First of all, let’s look at CRF (cell renewal factor), or cell turnover rate, which is what keeps dead skin cells from building up. New skin cells are created in the basal layer, the deeper layer below the epidermis, of the skin. Over time, these plump, round skin cells migrate to the surface of the skin and undergo a process known as keratinization, becoming more acidic and resulting in hard, flattened keratinized skin cells. In young, healthy skin, the approximate time it takes for a cell to travel from the basal layer to the surface to be sloughed off naturally, is about 21 - 28 days. Not bad - new, healthy, bright, smooth skin every month naturally. However, throw in age and external factors (i.e. pollution, UV exposure, smoking, poor diet, stress, medications, etc.) and that natural process slows down. For middle-aged people, CRF takes 28 - 42 days and for those 50 and older, 42 - 84 days. Therefore, as we get older, we have more excess accumulation of dead skin cells which can cause dryness, fine lines, wrinkles, rough texture, poor elasticity, uneven skin tone, and clogged and enlarged pores.
As CRF slows down with age and other factors, exfoliation can be used to help speed up the natural CFR process. Not only does exfoliation remove the outer layer of skin to reveal the newer skin beneath but it also simultaneously triggers the repair response deep in the dermis as well. This response in the dermis activates fibroblast cells and basal cells to kick into overdrive in an effort to replace that outer layer that was just removed.
There are two main types of exfoliation: mechanical and chemical exfoliation. Mechanical involves physically “scrubbing” dead cells off of the skin. Examples of mechanical exfoliants include microfiber cloths, granular scrubs, such as those make with almond meal, jojoba beads, sugar or pumice, or abrasive materials such as sponges, loofahs, brushes and forms of microdermabrasion. Many mechanical exfoliation treatments can be done at home with the exception of microdermabrasion.
Chemical exfoliation consists of products containing fruit enzymes, that act to dissolve dead, surface skin cells; alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid or malic acids; betahydroxy acid such as salicylic acid; and enzymes. AHAs penetrate into the skin and dissolve the intercellular glue whereas enzymes digest the dead cells on the surface. These all may be applied in various concentrations and forms.
The level of acidity, or pH, is important consideration in chemical exfoliation. Acids have a pH of 1 to 6 (neutral is 7) - the lower the number, the more acidic. Your skin is actually on the acidic side, between 4.2 - 6.5. In order for an exfoliant to be effective, it needs to be more acidic than skin. Over-the-counter exfoliants typically have a pH of 3.7 - 5. Professional esthetician administered typically do not fall below 3 due to state cosmetology laws. My “light peels” are noninvasive/nonaggressive in nature and are designed to create an enhancement of the epidermis by working on the dead cells, not the dermis, or living tissue. Your skin will not “shed” or “peel” but may feel a little dry or tight for a couple of days after the treatment. Doctor office peels have a pH of 2 or lower and are very strong and aggressive. These “deep peels” penetrate deep into living tissue or the dermis.
Chemical exfoliants can be scheduled in a series of four to eight treatments, one time per week. More than eight weekly “peels” is not recommended. They can also be scheduled once a month or as needed. In the summer, the sun is stronger, so chemical exfoliation treatments are not a good idea unless you use a strong sunscreen, wear protective clothing and limit sun exposure for at least one week after the treatment.
Exfoliation Benefits (Mechanical or Chemical)
- It makes the skin smoother.
- It facilitates the extraction of matter that clogs the pores.
- A faster cell turnover rate brings cells to the surface more rapidly.
- It improves the skin’s ability to retain moisture.
- It helps product penetration and facilitates a more effective delivery of ingredients into the epidermis.
- The skin is smoother and not as rough, which makes the application of makeup easier.
- The mechanical treatment used in exfoliation stimulates blood flow.
Despite its benefits, exfoliation is either missing from many skincare regiments or practiced incorrectly. If you are using an at-home mechanical exfoliant, it is best to choose gentle products that contain smooth beads or micro-fine particles rather than nut pits whose jagged edges make micro cuts in the skin that lead to inflammation. Also, it is important to only use scrubs once or twice a week. Over-exfoliating can break down our natural protection and impede normal cellular functions. With either mechanical or chemical exfoliants, it is important to wear a sunscreen to protect your new skin.
Angie Burns is a licensed esthetician at The Ritz Hair Studio and Whole Body Retreat offering facials, body waxing, eyebrow and eyelash tinting, skin analysis, skin care product recommendations, make-up consultations and make-up applications. The Ritz Hair Studio and Whole Body retreat is located at 1611 Sixth Street in Brookings, SD. More information is on the web at www.ritzhairstudio.com or calling The Ritz at 605.692.6389.