Health Skin

Skin Nerd: Are you over-exfoliating?

If there’s one way to hit refresh on a tired, dull-looking complexion, it’s by exfoliating the skin. The instant, fresh-faced results from using an exfoliant can be addictive, but it doesn’t pay to overdo it. Striking a balance is key to getting the most out of exfoliating without risking any damage to the delicate skin barrier.

Exfoliating is defined as the removal of dead skin cells. Exfoliation assists the skin cycle and a natural process called desquamation. This process is where a new skin cell is formed at the deepest layer of the epidermis and works its way up to the skin’s surface. A skin cycle is affected by such factors as age, health, medication, lifestyle and stress. As we age, the skin cycle slows, and dead cells accumulate on the skin’s surface, making the skin appear dull and lifeless.

When you consider that all the cells on the surface area of the skin are dead, how do you know when to stop? With exfoliation revealing a complexion that is smoother, brighter, softened lines and reduced pigmentation, it’s easy to get carried away – but there’s a fine line between the correct frequency and overdoing it.

When can it become a problem?

Exfoliation can be a great tool for stimulating cell turnover, but it is important that we find a balance that protects the integrity of our skin barrier. Over-exfoliation can cause inflammation by damaging the natural lipid barrier – which can result in dryness, blotchiness and itching if the skin barrier doesn’t function properly. What is more, over-exfoliation accelerates aging due to continuous trauma and inflammation of the skin. 

Important things to consider when choosing the right exfoliator are pH, percentage, and molecular size. The pH should be more acidic to align with the natural pH of skin and the percentage should be the correct strength to support your skin type. Molecular size is dependent on the chemical of the acid itself, for example glycolic acid has a smaller molecule, which penetrates deeper than lactic acid, which has a larger molecule.

Chemical vs. Physical exfoliation

Physical exfoliation such as scrubs containing harsh grit, and procedures like dermabrasion can prove too aggressive for some skin types. Whilst it is often rated highly for instant results, physical exfoliation also doesn’t penetrate the skin deeply. I find that chemical exfoliation can provide more benefits and have more of an impact than just exfoliation. Chemical exfoliants are acids that help eliminate dead skin cells. Used regularly, chemical peels give skin a smoother, even toned look and reduce signs of ageing. 

Alpha and poly Hydroxy Acids exfoliate by breaking down the outer layers of dead skin cells. An example of an AHA is glycolic acid and an example of a PHA is gluconolactone, which are great for brightening dull skin or for those who are looking for pro-aging benefits. BHAs are oil-soluble and can penetrate deeper into pores to dissolve any debris. Salicylic acid is a BHA and is great for acne-prone skin.

Problem shooting

Introducing enzymes into your skincare routine is ideal for those with sensitive skin as they work on the surface of the skin and do not disrupt your skin’s pH balance. Whilst it’s normal to experience slight tingling on application, acids shouldn’t burn or cause pain. If the product causes redness or stinging that does not settle in 30 minutes, it is best avoided. If you’ve got inflamed, flaking or open skin wounds, do not use acid. If the skin is cracked or flaking, then the skin barrier is open, meaning products could cause irritation. If you are pregnant or take regular medication please speak with your GP before incorporating acids into your routine.

Nerdie Pick

The new Skingredients AHA Cleanse contains 8% lactic acid and1% polyhydroxy acid to exfoliate and brighten the skin. This progressive skin exfoliant keeps in line with ‘the less is more’ Skingredients philosophy – respecting the skin and gently exfoliating while leaving the skin glowing and feeling super clean. Use 2-3 times a week for a luminous, energised complexion.

Skingredients A-HA Cleanse, €31 (Primary) or €28 (Refill), skingredients.com


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