Exfoliation Basics: Why Exfoliate + How To Do It Better

By Erin Foster, LA January 16, 2015 3 Comments

exfoliation basics

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells and other unwanted debris that cling to the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin). Regular exfoliation of both the face and the body is an important part of maintaining healthy skin that looks and feels great. With so many treatment options available, selecting the best one can be confusing.

Why Skin Exfoliation is Important

The skin undergoes a natural cell turnover process. It continuously generates new skin cells at the dermis which rise to the surface (epidermis) and slowly die off. Dead skin cells at the surface become keratinized (filled with keratin) and gradually shed to make way for the next wave of new skin cells.

As we age the cell turnover process tends to slow down. Older cells on the surface take longer to slough off, resulting in a dry or rough appearance of the skin. The pile up of old skin and debris also blocks the pores, spurring acne, other blemishes, and a dull skin tone in some individuals.

Skin exfoliating is beneficial as it removes the old cells and debris, revealing the younger and fresher looking skin below. Regular exfoliation also helps topical skincare products like anti-aging serums to better penetrate the skin and be more effective.

Important Things to Know

  • Be careful while exfoliating the face. Be sure to only products intended for facial use, as products for body exfoliation can be harmful to the face.
  • Over-exfoliating is possible, especially for individuals with aging or sensitive skin. Overdoing it can result in dry and irritated skin.
  • Space out your exfoliation. Doing too many exfoliation treatments without the proper amount of healing time between them can thin the skin.
  • Be aware that over-exfoliation can leave the skin extra vulnerable to damage from the sun. Be especially vigilant concerning sun exposure right after undergoing a treatment. Always wear sun protection, even in the winter months and cloudy days.
  • Do not wax after exfoliating as you may damage newer skin layers that are trying to heal.

More than One Way to Exfoliate

Today there are hundreds of skin exfoliating treatments and products on the market, all of which fall into three different technique categories: mechanical exfoliation, laser based exfoliation and chemical exfoliation.

Mechanical: Mechanical exfoliation is the process of removing old cells through an abrasive – i.e., the outer layer of the skin is scrubbed or scraped off. Examples of mechanical exfoliation we provide at Westlake Dermatology include microdermabrasion and dermaplaning.

Laser: Laser based exfoliation uses a laser to transfer heat energy to the surface of the skin, resurfacing the top layer of the skin while also promoting skins natural production of collagen. Fraxel, Clear + Brilliant, and ActiveFX are great laser treatments for exfoliation.

Chemical: Chemical exfoliation use blended formulas of enzymes, betahydroxy acid (BHA) or alphahydrocy acid (AHA) to remove the outer layer of the skin. These treatments can range from mild to very aggressive based upon the concentration level of the treatment. Chemical based treatments include chemical peels as well as various exfoliation skincare products


Erin Foster, LA

Erin Foster is a licensed aesthetician experienced in analyzing and determining which treatments are best for each individual client’s needs. She has diverse knowledge in skin care products and ingredients. Erin specializes in laser hair removal, IPL, V-Beam, chemical peels, HydraFacials, Cooltouch, and microdermabrasion.


3 Responses to “Exfoliation Basics: Why Exfoliate + How To Do It Better”

  1. Kennith says:

    Thanks for the useful information 🙂

  2. Chriss says:

    Trying to understand the need to exfoliate (new trend), when skin cancer is on the rise. Isn’t removing dead skin cells before they are ready exposing new cells to the damaging sun rays?

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Chriss,

      Thanks for reading our post and submitting our excellent question! In general, dead skin cells (or older layers of the skin) do not provide any additional protection from skin cancer development than the newer (younger) skin cells that are brought to the surface through exfoliation. Exfoliation is great for improving the appearance and feel of the skin.

      The key to protecting yourself from skin cancer is to practice safe sun protection (wear high SPF sunscreen and avoid excessive sun exposure) while also doing monthly skin care examinations and annual professional skin checks. We recommend doing such things regardless of whether or not you exfoliate.

      We hope that helps!

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

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