Exfoliants: Your Ally for Healthy Skin

The battle between you and your skin will, unfortunately, worsen every year.  But fear not, for there is a widely available, sometimes misunderstood ally in the fight.

Commonly referred to as “skin scrub”, exfoliants play a crucial role in restoring skin texture and complexion, softening the skin by eliminating the top layer of dead skin cells that build up over time. There are many types of exfoliants, but they all fall under two main categories: mechanical and chemical.

Mechanical exfoliants

Mechanical exfoliants contain granules of some sort–apricot seed, cornmeal and microbeads (to name a few)–which help polish the skin. Keep in mind, however, that all exfoliants are not equally effective in that sense. Some may contain jagged granules that can leave microscopic cuts on the skin. This leaves skin susceptible to infections, leading to break outs and dark spots.  Others may just be too abrasive for the delicate facial skin.  That is why it is important to get advice from a skin therapist. They can help you choose the right scrub, or discuss other options.

Another mechanical form of exfoliation is microdermabrasion, of which there are two types:  crystal microdermabrasion and diamond microdermabrasion.  In crystal microdermabrasion, the more abrasive of the two, small crystals of aluminum are sprayed onto the skin and suctioned immediately afterward.  I often compare this treatment to using a razor to scrape the soles of feet during pedicures.  The skin will be soft for a few days, but heals quickly as new skin cells accumulate to protect the freshly exposed skin.

Diamond microdermabrasion, on the other hand, uses an abrasive tip attached to a vacuum suction, acting as a sort of sandpaper or file. This achieves the same basic results as crystal microdermabrasion.  The only drawback is if the suction is turned up too high, the skin can get pulled and overstretched.  Prolonged use of the wrong technique can increase wrinkles and skin lag, so it is important to carefully choose a reputable skin therapist.

Chemical exfoliants

Another option available is a chemical exfoliant, which usually derives from fruits, plants, or tree barks. The enzymes from these sources break down and dispose of the dead skin cells at the surface, leaving the skin supple and soft.  For example, papaya contains high levels of papain, an enzyme that helps with digestion in the body.  This enzyme works just as well on the skin.

Try this:  Apply fresh papaya on your face and leave it on for 10 minutes.  Rinse with lukewarm water and finish with a splash of cold water.  See the difference?

This is the mildest form of a chemical peel.  If you feel the need to try a deeper exfoliant, talk to a medical esthetician about trying something new, keeping in mind that only a fully licensed esthetician with medical experience, a doctor, or a nurse should administer your chemical peel.

Wishing you great skin, always.

Thamara Lamarre
Skincare Columnist / The Record
Thamara Lamarre is a skincare columnist at The Record. She began studying skin care seven years ago. She now holds numerous certifications and is licensed in three states as a medical aesthetician and a registered electrologist. She believes in finding a balance between both medical and holistic therapies.