Modern Exfoliation

Modern skin care services are noninvasive, have little downtime and allow for skin care professionals to combine multiple treatment modalities. The key to success for practicing estheticians is the tools and products they use, and their level of training with a commitment to continuing education. This includes having a thorough understanding of how each treatment modality operates individually and in combination with other treatments, and how they are applied to different skin types and conditions. Exfoliation represents one of these treatments.

In the context of skin care, exfoliation is simply the application of a technique or combination of methods to remove dead cells from the upper tissue layer of skin, the epidermis. It accelerates the natural process of desquamation—the shedding of the outer layer of skin— specifically the stratum corneum.

To understand exfoliation treatments and learn how to select the most suitable treatment systems for a client, you must first appreciate the basics of natural skin growth and desquamation. All exfoliation systems intercede in the skin’s natural processes by either kick-starting or accelerating them. At the same time, a fine balance must be achieved between stimulating skin rejuvenation and damaging the skin.

Removal of the upper layers of the epidermis can take place via physiomechanical means, including abrasion, which detaches the loosely bound cells by shearing the cells apart; energy methods that break down the loose chemical bonds holding the cell matrix together; application of mild acids or enzymes to the skin to break down these chemical bonds; or uniquely targeted chemical agents that indirectly stimulate the desquamation process. As illustrated in Figure 1, each of the following methods differs in the skin depth that can be achieved.

Physical exfoliation

Scrubs are products with abrasive ingredients that physically remove the top layer of the epidermis. Ingredients utilized in scrubs include ground-up natural seeds, such as walnuts and grains, as well as mineral granules, such as salt. Man-made exfoliating ingredients include fine synthetic polymer beads. (SeeMicrobeads Under Fire to learn more about how and why states are starting to ban man-made microbeads in products.) Gommages also fall into this category, because the product is applied and then manually rubbed off, along with any skin that is loosened in the process. Physical scrub ingredients that are more malleable offer a safer approach, because they are less abrasive to the skin. Gentle physical exfoliants should be the only physical exfoliants used for sensitive, acne-prone, rosacea-prone or mature, thinned skin.

Chemical exfoliation

Chemical exfoliants rely on the power of the ingredient to soften, lift and delaminate the skin. There are many different types of acid peels and enzymes that fall into this category.

  • Acid peels. Acid peels work due to their acidity, which is measured by pH, defining the acid’s willingness to donate an H+ ion. The more H+ ions in the peel, the lower the pH of the liquid, and the more the peel is able to break the weak bonds that link skin cells, translating to more peeling. The beauty of acid peel systems is that a skin care professional can customize results by matching the correct peel to the proper skin type in order to maximize results and minimize downtime.


Source: Skin Inc.