Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated April 23, 2018)
If you do much reading in some magazines or if you spend any time around a beauty shop, you are bound to hear talk about exfoliation. What exactly is it, and can it be beneficial to an individual?
In general, the term exfoliation means the removal of dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. In reality, exfoliation is a never-ending cycle because your skin is made up of different layers, the topmost of which are really dead. This layer (or most of it) is removed during exfoliation, and then the body starts the process of replacing that missing skin layer with a brand new layer of dead skin cells.
Some people feel that exfoliation, by exposing the underlying layer of "less dead" skin cells, provides more youthful-looking skin or promotes health. There is no medical evidence that health is promoted (it is, after all, natural that your skin include a layer of dead cells). As to whether exfoliation provides more youthful-looking skin, that is left to the eye of the beholder.
One thing that exfoliation does do, by removing the dead skin cells, is to make it easier for your skin to absorb additional moisturizers and beauty treatments. For this reason, many spas will include exfoliation as a part of any facial or body treatment.
There are two types of exfoliation: chemical and mechanical. Chemical exfoliation uses (oddly enough) chemicals to remove the dead skin. Alphahydroxy acids (AHAs), betahydroxy acids (BHAS), Salicylic acid, Glycolic acid, or certain types of enzymes are used to loosen the topmost layers of the skin, allowing them to slough away. A common form of chemical exfoliation is a facial peel.
Mechanical exfoliation relies on some type of abrasion to remove the skin cells. Items such as sea salt, coffee grounds, sugar, almond shells, or even loofahs. These are used to rub the skin and remove the skin cells. Mechanical exfoliation often goes by trendy names such as dermabrasion or microdermabrasion.
In most cases exfoliation is not a harmful process, it simply aids and accelerates nature's process of sloughing off dead skin cells. It is possible, however, to exfoliate the wrong areas or to exfoliate some areas too much. For instance, it is most common to exfoliate too much on the face's delicate skin. If this happens, you may end up with dry, chafed, or irritated areas. An experienced exfoliation specialist should be sensitive to these issues during any treatment.
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