Exfolaiting is a crucial step of a complete and healthy skin care routine. Our skin cells are turning over naturally every 28 days, and this process slows down as we age. Regular exfoliation will remove the dead cells that can clog pores, give a gray tone to the skin as well as make your skin appear lackluster. It will also allow the fresh new cells to come to the surface and accept product more readily.
Usually newbies experiencing an intense exfoliation get such a "wow" factor their first time that they feel they should be doing this ALL THE TIME. There in lies mistake number 1. Your skin is only so thick, so exfolaiting with an intense acid or scrub will only break down your barrier creating a sensitized skin leading to breakouts, inflammation and redness. After the barrier is broken down comes the unwanted dehydration lines from TEWL (trans epidermal water loss). TEWL comes from a broken down barrier which is not able to hold water in the cell properly. Sound familiar? More than 50% of my clients deal with this issue of thinking more is more when it comes to exfoliation.
The inflammation and breakouts associated with over exfoliation sometimes gets confused for clogged pores and then begins ANOTHER viscous cycle of more exfoliation. A simple reminder is when you see RED just stop! Red means stop!
There are many types of exfoliating products on the market: cleansers, scrubs, toners, masks, creams etc. Some are physical (a scrub or muslin cloth) and some are chemical (alpha and beta hydroxy acids and enzymes). Below I'll break down the main exfolaiting products/ingredients and what skin type should be using each.
Scrubs: The most common exfoliant seen on the market. And sadly it shouldn't be. While scrubs are an effective product they should only be used by an oily skin with no sign of breakouts or capillaries. Making it an option for very little of the population. If you are a regular user of scrubs make sure you use lite pressure. The skin is a gentle organ, no matter how tough you think your skin is.
Lactic acid: An alpha hydroxy acid that is a larger molecule, making it suitable for most skin types including sensitive. It works primarily on the surface of the skin resurfacing gently. Lactic acid also has moisture retention qualities that make it perfect to help hold much needed water and lipids in the skin. Look for this in cleanses, toners, serums, creams and masks.
Gycolic acid: An alpha hydroxy acid with a much smaller molecule than lactic acid. Glycolic can really get deep down and help with pigmentation issues, aging skin or skin that has many years of sun abuse. Personally I would steer clear of this acid if you are sensitive. Look for this in cleansers, toners, serum, creams and masks. Don't use if pregnant.
Salicylic acid: The only beta hydroxy acid. The gold standard for acne as salicylic is oil soluble and anti-inflammatory. This acid will not only exfoliate the skin it will be able to penetrate the oil inside of the pore and clear it out as well as reducing redness and swelling associate with acne blemishes. Used in low percentages around 1-1.5% salicylic acid is acceptable for most skin types. Don't use if allergic to aspirin or pregnant.
Papaya, pineapple and pumpkin enzymes: Enzymes are effective at breaking down the keratin protein in the skin AKA eating away dead skin cells. Enzymes really only work on dead surface cells and don't go any deeper in the skin making it a nice solution for sensitive complexions. Look for enzymes in cleansers, scrubs, masks, and creams. Though be careful enzymes are quite finicky and have to be formulated correctly and at the correct PH to truly work their magic.
If you are a follower of skin care blogs or a skin care fanatic yourself, you've undoubtedly heard of a "less is more approach". And on the flip side you've certainly heard of the 12 step routines that are all the rage right now. Below I will explain why I believe we should be doing less to our skin on a daily basis...
I truly believe that we were created and evolved into an amazing species that inherently knows what to do. Our skin has sebaceous glands for a reason (to secrete our own natural moisturizer) and when combined with a bit of sweat makes up our acid mantle, resulting in a healthy skin barrier. No doubt about it- our skin needs to be cleansed, exfoliated (encouraging the skins natural process of cell turn over) and protected from the sun. But other than that we start getting into "band-aid" products or products that are simply starting to do more harm than good. I absolutely believe we can over lubricate our skin, resulting in more blackheads as well as a skin that stops functioning properly. If we stick to consistent and correct use of the basics our skin will start behaving much more to our liking.
Time and again in my practice I see the results first hand of over cleansing, over exfoliating and over doing things. As humans if there is a problem we usually want to take action and feel like we are doing something. When someone has a mild break out they immediately want to over do everything and instead they should be doing the opposite.
We are programmed to think we NEED 10 products or a certain cream will be the holy grail. And truly when it comes down to it we need to be cleansing gently every AM and PM (preferably with a washcloth at night), exfoliating with Alpha/Beta hydroxy acids and retinols, and protecting our skin 365 days a year with an SPF moisturizer. It really can be that simple. But you have to be doing it CONSISTENTLY. Once every few days isn't going to cut it. My treatments are wonderful and really help to give the skin a jump start but it is what you do everyday at home that truly matters.
Of course there will be a time and place for some of the "band-aid" products on the market. Say for instance you weren't a long time user of SPF and now struggle with pigmentation issues, you might want to invest in a brightening serum that will help you to lighten some of those spots. But these will be on a case by case basis.