It’s time to get down to the nitty gritty… (sorry we had to...) In our first two 101s, Cleansing 101 and Hydration 101, we talked about the importance of keeping your skin clean and well hydrated. Here, we’ll break down exfoliation (a step many people confuse with deep cleansing, including what it means, the different ways to exfoliate, and why it’s important.
As usual, let’s start with how your skin works:
The skin constantly regenerates itself from the bottom up, like grass. Skin cells start out deep in the dermis and make a journey upward to the surface - where your skin releases them. Your skin naturally sheds dead cells throughout the day, everyday. As old cells are shed, your skin regenerates healthy new cells to replace the old. As we get older, though, the skin slows down its shedding process. Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells that accumulate on the surface of the skin.
Without consistent exfoliation as adults, we start to see a buildup of dead and damaged cells. That buildup helps trap debris in pores to form blackheads, can result in rough or bumpy skin texture, can impede your products from absorbing and working as they should, and contributes to a generally dull, tired looking complexion.
By removing dead skin cells, exfoliation works to smooth the surface of the skin, helps fade dark spots and even skin tone and allows buildup to make its way out if your skin, and it also kickstarts regeneration for your skin to build new healthy cells. It keeps things moving. By clearing away the old and stimulating new healthy cell growth, smart exfoliation can even help reverse visible signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles.
Gentle exfoliation at least once weekly is an essential part of a healthy skincare routine. We encourage you to practice this good habit for the skin all over your body, too.
There are two types of exfoliation: mechanical and chemical.
Mechanical exfoliation is probably the kind you’re the most accustomed to, from “scrubs” (we don’t like that word) you can find in the drug store to the polishes we carry at Heyday. Mechanical exfoliation uses a physical tool (i.e., a brush, sponge, or the gritty/beady stuff in your product) to create friction and physically loosen dead surface skin cells.
You can think of manual exfoliation like sanding or buffing the skin. If done properly it helps smooth the skin. With sanding in mind you can probably intuitively understand why pressing harder or using more of a gritty scrub won't actually give you the smoothest finish. In fact, imagine what would happen if you took a heavy grit sandpaper to your kitchen table … it’s not uncommon for people to approach manual exfoliation and their own skin this way. Go easy, friends!
Moderation is key here. In your skincare routine at home, you want to gently sweep away dead skin cells that have accumulated each week. Imagine regularly dusting the shelves, not scrubbing a dirty pan! When we choose to use mechanical exfoliation in a facial at Heyday, we use either gentle polishes or the precision resurfacing of the professional microdermabrasion machine.
(More on microdermabrasion in exfoliation 102 next month. Stay tuned!)
Right off the bat, you might be thinking, “chemical, that sounds unnatural and extreme.” But here, we’re referring to ingredients like natural fruit enzymes, hydroxy (AHA/BHA) acids, or retinols that are also used to clear away and help the skin release dead skin cells. They do so by more sophisticated means than physically knocking dead cells of the surface.
While manual exfoliation can be fairly uneven without a smart product or professional machine precision, in chemical exfoliation we find great options to penetrate the skin evenly and deeply for some added skin benefits. Chemical exfoliation can particularly helpful for clearing the skin of breakouts and buildup in the pores, and reversing signs of aging. Here we’ll take a look here at the two most common types of chemical exfoliation:
Enzymes work like Pacman on the surface of your skin, digesting dead skin cells, breaking down the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together, and also helping break up any gunk hanging out in your pores so it can be cleansed away. Most enzyme exfoliation treatments get applied to the skin like a mask and washed off after 5-15 minutes.
Enzymes come from natural sources like tropical papaya and pineapple, or a fall favorite – pumpkin. The great thing about enzymes is that they’re safe and gentle and will only digest truly dead skin, so you don’t risk damaging your skin on the way to the results you want with enzymes.
Hydroxy (AHA & BHA) acids are exfoliating ingredients that are able to penetrate the skin most deeply and can results in remarkable and lasting changes in the skin for working on uneven tone, reversing visible signs of aging, and clearing breakout conditions. Acids do need to be used wisely though, as you can quickly cause damage to your skin by overdoing it with this kind of exfoliation. Acids work to also break down that “glue” mentioned above, and generally also stimulate some deep action in the skin, like the production of new collagen and elastin. You can see some flaking of the skin when you first use hydroxy acids to exfoliate, as dead cells shed.
Hydroxy acids often appear as ingredients like glycolic, lactic, or tartaric acid and are derived from natural sources including a variety of fruits, milk, and some nuts.
Chemical exfoliation can range from very gentle treatment for home use to treatments you'd get at a dermatologist’s office. Potent concentrations of both enzymes and hydroxy acids are the star ingredients in the deep acting Professional Peels we use at Heyday as well. More on how we use Professional Peels for serious skin improvements without any of the scary after-effects you may have heard about (a la Samantha in that Sex in the City episode) next month.
The CliffNotes version...
- Exfoliation, in its various forms, sloughs off the dull, dead skin and reveals the fresh new skin cells below
- Always use caution when exfoliating: Too much can take off too many layers of the skin, leaving you with raw over sensitized skin! Go easy.
- What combination of manual and/or chemical exfoliation is best for your skin, which specific ingredients are best for your skin and how often you should use them varies by person. This is the type of thing your Skin Therapist can help you find out, but we’ve pulled together a few selections that just about anyone can try this fall.