Exfoliants. We tend to associate this skincare term with abrasive scrubs and beads, products that are somewhat gratifying because we can tangibly feel them on our skin. However, contrary to popular belief, these rough exfoliants typically strip the skin of its natural oils which are essential to maintaining a healthy moisture barrier. When our skin barrier is damaged, it becomes dry, fatigued and more prone to irritation—not exactly the outcome we had in mind.
So, what exactly is exfoliating?
Exfoliating is the process of removing and releasing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin (called the stratum corneum). Dead skin cells are most commonly the result of hormone fluctuations, excessive sun exposure, vitamin deficiencies, and aging. When nothing is done to proactively remove them, these dead cells accumulate on the skin’s surface. Your complexion then becomes dull or ashy, and tends to look tired, because they absorb light versus reflect it.
Exfoliating treatments in dermatology are much preferred over the aforementioned exfoliating cleansers, scrubs, and pads. Dermatologist treatments accelerate the shedding process and when done right, reveal the healthy skin cells that were buried beneath, resulting in a brighter, more radiant complexion and a smoother, more refined texture. You know when people talk about that glow? Well, this is it.
If not a scrub, what kind of exfoliator should I use?
There are predominantly two types of exfoliation: chemical and mechanical.
Chemical exfoliants are often formulated with Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s) derived from the sugars of natural products like sugar cane (Glycolic Acid), milk (Lactic Acid), Tartaric (unripe grapes), Mandelic (bitter almonds) and citrus (citric acid). Sometimes, Salicylic Acid is incorporated to improve the exfoliation process without increasing the irritation. The bottom line—look for Alpha Hydroxy Acid and Salicylic Acid due to their natural exfoliating properties.
Mechanical exfoliants use beads, brushes or sharp surfaces to physically remove the dead skin cells.
While both types have benefits, dermatologists often prefer chemical exfoliation because it's more effective and can be gentler on the skin. Ingredients found in chemical exfoliants like AHA’s, Salicylic Acid and fruit enzymes, loosen the bonds that adhere the dead skin cells to the surface of the skin so they can be easily rinsed off. This is significantly less abusive than physically scrubbing the skin to release the dead cells. Scrubbing tools and microbeads abrade the skin, and people tend to use them too aggressively, resulting in a damaged skin barrier.
A New Approach to Exfoliation
An exciting new approach to this skincare category is called “progressive exfoliation” (or “progressive peels”). These in-home treatments, containing Alpha Hydroxy Acids, were designed to replicate the same benefits as microdermabrasion or in-office light peels but without the hassle of an office visit. These peels deliver dermatologist-level results with less irritating ingredients over the course of 3-4 consecutive days of use.
To learn more about exfoliation, check out our article "8 Tips For Better Exfoliation" right here. And if you'd like to get started with an exfoliator, shop the products below!