Benefits of exfoliation for face and body
If your skin is looking a bit dull, dry or scaly it could well be crying out for a bit of exfoliation.
We explore why exfoliation is the key to glowing skin and why it should be an essential part of your skincare routine.
What is exfoliation?
For those who don’t know, exfoliation involves removing the top layer of dead skin cells with either a chemical or physical exfoliant.
Why do we need to do this?
We have about 19 million skin cells on every inch of our body and these are being constantly renewed. New cells form at the bottom of the epidermis and gradually make their way up to the surface. The upper layers of our skin are actually made up of dead skin cells which shed naturally when they get to the top via a complex process called desquamation. Although we shed between 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells a day, some of the dead cells can stick around, causing a number of problems such as a dull, uneven complexion, dry, flaky patches and blocked pores. They can also make fine lines and wrinkles appear more prominent.
Benefits of exfoliation
Experts agree that regular exfoliation is fundamental to brighter, clearer, smoother, softer, more radiant, younger looking skin. Here are the main benefits:
Removes build-up of dead skin to improve the skin’s appearance, texture and tone
The most obvious benefit is that exfoliation helps to remove a build-up of dead, dry, hardened skin cells to reveal the healthier, smoother, softer skin beneath. This is particularly important as we age, as cell turnover starts to slow down, and we become less efficient at desquamation. This can result in a build-up of dead, damaged cells which make the skin look dull, thicker, rough, patchy and less toned.
Encourages skin cell renewal for healthier skin
The average time taken for skin cells to turnover (replace themselves) is 30 days. This can be shorter in younger skin but as mentioned above, renewal can take considerably longer in older skin. When skin cell turnover slows or is patchy the skin’s barrier function is negatively impacted and the skin becomes more susceptible to dehydration, irritants, allergens, bacteria, viruses, sensitisers and other environmental agressors. Exfoliation speeds up the cell renewal process as removing old or damaged cells stimulates the formation of healthy, new ones. This not only helps maintain an effective barrier function, but also improves the appearance of the skin.
Promotes clearer, smoother, blemish-free skin
Removing dead skin cells can help unclog blocked pores, lifting trapped dirt, bacteria, surface debris and oil that causes blackheads, whiteheads and spots. This is particularly important for oily skin as oil acts like a glue holding dead skin cells in place which contributes to clogged pores.
Exfoliation not only helps prevent blemishes, but can aid their healing and reduce mild hyperpigmentation, by stimulating skin cell renewal. Hyperpigmentation (area of dark skin) is commonly caused by acne-related inflammation, as well as sun exposure and pregnancy (Melasma). Exfoliation helps to replace these damaged cells with healthy new ones.
Note: Do not use an exfoliant on active acne.
Stimulates the production of collagen to fight signs of ageing
Collagen gives our skin its strength and elasticity. As we age however, we naturally produce less collagen which results in lines, wrinkles and sagging skin. Exfoliation is thought to stimulate collagen synthesis which helps keep the skin firmer and younger looking.
Stimulates blood circulation for healthier skin
Exfoliating stimulates blood flow to the skin, bringing vital nutrients and oxygen which help improve its overall health and appearance.
Increases absorption of skincare products
Dead skin cells, dirt and grime all create a barrier on the skin’s surface which makes it harder for skincare products to be absorbed. By removing this barrier and unclogging the pores, skincare products are better able to penetrate the skin where they can start to take effect.
Similar to massage, exfoliation can aid the body’s detoxification process by stimulating blood and lymph flow. Flushing out waste products and toxins not only benefits our general health and wellbeing but also improves the appearance and condition of our skin.
Types of exfoliants
There are two types of exfoliants used in skincare:
- Chemical exfoliants use natural acids or fruit enzymes to break up and dissolve dead skin cells. These are commonly used on the face and include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs such as glycolic and lactic acid), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs such salicylic acid), and polyhydroxy acids (PHAs such as gluconolactone and lactobionic acid). PHAs are gentler than AHAs and BHAs and more suited to sensitive skin. Enzymatic exfoliants from fruits such as papaya and pineapple (e.g. bromelain and papain) are even gentler.
