My business partner, Mark, teases me all the time for what he considers my overuse of the term “thoughtful”.   I need to thoughtfully consider another word to use in its place, but for me it just fits many times, so I’m using it here to introduce a discussion on exfoliation choices. Exfoliation is an essential component of a well-rounded skincare routine. This important step is included to remove dead skin cells from the face, to promote skin cell renewal, and clear pores. When you exfoliate, it not only leaves you with a healthy glow, but it will also allow serums and other topical skincare nutrition to penetrate more deeply for better results.

Why is it important to be thoughtful? Because there are three main types of exfoliation: mechanical, acid and enzymatic.  For most skin types I suggest a weekly enzymatic exfoliation using fruit enzymes to renew the skin along with some type of mild acid exfoliation most days of the week.  So, what are the differences and which should you choose?

Mechanical Exfoliation

With mechanical exfoliation, some sort of abrasive material is used – sort of like sand paper, to slough off the top layer of the skin.  Fruit pits and nut shells have been used for years in commercial product lines.  The issue with this type of exfoliation is that the materials have sharp, uneven edges and can cause micro-tears in the skin.  This leads to inflammation. Additionally, over exfoliation or stimulation of the skin triggers the oil modulation response, leading to more oily, clogged skin.   In recent years skincare companies have started using tiny plastic beads in their exfoliation products. Although this solved the issue of micro-tears, the fact that these beads do not breakdown is leading to pollution of our oceans and harm to the fish that live there.  In addition, plastic is made from petroleum – an ingredient we should avoid using in our skincare regimens.  These beads have now been banned here in the US and other countries. If you really enjoy using a particle based scrub to exfoliate your skin, I suggest one made with bamboo crystals. These tiny crystals are softer than nut shells or fruit pits and have even edges, so they exfoliate deeply without damaging the skin.   The result is a gentle, non-damaging exfoliation which is not harmful to the environment.  I find this type of facial scrub to be ideal for those struggling with stubborn blackheads.

Enzymatic Exfoliation

Enzymatic exfoliation is my favorite type because it is a chemical reaction, targeted to the dead skin cells so you get just the right amount of exfoliation, without over doing it. It works because the skin is made of protein. Protein is denatured (broken down) by enzymes. The dead skin cells that rest on the top layer of our skin are easily broken down and lifted off by the enzymatic reaction that takes place. Bromelain and papain are the two most effective fruit acid enzymatic exfoliators, and my personal favorites.  With enzymatic exfoliation, the skin is left soft and smooth and with a radiant glow, not beat up and over exfoliated.

Exfoliation with Acids

A third option for exfoliation is by use of acids, There are many types of acids to choose from – glycolic, lactic, salicylic, mandelic, azaleic, retinoic acid, etc.   I do believe that a key component of an anti-aging and acne skincare routine should include the use of a skin concern-appropriate acids on a regular basis, but typically these are not strong enough for a deep peel in the home versions. The addition of gentle alpha hydroxyl acids to your daily skincare regimen will encourage skin cell turnover keeping the  skin fresh without over-stripping and stimulating inflammation.  The key here is personalization of the skincare choices to match individual needs. For anti-aging and acne I like vitamin A, glycolic and salicylic. For pigment all of those I mentioned above, but especially mandelic and azaleic.

As I always say, we need to be thoughtful about how we exfoliate our skin, but we need to be sure it gets done regularly. If you need some help deciding on a daily and weekly exfoliation regimen specific to your needs, please comment below and I will make some recommendations.   I also strongly suggest that you visit your local spa for a professional consultation with an aesthetician.  Many people experience significant skin improvements when receiving professional acid peels, especially when combined with a professional microdermabrasion treatment.  A skincare professional can help you develop an effective plan so you can age gracefully and maintain your glow.

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.

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