The top layer of the skin naturally sheds on a regular basis. This ongoing process allows dead skin cells that accumulate on the surface to make way for new skin cells below. Natural regeneration occurs more frequently in young people (every 7 days in children) and begins to slow down as we age. By the time we reach our twenties, this cycle of shedding has slowed to about every 21-28 and will continue to slow as we continue to age.
One way to accelerate the natural process of shedding and regeneration is to regularly and gently exfoliate the skin. Without additional exfoliation, a build-up of the outer layers can become more stubborn particularly in oily, dry, and sun damaged skin. When this happens, pores become clogged and skin appears dull as new healthy cells remain trapped below the surface. In these cases, regular cleansing is no longer enough to remove built-up dead skin cells, and regular exfoliation is necessary to maintain healthy skin.
Sun damaged skin appears visibly thickened and rough and skin tone is uneven and dull. The thick appearance of the skin is a result of the skin’s effort to protect itself from the sun’s harmful rays. While a thickened layer may provide a little natural protection from the sun, it creates more problems than advantages. That’s because thick skin inhibits the absorption of beneficial skincare products to penetrate and nourish the skin.
Regular exfoliation of the top layer of sun damaged skin will:
- Remove the thickened skin, revealing younger, healthier, less wrinkled looking skin.
- Reduce the chance of clogged pores and allow nourishing products to penetrate below the surface.
- Even out skin tone and fade brown spots revealing a brighter skin tone.
Once sun damaged skin has been exfoliated and restored to a more healthy condition, it will be sensitive to ultraviolet rays and will become damaged again unless it is protected with a broad-spectrum sunscreen. While sunscreen is always recommended for all skin types, it is particularly important to someone who has newly exfoliated skin.
Exfoliating Oily Skin
All skin types benefit from regular exfoliation, but those with oily skin who tend to be acne and blemish-prone, benefit significantly. That’s because sebum (oil) works as an adhesive, preventing the natural shedding of skin cells. When this natural cycle of shedding is interrupted, dead skin cell build up, pores become clogged, oil gets trapped and the acne cycle begins.
Another problem for people with oily skin and clogged pores is that the oil gland itself has a lining. This lining can become thickened or misshapen inside the pore and block the normal flow of oil from the pore. Exfoliants (especially those designed to dissolve oils) can exfoliate the lining of the pore, clearing it out, encouraging normal function.
Exfoliating Dry Skin
The reasons for exfoliating dry skin are different from those for treating oily skin – but the objective is the same: removing dead skin cells and restoring the skin to a healthy condition. There are a number of reasons for dry skin:
Winter weather. The cold, dry air of winter and the dry heat indoors can dry the skin and lead to a buildup of dead skin.
Hot water. Long, hot showers and baths may be relaxing, but they can wash precious oils from your skin, making it more prone to dryness.
Harsh soap. Heavy-duty cleansers can strip away skin’s natural oils and irritate the skin, making it dry, cracked, and prone to rashes.
Health conditions. Common skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can lead to dry, scaly skin. In these cases though, exfoliation of the surface skin must be approached carefully and under the direction of a medical doctor.
Dry skin and accumulation of dead skin cells creates a barrier that blocks moisturizers and nourishing products from penetrating the skin and reaching healthy skin cells. When this happens, moisturizers sit on the surface and appear or feel ‘greasy’.
Exfoliating dry, dead skin cells and revealing new plump skin cells promotes healthy skin and leaves the skin looking younger and fresher.
The job of an exfoliant is to remove rough, dead skin, leaving behind a smoother, healthier layer of skin. Here are several tools and techniques that can help to slough off dead skin and get to the healthy skin below.
- Exfoliating tools. Natural sponges, loofahs, and pumice stones are often used to remove dry, dead skin cells from feet, knees, elbows, and other tough areas of the body, while terry washcloths and soft scrubbing gloves can be used to clear away the dry skin from the face and more sensitive spots.
- Scrubs. There are dozens of grainy exfoliating scrubs of every kind on the market . You can even make your own with a little sugar and some olive oil or a favorite essential oil and some sea salt. Dermatologists recommend using ones that contain sugar or artificial grains to exfoliate your skin. Scrubs that contain fruit or nut particles may be too harsh for the face since they can actually scratch the skin.
- Acids. Cleansers and lotions that contain ingredients like lactic acid, salicylic acid, and alpha hydroxy acid can serve as daily exfoliants, removing dead skin and bringing the fresher skin to the surface.
Is it Possible to Exfoliate Too Often?
Clearly exfoliating your skin has its benefits. But how often should you exfoliate? It is possible to overdo it – causing temporary redness or irritation – but good exfoliation is not a painful or harmful experience.
For some people gentle exfoliation once a day works best, for others every other day, or once a week. That being said, here are some general tips about exfoliating the skin:
- Body or foot scrubs should never be used on the face. The dermis on the face is much more sensitive than that on the body so body scrubs are far too harsh and can damage skin on the face.
- Masks and peels work better AFTER the skin has been exfoliated. Removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin first allows the mask to reach into the pores and do its job.
- Overuse of the product can lead to over-dryness and irritation, exposing the newly developed cells prematurely. Always follow the product’s instructions and discuss concerns with a skin care professional when in doubt.