What happens when you peel an onion? Dead cells cling to the skin’s outermost surface and need to be scrubbed away to reveal the fresh layer below.
This process – called exfoliation – when done regularly, increases our skin’s capacity for moisture absorption. It also reduces fine wrinkles and diminishes acne.
When dead skin cells are around longer than they should be, they prevent oxygenation and nutrients from reaching the living skin.
The skin is constantly exposed to damaging influences like the sun, pollutants and radiation. Add to this natural aging, fatigue, gravity, wrong diets, stress and smoking, and your skin is virtually under attack all the time. The good news, however, is that your skin renews itself.
New cells are being constantly regenerated at the lower layer of your skin – the dermis. This new layer is pushed up to the surface, or the epidermis.
The cells on the skin’s surface gradually die. Aging causes the process of cellular renewal to slow down. The result: a dead-cell pile-up on the skin’s surface. This gives it a rough, dry, dull appearance. Exfoliation helps reveal fresh, young skin cells below.
- Exfoliation removes blackheads which have a tendency to clog skin pores
- It opens up pores and promotes better absorption of moisture
- Age spots and unwanted pigmentation become less noticeable after exfoliation
- It improves blood circulation and decreases puffiness
- It allows for the release of natural oils
- For those who have superficial facial scars, regular exfoliation decreases pore size and minimises scars
- It leaves you with smooth, fresh-looking skin
- Regular exfoliation helps improve skin elasticity and firmness.
There is no one-formula-suits-all when it comes to the frequency of exfoliation. How you exfoliate, or how many times, will be determined by your skin type and its needs.
Oily skin. This type of skin needs regular exfoliation because the skin has difficulty sloughing off dead cells, with grease clogging the pores
Dry skin. Here, dead skin build-up is faster and this accumulation makes the skin look dull
Aging skin. The natural cellular renewal process is slowed down. It would help if you eased the process with frequent exfoliation.
Forms of exfoliation
The two forms of exfoliation are mechanical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation. In the former, dead skin is physically rubbed off with a granular scrub – sugar, rice flour, crushed almonds etc., In the latter, enzymes like alpha hydroxy acids [AHAs] or beta hydroxy acids [BHAs] loosen the glue-like substance that holds the cells together, allowing them to slough away. Facial peels are a good example of chemical exfoliators.
Easy steps to exfoliation
- Wet your face before you exfoliate
- Use a gentle cleanser and astringent to remove all traces of surface oil and make-up. Dry your skin with a soft towel
- Preferably, use your hands to apply the scrub
- Don’t press hard when using granular scrubs. Let the product do the work
- Use circular motions and apply gentle pressure on facial skin
- Spend a little more time on the area you know is prone to blackheads
- After exfoliation, rinse face with warm water
- Hydrate your skin immediately after exfoliation. A moisturiser is most effective when dead cells are out of the way
- Always remember to use an exfoliator designed for your skin type
- Never forget the neck region which seems to age faster than elsewhere
- Lips can benefit from exfoliation as much as the rest of your face. A baby’s soft toothbrush is good for this area.
- Always remember to wear a sunscreen when you’re going out after exfoliation – so the healthy skin now exposed on the surface of your skin is protected.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Use products designed for the face only. Those meant for the rest of the body may be too abrasive and irritating for gentle, sensitive facial skin
- Scrubs that contain groundnut shells or apricot pits may irritate the skin because the edges are uneven and can cause microscopic tears
- If you have normal skin, try a twice-weekly exfoliation routine to see how your skin feels. If it feels too dry, cut back
- Use very light pressure, and massage/scrub around your face for about three minutes
- Over-exfoliation causes dry skin which is an invitation to wrinkles
- Take special care around the eyes if your skin is very sensitive and thin
- Use peels carefully, else you may remove too much of the skin’s protective layer and end up exposing the living dermis.
Help From the Kitchen
- A paste of oatmeal and water is the easiest scrub you can find on your kitchen shelf
- Sea salt is very effective when rubbed on skin
- A mixture of sugar and olive oil gives good results
- Crushed almonds, rice flour and apricot are all granular enough to act as effective natural scrubs
- Coconut, apple and citrus fruits all contain AHAs
- For oily skin, grind together masur dal, lime juice, 1-2 tsp of honey, and 2-3 neem leaves to a coarse texture. Mix with water/milk to make a paste. Apply. Rinse with warm water.