chemical means.
Mechanical exfoliation involves physically scrubbing with an abrasive. This can be achieved by using over-the-counter facial masks, scrubs or by microdermabrasion.
- Over- the- counter exfoliants include microfibre cloths, adhesive exfoliation sheets, micro-bead facial scrubs, crepe paper, crushed apricot kernel or almond shells, walnut scrubs, sugar or salt crystals and pumice. Other abrasive materials such as sponges, loofahs and brushes are also used. People with dry skin should avoid exfoliants, which include a significant portion of pumices, or crushed volcanic rock. Pumice is considered a good material only for the feet.
- Microdermabrasion is a commonly used, safe and effective mode of treatment used by dermatologists and in beauty spas for skin rejuvenation. It helps by superficially peeling the outer skin layer, thereby reducing its thickness, thus removing the dead skin cells giving a smoother fresher skin.
If done repeatedly, it improves hyperpigmentation and sun damaged skin and gives an even texture to the skin. Microdermabrasion can be repeated once in 10 days, depending on the skin type and sensitivity.
Microdermabrasion can be performed by two ways—crystal microdermabrasion and diamond microdermabrasion.
In crystal microdermabrasion, inert crystals of aluminium oxide are made to impinge directly on to the skin surface under vacuum.
In diamond microdermabrasion, a diamond-tipped head is rubbed against the skin, which abrades it, thereby causing exfoliation.
Cleopatra bathed in sour milk to beautify her skin, unknowingly using lactic acid, which is alpha hydroxy acid. French women of court scrapped old wine barrels and used old wine that is tartaric acid for the same.
Most commonly used alpha and beta hydroxy acids for exfoliation are glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, mandelic acids, tartaric acid and salicylic acid.
Glycolic acid is the most commonly used chemoexfoliant, which acts on the epidermis [superficial layer] and dermis [deeper layer]. On the epidermis, it has an effect on the keratinisation and removes the dead skin cells thus fading the uneven pigmentation. In the dermis, it acts by increasing the production of collagen and increases skin thickness. The skin thereby looks more youthful, rejuvenated and healthier. Chemical peels can be repeated every 15 days.
How much is too much
As facial skin is more sensitive, avoid over-exfoliation. Over-exfoliation of facial, sensitive and ageing skin makes the skin irritable and more susceptible to damage by ultraviolet light, thereby accelerating premature ageing.
Thus, it is important to understand the signs of over-exfoliation. The skin may appear taut and red and may cause flaking, dryness and itching. Increased sensitivity and burning may also be felt after using cleansing agents and cosmetics.
If you’re showing the signs of over-exfoliation, it is best to consult your dermatologist. After the skin recovers, use a gentle exfoliant designed for daily use.
Dos and don’ts
- The most important ‘do’ after exfoliation is to use sun protection and moisturisation without fail.
- Body scrubs are too rough for the facial skin; do not use them over the face. Use facial scrubs that are suited to your skin requirement and sensitivity.
- Avoid over-microdermabrasion. It can make thin, ageing skin even thinner, if you get treatments too soon.
- Don’t over exfoliate, especially in summer or in very sunny climates as it makes the skin more prone to sun damage.
- Don’t do repeated peels in a short span of time as it can excessively remove the protective keratinised skin layer. This exposes the living dermis making the skin more sensitive and prone to damage.
- Do not wax and peel the same skin area on the same day.
Skin is a show case of your personality and having a good skin care routine skin is very important. Timely and regular exfoliation done with proper technique and expertise will go a long way in keeping your skin glowing and youthful. The duration and modality of exfoliation varies from individual to individual based on the skin type. It is necessary to remember that too much or too little care or treatment can defeat the purpose and would not be beneficial to your skin in the long run.
Get the skin of your dreams
- Use lukewarm water for bathing as hot water causes the skin to dry.
- Follow the C-T-M rule [cleansing, followed by toning and then moisturising].
- Use moisturisers regularly as per your skin type Moisturisers play a very important role in skin care.
- Apply sunscreen regularly throughout the year to protect the skin from ultra violet rays and avoid skin ageing.
- Drink sufficient water to keep yourself hydrated.
- Exfoliate your skin regularly. Exfoliation removes dead skin cells and refreshes your skin.
- Ger a clean-up or a facial done regularly as per your skin type.
This was first published in the February 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.