Most people realize that the surface of their skin is covered with layers of dead skin cells. The average person naturally but slowly sheds hundreds of thousands of these dead cells all year long, amounting to some 1 – 1.5 pounds a year. That means that by the age of 70, the average person has shed about 100 pounds of dead skin! But overall, those dead skin cells sit for quite a while on the surface of your skin, still attached in the same places where they were once alive. And they sit there and they sit there, until their old attachments loosen, just like an old book’s glue binding, until they eventually slip and slide and fall away and become a major part of the dust and the dust bunnies on the floor. But while they sit there waiting for all that to happen, those dead skin cells are making your skin look dull, grey and aged. And those dead skin cells situate their dark forms into every fold, crease, line and shadow you’ve got, exaggerating them all, making them all look worse. Dead skin cells by themselves have a dark, lifeless grey color, but they also significantly decrease the reflection of light, which additionally makes the skin look even darker, dull and more grey.
More good news – patches of dead skin cells are also known to often hold on to dark melanin pigments, making for freckly splotches, and irregular, uneven skin colorations. Keratin protein is all over these lifeless cells. But keratin is good, no? Well, yes and no. Keratin is good for strong, great looking, healthy hair and nails for sure. But as a major constituent of hair and nails (and horns, claws, and hooves, too!) it is the shield material, the barrier; a thickener, a protector. Keratin comprises much of the glue holding the dead cells in place and is a major player in the thickening, protective process – but this all has dimming effects on the skin’s luster too. Dark hues, wrinkles, lines, irregular complexion – all are further magnified by keratin. Not so much a partner in our cosmetic concerns, that keratin. In fact, the dead skin cells are even known medically as keratinocytes. So give your proper thanks for the harsh, tired, unhealthy older look you might see in the mirror today to keratin and the keratinocytes. But consider this: you can do something about it! Why wait? Exfoliate… for more beautiful skin!
Exfoliate – from the Latin exfoliare, “to strip off leaves”. Exfoliation removes those dead skin cells – and leaves your skin looking fresher, smoother, brighter, and with more of a brilliance; more of a healthy glow. Lines and wrinkles are harder to see, they’re more shallow and reflect more light now. No injections, no fillers – just simple exfoliating! The skin looks more illuminated and is no longer willfully harboring every shadow. Melanin containing patches have been lessened; the skin has a more even, regular, complexion. No laser treatment – just simple exfoliating! The face looks younger, healthier, firmer, brighter and renewed. And it looks healthier because it is!
The dead skin removal process of exfoliation is our doing, but it stimulates a very basic and natural cell renewal process – healthier, more plump, vibrant cells from the deeper layers of the skin are stimulated to make their way to the surface. And these are the cells which make the skin smoother, firmer and healthier appearing. Among the cells lipid production is also stimulated by exfoliation. This improves the skin’s protective barrier function and enables the skin to better hold on to water. Better and more consistent hydration means more supple, softer, less dry (and less dry looking!), healthier appearing skin too! Again, healthier appearing because the skin is actually healthier! The skin looks smoother and firmer because it is! The skin has more of a truly healthy, even glow, and has truly less of the dark hues, splotches or irregular color. All real effects, not illusion.
The exfoliation process is technically fairly simple and straightforward, breaking down into either mechanical or chemical exfoliation (and their many varied forms and combinations).
Mechanical exfoliation includes techniques employing scrub sponges, microfiber cloths, brushes, scrapers, bristle/brush devices, sugar/salt/ microparticle based cleansers/soaps, scrubs, and gommages. Almost all “facials” incorporate exfoliation. Microdermabrasion is a very popular and consistently great mechanical exfoliation technique.
Chemical exfoliation includes products like alpha or beta-hydroxy acids, salicylic acids, Retin-A, and a wide variety of chemical peel formulations, all of which work by loosening the dead cell attachments, causing the keratinocytes to fall off and be shed as debris from the skin’s surface. Retin-A has the added advantage that it also directly stimulates the cell renewal/plumping process. Some chemical methods will also incorporate enzymes which tend to further loosen a/o dissolve the keratin “glues”. This can also help to open clogged pores and lessen the effects of acne. Add in some anti-hyperpigmentation agents to the regimen and you can more aggressively rev up the color/pigment evening out process if need be.
After exfoliation, the skin becomes very sensitive to the UV radiation found in tanning rays. Tanning/sun damage must be avoided to limit the risk for a boomerang effect – a worsening of irregular pigmentation! Sun protection/avoidance and block (judicious use of an SPF 30 or more, frequently applied) is a must. Gentle cleansing of the fresh, new skin with a gentle cleanser – not a soap – is also a must. And a gentle, non-irritating, non-perfume containing moisturizer for your “re-born” skin is certainly the right way to treat (and help to perpetuate) your nice, refreshed look!
Summarizing the benefits of regular exfoliation: to improve skin radiance, brilliance, and brightness; to reduce splotches, discoloration, and dullness; to minimize wrinkles, lines, folds, and shadows; to improve skin smoothness and firmness; and to improve the skin’s barrier/protective functions, enhancing the moisture retention, suppleness and the softness of the skin. But don’t overdo it – a tender, overly red, irritated face might be your message to lighten up. Most experts agree that exfoliating more than once or twice a week could be counterproductive.
Dr. Lyle Back is originally from New York City, receiving his medical and surgical training at Rutgers Medical School, Cooper Hospital – University Medical Center, and Ohio State. He is Board Certified in General Surgery (ABS) and Plastic Surgery (ABPS). He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery (AACS), and a longstanding member of the premier American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). He served as a Professor of Plastic Surgery at Temple University and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and performed reconstructive surgery with “Operation Smile” in Vietnam. He specializes in the full range of the most modern and state of the art facial cosmetic surgery procedures and non-surgical cosmetic enhancement techniques available today.