Exfoliation has become standard practice in virtually every salon, clinic, day spa or otherwise around the world – not to mention part of many at home skincare regimens. Why? It gets visible results, fast. As a consumer paying for a product or service, there is nothing better than being able to see where your hard earned money is going.
But… it’s perhaps one of the worst things you could do to your skin when done incorrectly or too often – which is often the case!
Exfoliation, especially when it creates inflammation (eg. over-exfoliation) – whether it be by dermaplaning, micro/hydro dermabrasion, chemical peels, scrubs/beads, laser resurfacing, alpha and beta hydroxy acids or otherwise; can all have a fairly serious negative effect on the health of your skin. It can increase dehydration, aging, sensitivity and perhaps even your risk of skin cancer.
To understand why over-exfoliation is considered poor practice, you need to understand the different layers of the skin and how they function.
The skin is an exceptionally well organised, complex, intricate and forever functioning machine. It never stops. We’re not going to dive in too deep for the purpose of this article however, I will explain the basic form and function.
There are three main layers to the skin – the Epidermis, the Dermis, and the Subcutis (hypodermis). The outermost layer of the Epidermis is the Stratum Corneum, which is often and unfortunately considered the “dead” skin. In actual fact, it’s an essential part of our epidermal barrier and is an important part of proper skin care and skin health. It is often referred to as the Skin Barrier or Skin Barrier Defence System.
This layer of skin should not be considered dead until it hits the floor!
This top layer of our skin is what gets targeted most often in all these cheap, quick fix, superficial treatments floating around today – such as micro/hydro dermabrasion, dermaplaning and your common peels.
Many skincare professionals(?) believe that since the skin cells are “dead,” they’re unneeded. That’s the basis of the arguments in favour of exfoliation and other procedures that remove “dead skin.” The fact is, the stratum corneum (skin barrier) is an essential part of a very carefully designed system. A system that is highly protective of and beneficial to the overall skin structure and function. Its low pH (acidic) environment keeps bacteria from overwhelming the skin and developing into an infection. It is also an area where we have a lipid matrix – which helps prevent water from leaving the skin, and environmental toxins from entering. In addition, the stratum corneum plays a critical role in reflecting 80~ percent of damaging UV.
Your skin already has an exfoliation schedule based on what it is capable of managing, so the best way to improve cell turnover, in turn resulting in healthier, more natural looking skin is to actually feed your skin. Your skin will exfoliate on its own, when it’s ready.
When you strip away those top layers of skin, you begin to expose the underlying layers (which aren’t ready to be exposed yet) to premature damage which in turn results in skin that can age quicker, become extra sensitive (sensitised) and so on. So while you might get some form of instant gratification of ‘glowing’ skin from that micro or chemical peel, the net effect is far worse.
Instead of exfoliating with scrubs, beads and acids – try cleansing.
Your cleanser works with your skin natural exfoliation schedule (without over doing it). It will gently remove dirt, makeup, and other debris but without compromising the skins health and integrity; and without causing any kind of inflammatory response. A good cleanser shouldn’t contain any rough or hard particles such as salts, beads or granules.
It’s better to have a little bit of dirt on your skin than to over cleanse and remove the protective lipids. The free radicals that come from dirt and particles lodged in the natural oils on our skin are minor compared to the flood of free radicals released when we start stripping away the epidermal layers and their lipid cohorts.
We know it’s hard to fathom that this approach works considering everything skincare companies, skin clinics and salons shove in our face every day but the fact is, it does work. It’s really the only ‘true’ and ‘real’ path to creating and maintaining healthy skin – not just skin that looks healthy. There is a big difference.
There are a lot of clinics and salons that have little to no interest in creating healthy skin or actually really caring for the skin – even if they claim otherwise. This is evident through the modalities and products they use, how they use them and how often they use them. To them, healthy skin is the glow after a chemical peel or micro. They offer quick-fix, superficial treatments that deliver visible results, fast – and exfoliation is the quickest and easiest way to achieve that.
The industry thrives on it. Whatever exfoliation method used, especially when you create inflammation, nothing but short term results (if that) are gained.
You need to nourish/feed your skin and body with the correct products (ingredients) including topical and internal components, and let your skin do what it is designed to do. It is an incredible organ with more potential than you can even begin to imagine. As we age, the skin needs a little help to perform at it’s best but it doesn’t need you to take over the entire task.
While there is demand for these quick-fix, superficial treatments that deliver (near) instant visible results, the industry shall continue to deliver, and you will pay the long term price.
When necessary, under the right circumstances, and when performed under the guidance of a professional skin therapist, exfoliation can definitely aid in achieving desired results. It should never be considered a “quick-fix” though. It should never be performed in in an express, walk-in walk-out like manner either.
Our bodies operate as one unit and it is not efficient or effective to damage or interfere with one aspect of cellular health in order to make gains elsewhere.