The Truth About Exfoliation

by Dru Pattan

There is a very big misconception when it comes to skin care: if we dig deep enough and peel away enough layers, we will discover beautiful radiant skin underneath. Unfortunately, for the skin of many who subscribe to this belief, this is simply not the way it works.

Skin Abuse

This “peel first, ask questions later” mindset has become so abundant within the skincare industry that it has even leaked over into the more basic consumer marketplace. This is incredibly concerning to those of us who understand the complex intricacies of the skin and how it functions. This abuse can sometimes lead to temporary appealing results, which is what keeps many coming back to the practice, but looks can be deceiving. What we see occurring on the outside of our skin is not always reflective of what is taking place at a cellular level. In short, these results are always at the expense of our long term skin health. When the resilience of youthful skin runs out, more mature skin then comes limping and crawling into treatment rooms begging for nourishment and support, but is often only met with more exfoliation abuse. 

Halt the Assault

Each day brings about more exposure to elements within our environments and lifestyle which continuously assault the skin. So, why are we doubling down on these insults and compounding them with products and treatments that dare to call themselves skin “care”?  Preserving the integrity of the epidermis should be the founding principle we are all hyper fixated on. Yet the industry has apparently traded in that mentality in favor of a more aggressive approach. It encourages us to beat our skin into submission and this, unfortunately, begins to show exponentially as we age. 

Protecting the Barrier

Dead but not without purpose, the skin cells which make up our outermost layer of skin are an active part of our skin barrier. This barrier is charged with protecting our skin from external aggressors and retaining the hydration necessary for healthy skin. So, unless our main goal is inflammation (which it should never be), why would compromising our skin’s first line of defense ever be a good idea? 

Skin Protection

Many argue that exfoliation is to remove the accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin.  But the question here should be: Why are dead skin cells accumulating?  It has been shown that hydration of the skin is necessary for proper healthy cellular turnover. While we may find comfort in physically removing that accumulation, it is a temporary fix. And this “fix” actually increases dehydration within the skin and worsens the main issue at hand. 

Skin

Another argument made in favor of peeling the skin is to provide better penetration of skin products into the deeper levels of the skin. While it does make sense to remove a physical barrier to then place ingredients within the skin, it is a tool which is over used and often used incorrectly. Many wish to see the physical results of the peel. Even in professional educational environments, refusing the skin support after a peel is encouraged simply to have the satisfaction of witnessing the shedding of skin cells. There are other more healthy ways to ensure product penetration or to obtain the results we wish to see without increasing and sustaining an inflammatory response or assaulting the skin. 

Skin Peel

The Healthy Option

So what is healthy exfoliation? It’s certainly not including an acid in every step of a skincare regimen! Acids do not function the way we once initially thought they did. Rather than simply removing the dead cells from the outermost layers of skin, it has been shown that acids actually contribute to the untimely cellular death of healthy skin cells, compromising more than just the existing skin barrier.

This brings us to enzymes. Like acids, enzymes are also chemical exfoliants. However, an enzyme is proteolytic and works by dissolving protein that is nearing the end of its life cycle, leaving healthy cells and lipids intact. These are my personal favorite forms of exfoliation as they are gentle enough to be used regularly. Caution is urged however as many products claiming to be enzyme based will often contain hidden acids. Rococo’s Papaya Radiance Peel and Roccoco’s Sulfur Mask are two enzymatic products containing strictly enzymes.  


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