Exfoliation is considered today to be the one of the most efficient “anti aging / baby skin-like” treatments. As a result, chemical and abrasive peelings are everywhere and the more they peel off, the more they are praised for “effectiveness”.
Cosmetic companies know that too and acids become more and more popular in the anti acne and anti aging products. Unfortunately, sometimes the presence of exfoliating acids isn’t even mentioned on the front label. You really have to dig into the ingredients to find out that your cleanser includes salicylic acid and the anti aging moisturizer has lactic acid. Although there are obvious visual benefits to getting rid of the old cells, what is actually happening behind the scenes?
For a long time scientists assumed that our dead cell skin layer is pretty much useless. However as we learned more about how our skin works it became clear that even the dead cells play crucial role in the health of our skin. They are like bricks in the wall that protects the deeper layers of our skin from infections, toxins and irritants. And when the dead keratinocytes are removed too actively, it sends our body a signal: the barrier is compromised, we are in danger!
What happens then? Well, the skin starts actively producing new keratinocytes and that’s what we like to see: all shiny and bright new skin layer! However, the new barrier is significantly weakened since cells did not get the time to fully mature. As the new cells rise to the surface of the skin, they lose all their components, except their protein skeleton structure. Therefore they are not as efficient in protecting the skin from the water loss and are not able to defend us as efficiently against foreign invaders, including bacteria that’s causing acne. As a result of water loss the skin becomes dry again, and what do we hear as a recommendation when we have acne and dry skin? Right, “exfoliate!” And so the perpetual cycle continues.
There is also another mechanism that is at play when our body believes it is in danger and feels that the top layer of the skin is compromised. Our body calls for help and we call this process “inflammation”. Our immune system tries to protect us, however when it is activated on a false alert, similarly to allergic reactions and autoimmune diseases, it damages our own cells. Inflammation processes are considered to be one of the biggest contributors to the aging, along with photo aging and free radical damage.
To stay on the safe side, it is worth noting how many cosmetic products with exfoliating agents you use and make sure it aligns with what you have actually planned. It you are just planning to introduce exfoliation into your routine, start at once a week cadence and see over time how the skin reacts to it before you move to a more frequent use.