Let me begin this post with a quick refresh of your high school anatomy class (but without the fear of memorizing key words for an exam later). Your skin, most people can quickly recall that it is in fact, our body’s largest organ. But what else can you tell me about it? That it covers our bodies and protects us from things like germs and helps regulate our body’s temperature? Sure, it does those things too and a whole lot more. But what I want to focus on is why we should care so much about how the skin works, particularly the skin on our face, neck and décolletage. Let’s start with the basics, and I promise this is all information worth knowing! First, your skin has Three layers: epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layer. No exam later, remember.
- Epidermis-the outer layer of the skin (what we can see). It’s thin as paper and regenerates (i.e. flakes off) typically about every 28 days. New cells begin to form and old cells harden and die and flake or wash off…all in about a month! This layer also shows the world what color our skin is, since it contains our melanin cells (the more melanin, the darker the skin).
- Dermis-the middle and thicckest layer of the skin. It contains oil & sweat glands, hair follicles, blood vessels, and is made up of everyone’s new favorite word: collagen! And elastin, but that’s not as trendy right now. This gives it’s skin its strength and elasticity…and elasticity is what keeps our skin snapped back into place.
- Subcutaneous layer-the deepest and most boring. It contains a lot of fatty tissue, helps insulate us against extreme temperatures and protection from injuries. Ok maybe not that boring.
Great! Now you’re an expert in what your skin has going on underneath the surface. But still, why should we care? Well for starters, we now know that your skin essentially renews itself every 28 days, like a gym membership but cheaper. So why do we need to exfoliate at all if our body is doing it already? Well, for starters our skin is affected by what we do every day. The sun, the pollution in the air, our diets, etc. On top of that, sometimes we just aren’t blessed with great skin, or our skin changes as we grow older and we want to take a few sips from the fountain of youth. The regenerating process slows down as we age and that is a great reason to use an exfoliator. There are 2 main types of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Physical is exactly what it sounds like..a scrub, a brush, dermabrasion, etc. It is also worth noting that physical exfoliants do not penetrate as deep as chemical exfoliants. Chemical exfoliants are having their moment in the sun. They have become extremely popular in recent years and the shelves of our beauty stores have been bombarded with them! It can easily become very overwhelming. So I will make some sense of this so you can make some informed buying decisions should you choose to do so. Chemical exfoliants are acids that get rid of dead skin cells, and reveal new, regenerated skin. There are a wide range of acids that can be used, and also in varying concentrations. There are ones we can buy ourselves, and stronger ones that you’d need from a dermatologist or esthetician, like a chemical peel. Regular use of chemical exfoliants can lead to smoother, more even skin tone, reduced signs of aging, and unclogged pores. Where do I sign up?! Again, remember that physical exfoliants may not be as effective as chemical exfoliants.
For my next trick, allow me to throw a bunch of acronyms at you! Since that is what product companies do but i’ll add the bonus of explaining what they actually mean. AHA’s, BHA’s, PHA’s.
- AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)-the most commonly used in skincare. They include glycolic, lactic, citric, and malic acids. They dissolve in water and help improve skin texture, mild discoloration and skin tone. Look for 5-10% concentration to see effective results.
- BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acids)-work deeper into skin, and therefore are great for oily or acne-prone skin types as they can unclog pores. Salicylic acid is a commonly known type, as well as tropic acid. These are also great for skin texture.
- PHA (Poly Hydroxy Acids)-great for my sensitive skinned divas! They don’t penetrate as deeply which means less irritation. That does not mean they are good for nothing. Antioxidant and hydration benefits are there. Gluconolactone and lactobionic are the most common acids seen in this category and don’t worry, I can’t pronounce them either.
Note: The lower the pH, and the higher the concentration..the more exfoliative the effects will be!
Still with me? Let’s recap. We know what the skin does, what it’s made of, and how it renews itself…and now how we can help it do that even better! Remember no matter what type of exfoliant acid you choose to use, to start slowly, once a week to see how your skin responds and then increase to 2-3 times a week. No more! And like any skincare product, you must give it time to see if it is working. If after a month or 2 you see no results, try a different acid.
Ok so now you know what the acids are but still unsure which to use for your skin type? I gotchu! Did you read my last blog post? If you didn’t, go do it now, I’ll wait. In fact, here’s the link. It’s important to know what your skin type is when looking for any skincare product or treatment.
- Concerned about too much time in the sun and what it’s done to your skin? Use an AHA, or even better a combination of lactic and glycolic acids to reduce uneven skin texture, surface pigmentation and support cell turnover. It can be harder to find products that contain both in one bottle, but they are out there! Try Dermadoctor Ain’t Misbehavin Healthy Toner or The Ordinary Peeling Solution. One of my personal faves worth the splurge: Drunk Elephant Sukari Babyfacial.
- Do you have scarring or hyperpigmentation you’re not in love with? Try a BHA like salicylic acid or a stronger AHA formula. Remember BHA’s penetrate deeper and this is what you’ll need. Try Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant.
- Combination skin that needs the best of both worlds? Try a BHA Salicylic acid for an anti-inflammatory exfoliation. Try one of my OG faves Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant.
- Too much Redness? Try a BHA for calming properties like Paula’s Choice CALM Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion Exfoliant.
- Soooo Sensitive? Rosacea or Eczema that you can’t stand? Try a PHA for eczema or rosacea, like First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads or Glossier Solution. An AHA like lactic acid is less aggressive are also ok for sensitive skin types too. Try PCA Skin Nutrient Skin Toner.
- Super dry, even in warmer months? Dry skin needs exfoliation too! Try an AHA, which will help your skin’s surface cling onto moisture. Want great skin AND Meghan Markle’s secret glowy weapon? Try Tatcha’s Rice Powder. She even gave it as a gift at her baby shower, it’s that good!
- Oil and Breakouts you’d rather not deal with? I feel your pain. Use a BHA, like salicylic acid with it’s pore-clogging properties it will help clear your skin and keep it clear. A word of caution, because BHA’s are more penetrating they can have a drying effect, so mix it up with an AHA too for the best benefits! Try my current fave: Dermalogica Age Bright Clearing Serum. Bonus: it has anti-aging properties too!
- Mature but wish your skin wasn’t? Use an AHA to target lines, wrinkles, texture, and get a glow! My favorite product for years, and worth every single penny Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment.
We’re not done yet! I have a few last pieces of advice/words of caution before you head out into the world with a glowing new complexion. First, you can combine acids, like AHA and BHA, but make sure your AHA is a gentle one like lactic acid. Other than that you really shouldn’t need to be mixing and matching with your skin. Also, BE SURE TO MOISTURIZE after you exfoliate every time. I don’t care what kind or product you use, do not leave your skin barrier unprotected. Also keep in mind that since we are essentially forcing the skin cells to shed and new ones to show their lovely selves to the world that you should be wary of sun exposure after exfoliation. Use sunscreen, wear a hat, stay indoors…whatever. These products can make your skin sensitive to UV rays and if you pick up a more aggressive product, my advice would be to use it at night!
Beware the hype! Over-exfoliating the skin is a very real thing you need to be cautious to avoid. Your skin’s’ natural barrier is needed and can be damaged if you get too carried away. Irritation, dryness, breakouts and peeling are all signs you’ve gone too far and need to back off for awhile or try something less aggressive!
You are now all experts on exfoliation! Kidding. But hopefully you gained something valuable from this and I have plenty more to come on skincare. Please be sure to join my email list and send me your suggestions for blogs and other questions about all things beauty, I love answering them for you!