Skin Care | Exfoliation and Peels

Exfoliating 101, all your questions answered

Exfoliating your skin should not be overlooked.

It keeps your skin dewy and glowing.

But how do you correctly exfoliate, and what types of exfoliation are there?

And what the hell is a micro tear anyway?

These are just some of the questions our clients often ask.

So buckle up for fresh learnings with our 101 exfoliation guide.

We guarantee it’s going to be a smooth ride.

Exfoliation explained

Q: What is exfoliation? 

A: Exfoliating is the act of sloughing off dead skin cells to reveal newly generated ones.

It’s a natural part of your skin’s life cycle known as desquamation.

Still, as you age, your skin’s cellular turnover slows down, causing stubborn skin cells to adhere to the skin’s surface, causing your once vibrant skin to become dull and dry.

So, occasionally, it requires a boost, which is where your exfoliation comes in.

Q: How do I exfoliate?

A: There are three ways you can do this:

  1. Manually with a scrub or a rough washcloth.
  2. Mechanically, with a microdermabrasion machine or Clarisonic brush or similar,
  3. Chemically using acids like glycolic, salicylic, lactic, or mandelic acid.

Q: What are the benefits of exfoliating?

A: The many beauty benefits of exfoliating are endless; we have listed a few below:

  • It removes dirt and makeup.
  • Slouches of dry, stubborn skin cells
  • Reveals a youthful, glowing complexion
  • It gives lacklustre skin a boost
  • Clears congestion
  • Eliminates breakouts
  • Can help your other products penetrate deeper
  • Prevents premature ageing

Q: At what age should I begin exfoliating?

A: Let’s break this down by age group:

In your 20s: We recommend gently exfoliating with powders and enzymatic exfoliating products; avoid harsh peels or anything too stripping.

In your 30s: You may want to consider scheduling a course of mild chemical peels or the occasional microdermabrasion once a month when you reach your 30s to give your skin a boost your skin.

Again go carefully, if you over-treat your skin at this age, you could be setting yourself up for irritation and inflammation.

In your 40s and upwards: This is when your skin begins to show signs of premature ageing.

Cellular turnover slows down because natural enzymes in your skin work less effectively to remove dead skin cells; they are stubborn and prevent your skin from reflecting light, resulting in an ashy, dull look.

So, you may consider increasing your exfoliating frequency to a couple of times a week to give your skin that coveted, youthful glow.

Q: How often should I exfoliate?

A: This will depend on your skin type, which you can read about here.

What we mean by this is how often and the modality you use depends on your skin’s tolerance levels.

If your skin is dry and sensitive, exfoliation may irritate, so don’t do it too frequently.

For those of you who have thicker, oily skin, you will be able to tolerate more exfoliating, maybe twice a week,

If your skin is prematurely aged, you may require a more gentle lactic exfoliation once or twice a week.

Why? On the one hand, you are scrubbing dead cells to stimulate new growth and reveal a healthy, fresh glow.

Conversely, you’re also semi-sanding your face; exfoliation really is a practice that requires experimentation.

Q: What are the types of exfoliation?

A: There are four types of exfoliant treatments:

  • Physical Scrubs: These are used to physically scrub the outermost layer of your skin.

  • Enzymes: These are usually gentle exfoliation with a hydrating gel base containing natural enzymes like pineapple, papaya, or lactic acid. They work to gently dissolve dead skin cells and the glue that holds them together, allowing for a more thorough exfoliation. Lactic acid is also great for boosting skin hydration and is an excellent option for sensitive skin, which we discuss here.

  • Beta Hydroxy Acids: This is a form of chemical exfoliation that goes deep into the pores, where it helps to break down cellular debris, skin cells and excess oil. Salicylic acid is the most common beta hydroxy acid, which is oil-soluble, so it is ideal for oily, combination skin types and helps to balance daily shine.

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acid: This is a water-soluble form of chemical exfoliation that will help to lighten and brighten your skin. They can also help bring hydration to the skin. Acids like glycolic, malic, and lactic are all forms of alpha-hydroxy acids.

Q: Can you expand on physical exfoliant 

A: Sure thing. Physical exfoliation removes the dead skin cells on your skin’s surface and is a great way to address flaky, dry areas of concern.

But there are a few things we want you to keep in mind the next time you scrub your skin to oblivion.

Size and shape matters, that’s right, the smaller the granules, spheres, or powder, the less harsh your scrub will be.

So opt for exfoliants that use spherical exfoliating particles, and avoid ingredients like shells, nuts, sugar, or coffee grounds that may have jagged, sharp edges, which can easily scratch your skin, causing tiny micro-tears that lead to inflammation (see below).

Don’t get us wrong, coffee or sugar scrubs are great for body treatments, but we folks at NC recommend against using them on your face, especially if you have irritated, sensitive skin; in that case, we recommend avoiding them altogether.