- Mechanical or manual exfoliants remove dead skin cells with the use of tools or textured/abrasive products. These include pumice stones, loofahs, mitts, brushes, scrubs (with abrasive granules such sugar, salt, oatmeal, rice bran, coffee, bamboo, jojoba beads, apricot seed) and other ‘devices’ which physically buff away dead skin cells. This category also includes treatments such as dermaplaning and microdermabrasion.
Some exfoliating products combine both chemical and physical exfoliants for more intense exfoliation.
What type of exfoliant should I use?
Your choice of exfoliant really depends on your skin type and any skin problems that you may have. Here is a very brief guide.
Very fine, gentle powders such as oatmeal or rice bran or fruit enzymes. If skin is very sensitive then exfoliation should be avoided.
Physical or chemical exfoliants should be fine.
Rich, creamy, fine grain exfoliants infused with moisturising ingredients or AHAs which are also good for hydrating and brightening the skin.
Physical exfoliants and BHAs. BHAs are oil-soluble which enables them to penetrate and unclog pores.
Acne prone skin
Physical exfoliants should be avoided. BHAs are particularly recommended for unclogging the pores and for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Mature / damaged
Gentle physical exfoliants or AHAs which hydrate and boost collagen production.
How often should I exfoliate?
Although exfoliation has many benefits it’s important not to over-exfoliate as it can strip away your skin’s protective barrier which can lead to dryness, irritation, sensitivity, inflammation and infection.
Experts recommend exfoliating once or twice a week, or three to four times if you have an oily complexion.
If you’re using a physical exfoliant, the key to success is to use gentle hand pressure, in a gentle circular motion, with a gentle exfoliant (not too abrasive) that won’t damage the skin.
Care should be taken if you have sensitive skin or pre-existing skin conditions such as rosacea or eczema, as exfoliation may aggravate your skin further.
Always follow exfoliation with a moisturiser. It is also wise to use a sunscreen as exfoliation can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.
Making your own exfoliating products for the face and body
It’s quite simple to make your own exfoliating treatments at home with a few simple ingredients. Here are some recipes to try to reveal smoother, more radiant skin.
Nourishing Coconut & Orange Body Scrub
Whip up 30ml (about 5 teaspoons) of Extra Virgin Coconut Butter until it’s light and fluffy. Add 10-15g of Coconut Sugar (from health store) or our Fine Ground Bamboo. Then mix in 10-15 drops of Sweet Orange essential oil for dry skin or Mandarin for oily skin. Use after a bath or shower when the skin is softened. Massage in with a gentle circular motion, in a direction towards the heart. Rinse off and pat dry.
As well as exfoliating and moisturising the skin, the massaging motion will help release any muscular tension and promote relaxation.
Detox Body Scrub
Mix 1tsp honey, 1 tsp plain live yoghurt (contains lactic acid), 2 tbsp pinhead oatmeal, ½ tsp fine ground Dead Sea Salt, 1tbsp French Green Clay, 5ml carrier oil (e.g. Sweet Almond) and 3 drops each of Grapefruit, Juniperberry and Geranium essential oil. Mix well and add a little Rose Otto Hydrolat to create a paste. As above massage into damp skin with a circular motion and leave on for a few minutes before rinsing off.
Simple Salt Body Scrub
Therapeutic salts make great body scrubs, but you might want to crush the granules for a finer grit. Try mixing 1 cup of fine ground Dead Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt with a third of a cup of carrier oil and up to 20 drops of your favourite essential oils. Use as per the above.
Fruity Exfoliating Face Mask
Clay is a gentle exfoliator and also draws impurities out from the skin. For a 2-in1 cleansing and exfoliating face mask, mash up 2-3 strawberries and mix with 1tbsp Kaolin Clay, 1tbsp ground oats and a little cream from the fridge until you have a paste. Add 2 drops of Geranium essential oil, 2 drops Ylang Ylang and 1 drop Lemon and mix well. Gently massage into the face and leave on for 10 minutes. Wash off with cold water, pat dry and follow with your normal moisturiser.
Strawberries contains natural fruit acids (citric acid, malic acid) which gently exfoliate the skin and are also rich in Vitamin C.
Simple Facial Exfoliator
For a really easy, gentle exfoliator try our 100% natural, super-fine Bamboo Powder which can be added into your usual cleansing lotion or facial wash. By making up your own exfoliator you can adjust the amount of exfoliant to suit your skin type. The bamboo is gentle enough for use on sensitive skin and can also be used in body scrubs where you require a finer grit.