All About Exfoliation: Smoothing Out Your Skin

Ever wonder how your skin doesn’t just die from being in contact with so much stuff out there? The truth is that skin cells are constantly dying at the surface, with or without any help from the grime and dust it comes into contact with. There’s not much to be done about this, but proper cleansing and a little exfoliation can help you revitalize your dull complexion.

Human skin cells are constantly dying, and being replaced by newer cells. The visible skin starts its life cycle deeper in the skin, and moves upwards towards the surface. The cells die as they rise, forming a hard barrier, which serve to protect us so this is not an accident but by design. As new skin rises to the surface, the old skin sloughs off at a rate of about a million skin cells per day. This process is called the skin cycle, and takes between 14 and 28 days. With age, the skin cycle slows, resulting in more dead skin adhering to the surface as the new cells take longer to form. Add some extra grime, sweat, and skin oil, and your skin complexion can really start to suffer.

What are the benefits of exfoliation?

Exfoliation is a simple but effective way to rejuvenate the skin, and has been used since the ancient times. The idea is simple: Help remove the older dead skin off the surface quicker and encourage the new cells to take its place. By doing this, the visible layer of the skin reveals the younger fresher skin that was previously covered by the older dead skin. Exfoliation is one of the simplest ways to help rejuvenate your skin if done correctly.

What are the visible effects?

  • A more even skin tone
  • Remove pore-clogging dirt
  • Reduction of acne formation
  • Fresher feel and smoother skin

How do you exfoliate?

One of the simplest ways to exfoliate is to scrub the skin mechanically or gently scrub the skin using an appropriate instrument. Scrubs, loofahs, and specialized gloves can be used to exfoliate. Remember to be extra gentle when exfoliating the face and other sensitive areas with thinner skin.

The other approach is to use exfoliating soap. Many of these contain natural exfoliants like sugar, salt, oatmeal, seeds, or other synthetic material that help abrade the skin and remove excess skin. Use warm water to dampen the skin, but try to avoid hot water as it can damage and dry out the skin. The exfoliant should be rubbed in a circular motion gently on the skin to help get deeper into the skin. After exfoliating, it helps to apply a moisturizer on the skin to help protect it from irritation and dryness.

Lastly, there is chemical exfoliation. One of the most popular ingredients is the alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid and lactic acid. Salicylic acid is another popular ingredient. These peels slough off the surface layer of the skin chemically instead of through physical abrasion, and have similar effects of smoothing out the surface skin. With all forms of exfoliation, it’s important not to overdo it, as it can damage your skin if you exfoliate too vigorously, or too often.

What about procedures like microdermabrasion or chemical peels that are done at an office?

Many dermatologist offices offer professional chemical peels or services like microdermabrasion. They use the same principles of exfoliation, and have similar treatment goals: To smooth out and improve the quality and appearance of the visible skin. The chemical peels that are used are stronger than those that are available over the counter, and generally have a higher concentration of the active ingredients.

Renowned dermatologist Dr. Charles Lynde talks about how exfoliation can benefit the skin in a number of ways.

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