Exfoliation is often considered an “added” step when it comes to homecare, beyond the basics like cleansing, toning, moisturizing and SPF. It can often be overlooked or forgotten, since it does require (at least a minimal) time commitment and especially if you do not understand its importance.
Ask any skincare professional and more than likely they will say it’s a critical step not just within a facial treatment but also at home! So, let’s review some of the top reasons why you should exfoliate.
1. Exfoliation encourages the cell regeneration process, removing dull surface cells.
Cell regeneration, often referred to as cell turnover and renewal, refers to the cell’s life cycle, a continuous, natural process that occurs within our skin and body that’s imperative for skin health.
Skin cells are “born” (cell division occurs), in the deepest layer of the epidermis (the base layer) called the Stratum Basale or Stratum Germinativum. The young skin cell, called a keratinocyte, is filled with approximately 80% moisture. It begins its journey upward and travels through the layers of the epidermis until it reaches the uppermost (top) layer, called the Stratum Corneum.
During the transition from the layers below into the Stratum Corneum, the skin cell loses its nucleus and becomes a corneocyte. As a corneocyte, the structure of the skin cell changes. Its moisture content is diminished and it is filled with keratin, making it thicker and harder.
This is a good thing because the skin’s number one job is protection and corneocytes provide the strong barrier and protection we need to help keep the “good” things in- like moisture, which helps prevent water loss, and the “bad” things out- like microorganisms and irritants.
At the end of the skin cell’s journey (life cycle), it is shed in the natural exfoliation process, called desquamation. As older surface cells shed, fresh cells rise to the surface to replace them.
In a perfect world, if this process continued in a timely fashion, there would not necessarily be a major need for us to help it along. But, as we age, this process decelerates.
You may wonder, how long does it take my skin cells to complete this process? Do I really need to use an exfoliant if my skin cells naturally exfoliate on their own? Here’s an average timeline of cell turnover/renewal rates:
- Children:approximately 2 weeks
- Teens:approximately 3-4 weeks
- Adulthood:approximately 30-40+ days (up to age 50) and about 45-90 days (after age 50)
A general way to approximate how long it takes your skin cells to complete this process, is to take your age (in years) and add about a week to that.
Slower cell turnover and renewal rates can lead to dull, lackluster skin with an uneven surface in addition to other skin conditions like breakouts, which we will mention later on. Incorporating exfoliation helps to speed this process along, encouraging new, fresh cells to the surface which leads to a smoother, more radiant complexion.
2. Exfoliation breaks up areas of discoloration for brighter skin.
Melanin, created by melanocyte cells, is the natural pigment responsible for the color of our eyes, hair and skin. Melanocyte cells can overproduce melanin in response to stimulation from a number of factors including sun exposure, skin trauma or injury, hormones and medications.
This melanin-producing response creates darkening of the skin due to the over-accumulation or uneven distribution of melanin, often referred to as hyperpigmentation. For instance, the shadow mark left behind after a breakout, called Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation, is an example of skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation) that occurs in response to skin trauma/irritation.
Regardless of the cause of hyperpigmentation, sun exposure can exacerbate it. That’s why the top product for anyone with hyperpigmentation concerns is sunscreen. Daily sunscreen will help with a major part of the concern: not stimulating the production of additional melanin.
But, what about the existing areas of hyperpigmentation? That’s where exfoliation comes in. Exfoliation will help to break up areas of discoloration, helping slough away hyperpigmented cells, resulting in brightened skin and a more even complexion.
And, if you use products with brightening ingredients, like a serum, exfoliation will help aid in that product being more effective, see below for more info at reason #4.
3. Exfoliation removes debris from follicles to keep skin clear (aka breakout-free).
As discussed in reason #1 above, skin cells have a life cycle. Upon completion, they shed in order to allow fresh cells to rise to the surface. In addition to aging slowing this process, other factors can hinder the release (shedding) of skin cells.
Some contributors occur naturally, like our own oil production, and others we play a role in, like improper removal of skincare and makeup products. When oil and debris mix with dead skin cells, they can work their way into follicles and become trapped. This can lead to congested skin and acne, including non-inflamed breakouts, called comedones or blackheads, and inflamed breakouts.
If you experience regular breakouts, you should consider giving exfoliation a try. By helping clear debris, excess oil and dead skin cells from follicles and skin’s surface, you may have found the key that unlocks the door to clearer skin.
4. Exfoliation helps skincare products absorb more easily.
Dull surface cells are thick and can be more dry. Once they shed, products applied will have an easier time penetrating and absorbing. In addition, they will absorb more evenly.
Exfoliation helps you get more out of your products in two ways: first, since products have an easier time penetrating, that helps to increase their effectiveness and since they absorb more evenly, you may end up using less of your products, so you get more uses out of them!
5. After exfoliation, makeup applies seamlessly, looks more natural.
Once dull surface cells shed, the resulting fresh cells that replace them create a smoother, softer, more uniform surface to the skin. Anything you apply on top, like makeup products, will lay more seamlessly and create a more natural-looking finish.