Exfoliation 101

I am at the stage in my life, where I am becoming considerably more conscious about creating good skin care habits (I have indeed noticed the tell-tale signs of those fine lines and wrinkles). I have always heard that exfoliation is oh-so-important to refresh the skin and shed those nasty dead skin cells, but have never gone so far as to actually try it. Until now that is. I decided to dig a little deeper and see what it was all about.

What can I say, I was utterly blown away by what I found out. I didn’t realise that there are in actual fact different methods of exfoliation. (My mind immediately jumps to those nasty plastic microbeads that wreak havoc on the environment – not exactly an appealing incentive!)

I learnt that I can exfoliate my skin, not only through mechanical exfoliation, but through chemical peels, retinols, enzymes and peptides. All of which work wonders to improve the texture, lighten pigmentation, unclog pores, reduce acne breakouts, as well as the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. This sounds absolutely wonderful! I mean, who wouldn’t want healthy, smooth and glowing skin.  It’s just a matter of finding the best option for your skin type so as not to cause irritation. Over-exfoliating is also never a good idea.

So here is my rundown of what I discovered as well as some insights from my own experience using different exfoliators:

Mechanical Exfoliation: To get your skin ‘loosy goosy’

Using a sponge, brush, cloth or natural ingredient (salt, ground coffee, jojoba beads, you name it), mechanical exfoliation physically loosens and remove dead skin cells. Yes, you will be able to achieve the desired result – your skin will be well polished. Keep in mind that you should never aggressively scrub or your skin – a gentle massage is enough. Over-exfoliation can cause inflammation and irritation, so take it easy.

Optiphi Muslin Cloth (R199, optiphi.com) is a far gentler approach to mechanical exfoliation. I simply dampened the muslin cloth slightly and gently rubbed my face using circular motions – you can use this with your cleanser. Afterwards, I felt as if all the dirt and debris clinging to my surface skin cells were wiped away; I felt beautifully fresh-faced.

A more effective, intensive approach to mechanical exfoliation would be microdermabrasion. I was happy to hear that it is a miracle worker when it comes to refining pores, healing acne scars, and improving condition of blotchy, thickened and sun-damaged skin.

I gave Dr Brandt microdermabrasion age defying exfoliator (R1 205, foschiniforbeauty.co.za) a try and it really worked remarkably well. I massaged the cool and creamy exfoliator onto my dampened face and left it for a few minutes. I could literally feel the tiny aluminum oxide crystals suction off my dead skin cells! After giving my face a thorough rinse, my skin felt a bit tender but this soon subsided; the next morning my skin felt amazingly smooth and had a lovely radiant glow. I would recommend using Dr Brandt microdermabrasion every three days or so, and if you’re new to exfoliants, ease it into your routine at a slow pace.

Chemical Exfoliation: Feel the chemistry

The most common chemical exfoliation applications are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) – both highly effective in bringing new, healthy skin to the surface.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids are busy bees when it comes to regulating cell turnover in the epidermis, keeping the skin happy and healthy. The skin is renewed through a process of skin desquamation. Essentially these acids dissolve the bonds that keep skin cells together, causing them to shed quicker. This brings new, firmer and smoother skin to the surface. It also makes your skin more receptive for active ingredients in your serums and moisturisers.

Glycolic Acid, extracted from sugars, is the go-to AHA exfoliating option at the moment. I just loved Dermaceutic Laboratoire Foamer 15 (R715, dermaceutic.co.za). With 15% Glycolic Acid, this Exfoliating Cleansing Foam is formulated to target dull complexion, irregular texture and skin imperfections. I gently lathered a small amount of foam onto my face and let it soak in for approximately two minutes. My face was soon embraced with a delightful tingling sensation, which told me it was time to rinse it off. I felt that this Glycolic Acid foam was far gentler on my skin. My skin still felt wonderfully fresh after and had a lovely reflective glow. The great thing about this foam is that you can use it everyday!

Lactic Acid, sourced from milk and sugars, is the runner-up AHA and is viewed as an gentler option to Glycolic, due to its larger molecular structure. While studies have shown that both Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid serve to stimulate the skin in the same fashion, the latter is believed to have further moisturising benefits and is a water barrier, keeping those vital nutrients in the skin.

Get to know your fruit acids

Another extension of the AHA family is Citric Acid, extracted from citrus fruit and corn. High in vitamin C, this AHA also works as an antioxidant, helping to brighten the skin and fight free radical damage.

Soothing to sensitive skin (glycolic acid can be a tad harsh), Malic Acid (sourced from apples and green grapes) is a multifunctional AHA that not only has antioxidant properties, but is also an excellent water retainer.

For the love of nutty goodness, Mandelic Acid, derived from bitter almonds, has a larger molecular structure, which allows for a gentler even absorption into the skin. Perfect for delicate skin, this AHA brightens discoloration and has antibacterial properties, which is great to control those acne breakouts. Extracted from grapes and cranberries, Tartaric Acid is a by-product from fermented wine and is a great antioxidant.

Team Dr Joseph Fruit Acid Peel 05 (R525, selected stores) is a definite must-try. Containing Glycolic Acid, Malic Acid, and Tartaric Acid, this Fruit Acid Peel is both an effective exfoliating and soothing to the skin. I gently applied this silky soft cream onto my face and let my face soak up its goodness. After a minute or two I could feel my skin tightening (a strangely pleasant sensation). This was my cue to rinse off the peel from my face. There was an initial shock of red to my face, but after a moment my face felt refreshed and radiant.

Why use BHAs?

With the ability to penetrate deep into the skin, BHAs works in the hair follicles and exfoliates the pores, flushing out dead cells in the process. This makes them the magic wand to wave away acne skin conditions, uneven texture, and pigmentation, as well as the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Salicylates are less irritating to the skin, making it the preferred option.

The Skinderm Pure Exfoliating Glo Pads (R395, perfect10.co.za) is a soothing exfoliating option, containing both Salicylic Acid and Lactic Acid. I gently wiped my face with these two glow pads and felt as if my skin was bathed in pure bliss. Removing traces of dead skin cells, I felt as if my skin was reborn.

And that’s not all…

There are Retinol (Vitamin A) exfoliant formulas, which functions as a sort of cell mediator, communicating with skin cells, encouraging them to behave like happy, healthy and younger cells. Best of all, retinoids have amazing antioxidant properties and safeguard the skin from those ravenous free radicals. Enzyme exfoliants are a gentler exfoliation alternative. Extracted from different fruits and plants (pumpkin, papaya, pineapple, to name a few), they take their job seriously when it comes to dissolving cell-build in the skin, leaving the skin feeling delicately soft and absorbent. The next it-thing in skin exfoliation is Peptides. Highly effective in reactivating the natural desquamation process in the skin, peptides loosen the glue between dead cells and the skin surface, leaving the skin renewed, hydrated and silky smooth.

This may all seem like a mouth-full of information, but it’s important to figure out which type of exfoliation is best for your skin.

What is your experience using different types of exfoliators? I’d like to know. Please feel free to drop a comment below.

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