Q: When I use chemical exfoliants, my skin turns red; why?

A: Chemical exfoliants are ingredients like enzymes and acids that dissolve dead skin instead of scrubbing as physical exfoliants do.

Enzymes, BHAs, and AHAs are all chemical peels that work by loosening the bonds that hold your skin cells together, called the intracellular matrix.

When used, they penetrate deep into the dermis, where nerve endings cause a rush of blood to the skin’s surface; the dermis is packed with oxygen, blood vessels and nutrients, which are crucial for keeping the skin healthy.

While your skin is your body’s largest organ, it is also the last organ to receive this nourishment. It is essential to use products that stimulate your skin, like exfoliants, especially as you age.

So don’t be afraid; this redness will subside over time to reveal a youthful, rosy glow. Providing you don’t overdo your exfoliation, that is!

If you’re keen to learn more about chemical peels, we created an article called the complete estheticians to guide to chemical peeling, which you can read here.

Q: How are physical and chemical different? 

A: Your skin is a magical organ that is constantly regenerating itself.

To maintain healthy skin, you need to exfoliate regularly, and we recommend a mix of chemical and physical exfoliation.

So get comfortable alternating between gentle scrubs and mild chemical peels, that is, if you don’t have sensitive skin.

You can liken these two modalities to a workout for your skin. But remember, also, like a workout, you can’t immediately run a marathon, especially if you are new to exfoliation.

In terms of physical exfoliation, we like powders, enzymes from fruit and gentle gommage peels.

With chemical exfoliation, what you use will depend on your skin type. For instance, if you are prone to breakouts, BHA will be your best option, whilst alpha hydroxy acids are great for hydrating your skin and giving you that coveted dewy glow.

Q: What happens if I over-exfoliate?

A: This can cause inflammation and impair your skin’s protective barrier function, causing sensitivity, dehydration, and even breakouts.

An easy and effective way to prevent this is to beef up your skin’s barrier function before exfoliating.

This is such an important subject we dedicated an entire article to it, called Dangers of an over exfoliated skin.

Q: Any tips for after exfoliating?

A: Exfoliating your skin can help your other products work more efficaciously, but because you’re removing stubborn skin cells to reveal new skin underneath, your skin needs rehydration.

Most people don’t realise that correctly exfoliating means that once you have completed your exfoliating step, you should then apply a water-based serum and then layer it with your occlusive moisturiser to lock in all the hydration, as often humectants can get taken up by the air.

If you’re looking for recommendations? Applying a H20 hydrating skin shot and then layering with Fortify barrier repair cream is a great place to start to keep your skin healthy.

Q: Is it ok to exfoliate sensitive skin?

A: It is important to strike a delicate balance. To address this tricky subject, we created an entire article on the subject, which you can read here.

Q: Can you really micro-tear your skin? 

A: Micro tears occur when you use something with a sharp edge that creates an invisible laceration in the outer layer of your skin.

Think of when you scratch yourself with your nail, creating a tiny laceration.

If the skin on your face isn’t scratched too deep, then no blood will form, but the invisible laceration is still there.

When pressed too firmly on your skin, harsh bristles from Clarisonic brushes can create micro-tears.

Also, natural facial scrubs can have sharp edges, like those that contain walnuts and apricot shells. This is why we recommend using only perfectly round, non-plastic exfoliating ingredients.

When rubbed over your skin, anything with tiny sharp edges will irritate and impair your protective barrier, and these micro-tears cause tiny cracks, allowing bacteria and foreign bodies to enter and moisture to escape.

All of this upsets the protective barrier and the delicate microflora that make up your acid mantle; it’s a vicious cycle that can lead to different skin conditions.

When irritants damage the nerve endings in your skin, they cause a stinging sensation, so products that might not typically sting could start stinging you if you have micro-tears in your skin.

If you’re keen to learn more about exfoliation, this beginner’s guide by dermatologists may help you.

To conclude. The naked truth

So, as you can see, exfoliation is a crucial aspect of your skincare routine.

It is an important step that removes dead skin cells, helping reveal a fresh, vibrant complexion.

The process offers numerous benefits, including enhanced skin texture, clarity, and absorption of other skincare products, whether through manual, mechanical, or chemical means.

However, it’s important to tailor exfoliation frequency and methods to your skin type, as over-exfoliation can lead to irritation and compromise your skin’s protective barrier.

By understanding the different types of exfoliants and their effects, you can effectively incorporate exfoliation into your skincare routine to promote healthy, more radiant skin over time.

One reply on “Exfoliating 101, all your questions answered”

This is really interesting, its clear you really know what your talking about when it comes to the skin.
I have shared your site in my social networks!

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