Aside from sounding quite technical, the word exfoliate conjures up all sorts of quite painful and drastic images. Well it does for me – but maybe I should start seeing a good shrink.
But just what is exfoliation? And how do we do it? And how often and all the other questions you were just dying to ask but just couldn't find the answers.
What is it? Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells from the epidermis or outer layer of the skin. New skin cells are produced in the lower layer of the skin or dermis. As these new skin cells migrate towards the surface, the older, outer layers of skin gradually and naturally flake and eventually fall off.
This layer of dead skin cells gives the skin a dry and rough texture. Pores can become blocked and moisturisers and serums are wasted on this outer barrier. And as we get older, the production of new skin cells slows down and cells pile up giving the skin a dull and lifeless appearance.
Exfoliation leaves the skin smoother, brighter and healthier.
How to do it Exfoliation can be achieved mechanically or chemically. The short and sharp version is, you scrub it off or you dissolve it – both of which sound pretty nasty.
Scrubs Mechanical exfoliation involves anything from a textured or rough washcloth, through grainy potions to electrically powered rotating brushes which are a little too close to power tools for my liking.
Cleaning your skin regularly with a wash cloth, applying very light pressure in smooth circular motions will go a long way towards removing dead skin cells.
If you feel the need for a more assertive scrub, choose a product that has a smooth texture as these are gentler than the seeds, grains and nuts found in many, so called, natural products.
We are particularly fond of Daily Microfoliant by Dermalogica and the wonderfully named, Gommage Grain d'Eclat by Guinot.
Chemicals We are not talking chemical peels here – that's far too aggressive for regular use.
Chemical exfoliants may contain enzymes, fruit acids, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) which act to loosen the glue that holds skin cells together, allowing them to be easily removed.
Chemical exfoliants are particularly effective in the treatment of acne prone skin.
We like Gentle Cream Exfoliant by Dermalogica and the very popular Gommage Biologique by Guinot.
How often should I exfoliate? As my mother keeps saying, you can always have too much of a good thing – which apparently does include red wine and chocolate!
The outer layer of the skin forms a barrier against the environment so over exfoliation can increase moisture loss. Too much exfoliation leaves the skin red, irritated and dry. If you notice any of these symptoms or your skin becoming more sensitive you may be exfoliating too much.
Everybody has skin that reacts in different ways, so it is not possible to give hard and fast rules about how often to exfoliate. Different people may also treat their skin more or less harshly using the same skin products or techniques.
Some people exfoliate daily. For others, once a week is entirely adequate. It is not possible to give hard and fast guidance, although somewhere between these two limits will be the solution for most people. The easy way to ensure you are giving your skin the best possible treatment is to take the advice of a skincare professional – either your friendly, neighbourhood beauty therapist or a professional dermatologist.
We're always happy for you to drop in for a chat about your skin and your skincare regime. And if a visit is out of the question, just leave a comment and we'll do our best to help.
Oh, and just so you know, one well known skincare expert recommends pressing a piece of clear sticky tape to your forehead. If it comes off with dead skin cells attached you definitely need exfoliating. Whatever else you do, don't forget to take the tape off before you go out!