Dr. Hauschka may be dead set against it, but I’m a big fan of exfoliation in all its many glorious forms. Whether you opt for manual exfoliation with products like scrubs or tools like muslin cloths or the Clarisonic brush (or the Buf Puf, for anyone reading this blog from the ’80s), or chemical exfoliation in the form of something like enzyme peels, you can rest assured that your skin is going to look all the better for it if you incorporate regular exfoliation into your skincare regime.
Exfoliation is basically a speeding up of the natural process of desquamation, the shedding of dead skin cells. It sloughs off any dead skin cells that may persist in clinging to the outermost layer of the skin’s epidermis, which may fail to be shed naturally as a result of aging, since the desquamation process slows down with age.
Hormonal changes, environmental factors like sun exposure, or vitamin deficiencies can all compound the problem. Exfoliation improves the appearance of the skin as fresher skin cells are exposed – skintone looks more even, dullness is reduced, pores appear reduced in size and less clogged, and fine lines are less noticeable. Skin’s also more receptive to treatments like masks when those dead cells have been done away with.
Products containing hydroxy acids (either AHAs like lactic or glycolic acid or the BHA salicylic acid) or Retinol also have a chemical exfoliating action, and while they may suit skins that can’t tolerate abrasive physical exfoliants they can cause irritation, and need to be used in conjunction with a good sunscreen as they increase sun sensitivity.
It’s a good idea to use them at nighttime, too, so that skin has a chance to recover before exposure to sunlight. They’re to be found now in lots of skincare products, but you should only use one such product at a time to minimize the chance of skin irritation; they’re often most effective in moisturisers where they can be absorbed by the skin to do their thang. AHAs and Retinol are best suited to tackling prematurely photo-aged skin as well as the effects of normal chronological aging, while salicylic acid is best for acne- or congestion-prone skin.
Now, people wonder all the time if it’s possible to over-exfoliate, and of course it is. It’s fairly easy to do, actually, because exfoliation makes such an improvement to the look of skin that you might be inclined to think that more exfoliation equals even better looking skin. Regardless of skin type, you shouldn’t be exfoliating more than two or three times a week (never on consecutive days), and only once a week or even once every ten days if your skin is normal or sensitive.
Over-exfoliation can compromise the skin’s natural lipid barrier, sensitising skin and even accelerate premature skin aging. Eek! You’ll know you’re over-exfoliating if you regularly take a sanding belt to your face, or if you notice tell-tale signs like noticeable dehydration, patchy areas of dryness, tight-feeling skin, itchiness, irritation, redness or increased sensitivity. Calm everything down by switching to products that are as gentle as possible and be sure to use sunscreen while skin recovers.