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The Ins and Outs of Facial Exfoliation

The Skincare Industry is booming right now and don't you feel like everyone wants you to try their newest, top rated, product that they claim to be the best on the market?? How can every skincare line be the best for ME and MY skin type?

Everyone's skin is so incredibly unique and special, how do I know what is best for me?

Well, my friends, That's Marketing! But as your favorite Holistic Skin Therapist, I'm here to guide you into some clarity about the topic of facial exfoliation.

I hear the overwhelming "uhh i don't know where to start." from clients all day, and trust me, I know what that feels like! I'll be sharing some insight with you about my thoughts on proper exfoliation for different skin types, concerns, and lifestyle... basically the things the skincare industries won't tell you as it might cause you to shy away from their glorious award-winning products.

Disclaimer, I'm not here to hate on any skincare brands or any products out there that you, or your friends truly love. This is simply my professional and personal advice as a Holistic Esthetician based on my 9+ years of experience working in the Skincare Industry. There are many products I recommend to clients of course, but my dissatisfaction is the manipulation the skincare industry gives as a form of marketing to target vulnerable people who suffer major skin imbalances and struggles and are looking for help. I've found that majority of my clients who resonate with this advice actually see their skin become less inflamed, more hydrated, and overall just simply HEALTHIER!

What is the benefit and purpose of Exfoliation?

When we gently remove dead skin cells with a physical scrub, we signal the Cellular turnover process which happens in the Subcutaneous layer which lies beneath the Dermis and Epidermis. This area is where our cells are created and it's very important that new cells are regenerated via Cell Turnover.

Cell turnover is the process in which the old skin cells are replaced with new ones. The entire process of new cells moving up the layers, starting from the Subcutaneous through the Dermis (where collagen is created) to Epidermis (where Protein called Keratin is created), making its way to the top of the skin (stratum corneum) to be shed off. This process is around 4 weeks (30-50 days) and increases as we age, meaning less skin cells are being made/shed. This is why we typically get facials every 4-6 weeks so that we can continue to encourage this shedding and cleansing process... and to stimulate collagen production! When skin cells are being made after exfoliation, collagen is also being stimulated in the Dermis. and we LOVE collagen! It keeps our skin youthful, glowy and healthy. Protein in the Epidermis is also being created and this is what gives bonding to the skin cells thus giving our skin the healthy strength and defense mechanisms to keep invaders out. I know this is a lot of information, but I want you to see how it is all connected and how important proper exfoliation is.

So yes, Exfoliation is a wonderful way to encourage our skin's natural process of renewal...but too much of one thing can do more harm than good. Too little can create stagnancy and feeding ground for bacteria, but I'll get more into that below. Our body naturally does this exfoliation process on it's own, but our environment nowadays with air pollution and toxicity, our skin needs the extra encouragement and nourishment.

Lastly, I want to mention the immune system that our skin so beautifully harmonizes. Our skin has it's own immune system! It is connected with our internal immune system of course, but it's also kind of on it's own because it sits on the outside of the body therefore it's functions are a bit different than the inside. I'm not going to go to deep into the physiology of our skin's immune system, but I want to note that our human body is basically made up of microbes, bacteria, and cells. and they are so extremely important for the health of our skin! These microbes determine when there are foreign invaders trying to enter in the skin and fight off these invaders protecting your cells from harm. These bacteria's are our first line of defense in the health of our skin and body. There is a delicate and intricate balance between the good and bad bacteria's that if proper exfoliation is being used, it won't throw off the balance, but if exfoliants are used improperly, it can create a plethora of bad side effects which can lead to skin imbalances. I'll get into more of the negative side effects and signs of improper exfoliation below, but I wanted to give a little introduction to these precious critters that are absolutely vital to the health and glow of our beautiful skin.

Let's give a little background about what types of exfoliators exist on the market and the role they play


  1. Physical/ Manual Exfoliation

  2. Enzymatic Exfoliation

  3. Chemical Exfoliation

1.) Physical or Manual Exfoliation

A physical or Manual exfoliant is an abrasive-like consistency usually in Cleansers, Masks, Spinning Brushes, Sponges, and Even some towels/muslin washcloths. They are designed to ~physically~ scrub away the outer layer of dead skin cells on the stratum corneum. This is typically what most people will associate as exfoliation as it has the sensation of scrubbing away dead skin and texture, leaving the skin feeling softer and more smooth.

What's actually happening when we do scrub off dead skin cells?

Well, this all depends on what kind of elements are in the exfoliant that are giving it the scrubby-feeling everyone oh-so loves. What I've learned over the years is that not all brands do it the same, meaning they don't all take the same protocols to invest in their elements' grounding process.

For Example: If formulated correctly, one brand's exfoliant product that contains ground walnuts might have beautiful rounded granules that can gently slough off dead skin cells without irritating the skin, where as another brand who did not formulate correctly to round out the edges of their walnuts will leave those elements now with sharp, jagged edges... and people are scrubbing their sweet faces with these sharp edges! I'll explain more in the next section about the effects these jagged-edged exfoliators have on your face. Not all are made this way, but A LOT are!

Elements found in Physical Skincare Scrubs:

  1. Ground up Walnuts (or nuts)

  2. Apricot Pits

  3. Rice

  4. Bamboo Bran

  5. Beads

  6. Sugar Crystals

  7. Salt Crystals

  8. Poppy Seeds

  9. Oatmeal

  10. Coffee Grinds

2.) Enzymatic Exfoliation

This is my favorite method of exfoliation! I separate enzyme exfoliation from chemical exfoliation because I feel their source is very different from each other, although some ingredients may intertwine depending on how the product is created.

