Your Exfoliation Explanation

Posted by Azadeh Shirazi MD on

Let’s talk about exfoliation. The winter time is the perfect time for exfoliation as dry skin tends to occur more frequently. But with spring right around the corner, let’s not completely forget about this necessary step! Exfoliation is ALWAYS important, when done right.

First, why is exfoliation important? 

Our skin cells become lazy as we age. Old skin cells pile up and excess oil blocks our pores leaving the skin looking dull. Exfoliation becomes important as it removes this build up allowing for fresh new healthy skin cells to surface. It’s important in minimizing pores, improving fine lines and discoloration. Not only does it leave the skin brighter, but it also enhances the penetration of skincare products. By smoothing the skin exfoliation makes makeup look better.

Chemical & physical exfoliation

You can exfoliate mechanically by using abrasive scrubs or grainy particles to slough off the dead skin layer.  This gives you faster results, but can be more irritating to the skin. Physical exfoliation can also create micro cuts in the skin if it’s too harsh disrupting the skin barrier.  Chemical exfoliation uses special acids to dissolve the glue that holds dead skin cells together removing them without force. It’s more gentle and effective in the long run.

 Exfoliation mistakes you’re probably making

 You should exfoliate 2-3 times a week as long as your skin tolerates it.  Depending on your skin type and other products in your skincare regimen, some may only tolerate once weekly exfoliation. That’s still better than not exfoliating.

1. Over-exfoliating. 

More doesn’t equal better! To put things in perspective, our skin cells naturally renew every 28 days. Over exfoliation will remove cells beneath the outer dead layer that are not yet ready to be at the top. This leads to damaging the skin barrier causing dryness, inflammation, and redness and worsening skin conditions such as acne or hyperpigmentation. Keep it simple with our ClariFY Pads, our best-seller that’s best as the only exfoliant in your skincare routine.

ClariFY Pads Before & After

2. Using the wrong exfoliant for your skin type.

For oily skin, I recommend using salicylic acid (BHA) alone or in combination with Glycolic (AHA). Check out our PuriFY Foaming Cleanser, specifically formulated to both cleanse and treat acne-prone and oily skin. If you have sensitive skin, mandelic acid works best, and for dry skin, lactic acid works best. 

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are water-soluble acids better for fading pigmentation, improving texture and tone, softening fine lines, and minimizing pores. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are oil-soluble and penetrate deeper into pores to target excess sebum and dead skin cells. They are better for acne and sun damage.  Although BHAs are best for those with oily or combination skin, those with rosacea prone skin can benefit from a low percentage (1% or less).

3. Not using a moisturizer.

It sounds obvious but moisturizers and emollients are critical when using exfoliants as they help protect and support the skin barrier maintaining skin hydration.  I recommend one with ingredients such as glycerin, ceramides, phytosphingosine, allantoin, natural moisturizing factors, and fatty lipids.

4. Skipping sunscreen.

Exfoliation removes some of the outer protective skin layer, it makes the skin more vulnerable to UV rays and puts you at greater risk for sunburns.

 Exfoliating tools

The younger generation has become obsessed with beauty tools and lots of them! Electric scrubbers are not necessary, but they’ve become a staple in many people’s skincare routine. They can be convenient and effective when used properly or if you wear a lot of makeup. As they are able to create more lather and get deeper for a more thorough cleanse. On the other hand, when misused they can cause micro abrasions, disrupt the skin barrier, and in rosacea prone skin, lead to broken capillaries. The bristles can also harbor yeast and bacteria over time so keeping them clean and dry is important. Sonic cleansing technologies in many of these brushes make them more gentle than using a loofah or harsh scrub. The silicone bristles are non-porous and thus resistant to bacterial buildup. They are up to 35 times more hygienic unlike nylon bristles. Dr. Azi recommends PMD, an exfoliating device that uses the sonic vibration technology with silicone bristles.

Some patients rave about the benefit of vibration on their fine lines and texture, but there are no studies that really support how it could possibly do these things on a cellular level. Some credit them to boosting circulation and lymphatic drainage, but that can be done with lymphatic massage and without beauty tools. 

Extraction tools are helpful for closed comedones particularly on the lip border or around the lips. This is an area that’s more difficult to use chemical exfoliants or scrubs given the sensitive nature of lips. They also bring instant gratification since it can take weeks to months to see these clogged pores unclog with retinoids or exfoliants. Again, it is important to keep them clean and use them properly.

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Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, MD is a Board-Certified Dermatologist.

Specializing in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology, Dr. Shirazi received her undergraduate and medical degrees from the University Of Kentucky College of Medicine. After doing a Research Fellowship at Harvard Medical School at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, she completed her residency training in Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in addition to completing her training in dermatology and cosmetic surgery at the University of California San Diego.

She has received multiple research scholarships from iconic institutions including Harvard University and the University Of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has several peer-reviewed publications to her name.