Enzymatic exfoliation uses a liquid made of what I like to call "fruit enzymes".

Enzymatic exfoliation is perfect for the sensitized, or dry client, or someone who isn't suffering from congested pores via Oil

production. This type of exfoliation gently removes layers of dead skin cells through a comprise of amino acids, which are types of proteins that are made by living things. They come from different fruits and nuts that can break apart Keratin Proteins that hold together dead skin cells that sit on the surface of the skin waiting to be sloughed off. Basically, enzymes unglue/melt the bonds that hold layers of dead skin cells together revealing a fresh new layer of skin.

These enzymes are gentle, but extremely effective and can even contain rich antioxidants. bioflavonoids, and blood circulators which can help repair skin wounds like acne, or post inflammatory acne marks, scarring and inflammation.

Enzymes typically found in skincare ingredients:

  • Papain (Papaya) -

  • Bromelian (Pineapple),

  • Cucurbita pepo (Pumpkin),

These listed above are the types of enzymes that work on proteins called Keratin, not Sebum (oil). If dissolving oil and congestion is your main concern then Enzymes might not be suitable enough for your skin type, or might be perfect for dryer days where you don't have as much oil stagnation.

3) Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical Exfoliation can also be referred to as AHA'S and BHA's.

AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acids and are water soluble meaning these work exceptionally well at exfoliating the surface layers of the skin. AHA's work in the same process mentioned above regarding Enzymes yet there are a few different sources of these Alpha Hydroxy Acids. AHA's work for all skin types, but might not be as effective on extremely oily skin.

AHA's typically found in Skincare Ingredients:

  • Glycolic Acid (from sugarcane, Antimicrobial properties, kills P. acnes bacteria and help soften blackheads. Works well with Dry congested skin)

  • Lactic Acid (from Milk and works great on dry / sensitized skin providing anti-aging properties)

  • Mandelic Acid (from bitter almonds and works wonderfully for Acne prone, oily or pustule like breakouts. The molecule size makes it very gentle, and won't over dry but it kills p. acnes bacteria.

  • Malic Acid (from apples, usually combined with other AHA's or BHA's to enhance its exfoliating properties)

  • Kojic Acid (from fungi during fermentation. Great alternative to hydroquinone as it lightens pigmentation and slows down melanin production which creates dark spots and hyperpigmentation. It's also anti fungal and antibacterial!)

  • Citric Acid and Ascorbic Acid-I view both of these AHA's as toxic and extremely over produced in the skincare industry. They can be irritating and contains variants that I don't think are naturally helpful for our skin's health. Take my advice and just stay clear :)

Beta Hydroxy Acids- (BHA) are oil-soluble acids that work on the sebaceous glands. These help dissolve oil while going deep in the the pores vs just working topically like an AHA. So, all in all, BHA's go deep into the pore, clearing our stagnant oil and dead skin cells. BHA's work best on excess oily prone skin, with acne or congestion. I don't recommend BHA's for dry and sensitive skin as it can be too stripping of the skin's nourishment.

BHA typically found in skincare ingredients:

  • Salicylic Acid (from Willow Bark. Works exceptionally well at going deep into the pore to dissolve excess oil. Great for oily, acne prone skin, but can be very drying if overused.)

AHA'S and BHA's can work and coincide together to create formulas you most likely see in skincare ingredients today. These acids when combined together can effectively exfoliate deep in the pore and the surrounding top layers creating a well-rounded clean environment. and that my friends is the basics of Chemical Exfoliation!

Signs of Improper Exfoliation

Some of these might seem like common sense to you, and some might have you wondering if you might be over-exfoliating or even just using the wrong exfoliant for your skin type. Typically what I see in skin that is over-exfoliated is a broken skin barrier. Remember above when I talked about the ratio of good and bad bacteria that keep the health of our skin alive? Well, a broken skin barrier just means that these bacteria (the good and the bad) are being constantly killed and and sloughed off that they can't protect the epidermis; the top layer of skin. When the epidermis is exposed without bacteria and it's immune system their to protect it, that's when a multitude of problems can occur because the skin is now vulnerable and open to toxic invaders entering in, or moisture and nutrients leaking out. I see this a lot with acne clients, as with myself many years ago before I learned about proper exfoliation...Acne can become a breeding ground for p.acnes Bacteria if there are no good bacteria's to fight them off. Here is a brief list of what I might determine as improper exfoliation:

  1. Dehydration/Dryness

  2. Over production in Oil

  3. Redness/Inflammation

  4. Unable to retain moisture

  5. Acne (Not the source of acne, but it can spread through improper exfoliation)

  6. Blackheads/Congestion

  7. Acne scars/Post Inflammatory Acne marks lingering.

  8. Texture or build up

  9. Premature Aging/Fine Lines

  10. Itchy/painful patches

Sometimes the symptoms aren't always loud and clear. Most of the time when I'm seeing improper exfoliation, my client doesn't even know it and when we switch up her method or regimen it significantly changes her skin. It happens almost every time. So, your best bet is to book a session with a licensed professional, like me, that way you can be sure your method is working or not working in favor of the health of your skin. Every person's skin journey is so unique, so this list above might seem a bit broad and not super specific, but that's what started this whole problem in the first place. The Skincare industry is just trying to sell you products and they aren't always meant for you! I'm always ensuring my clients feel and understand that their session is tailored to their specific needs and concerns, so if you're unsure about your exfoliation routine, I'd love to help you out!

Below, you can book a session with me or send an email with an inquiry for any of your questions!

I hope you've enjoyed learning about the Ins and Outs of Exfoliation !


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