The following article was contributed by Zeel Expert Barbara Lynn Cantone, President of Body & Soul Restorations, Inc.
Regular exfoliation is a part of any well-rounded skin-care routine and the key to maintaining the appearance of a smoother, hydrated and evenly-toned complexion. We see exfoliants everywhere in the skin-care industry-the market is flooded with products ranging from lotions to electronic brushes. It's not surprising that choosing the correct exfoliant for your skin can be a confusing process. So, let's start with the basics.
What is exfoliation?
Exfoliation is simply the process of removing dead cells that have built up on the skin so that newer cells can move to the surface, resulting in skin that is smoother and more evenly toned. This process is called keratinization. Keratinization occurs naturally in our skin, but we can speed up the process with manual exfoliation.
Exfoliation is beneficial for maturing and/or environmentally damaged skin types since keratinization slows down both as we age and as a result of exposure to sun and pollution. Exfoliation is also beneficial for acne-prone and oily skin types in the prevention of blocked pores and breakouts.
How do you know what type of exfoliant to choose?
Know your A (and B) HA's
You've probably seen that most facial exfoliants contain either an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid). Both are chemical exfoliants used to shed old skin and promote new skin growth. But how do you know which to choose? It all comes down to skin type.
AHAs, such as glycolic acid, lactic acid or citric acid, are usually recommended for maturing or thicker skin types that do not exfoliate as quickly on their own due to age or sun damage. AHAs penetrate the pores quickly, sloughing off dead skin and allowing new cells to move to the surface. It's all about wrinkle management and smoother skin!
This quicker chemical reaction can also lead to sensitivity and redness, which can be detrimental to sensitive skin types. In those cases, BHAs are the way to go as they penetrate and exfoliate the pores more slowly. Salicylic acid, the most common BHA, is actually a form of liquid aspirin, so it soothes redness and inflammation as it works. Salicylic acid is also anti-bacterial (capable of controlling p. acne bacteria), making it the exfoliant of choice for those who deal with oily skin, acne or occasional pustules. Paula's Choice offers a large variety of AHA and BHA solutions to address numerous skin-care needs.
Fruit-derived exfoliants have become much more accessible in recent years and are an excellent option for maintaining healthy skin in all skin types (as long as you aren't susceptible to fruit allergies!). Papain, the enzyme derived from papaya, and bromelain, the enzyme derived from pineapple, are two of the most popular. These enzymes work to break down the bonds between older skin cells, encouraging new cells to rise to the surface.
There are plenty of great DIY recipes out there too that utilize whole fruits. If you don't have the time or energy to make an exfoliating smoothie, you may want to try an exfoliant that contains fruit enzymes that are small enough to penetrate your pores. Some examples include Kiehl's Pineapple Papaya Facial Scrub and derma e's Cleansing Enzyme Mask.
Physical exfoliants are the alternative to chemical exfoliants. Clients usually love this option because physical exfoliants such as washcloths, loofahs and scrubs feel so good. I'm often told that scrubs "really feel as though they're doing something."
While I love when my clients feel good about their skin-care routines, I also want them to be smart about it. If your skin is prone to redness or sensitivity, or if you are dealing with inflamed acne, don't scrub. Inflammation defeats the purpose of exfoliation, potentially causing long-term damage such as hyper-pigmentation and premature wrinkling.
If that's not a problem for you, look for ingredients that will do a gentle yet effective job, such as bentonite clay, kaolin clay or cornmeal. (I love Aveda's Deep Cleansing Herbal Clay Mask.) And if you use a washcloth or loofah, try circular, gentle strokes. Remember-you're cleansing your face, not scrubbing the kitchen floor!
Whatever your exfoliant of choice, it is absolutely essential that you use SPF in your daily routine. Exfoliation makes skin more susceptible to sun damage, leading to premature wrinkling and hyperpigmentation. At the very least, your exfoliation will be in vain. At the worst, you are increasing your odds of developing melanoma. So if you need help choosing an appropriate sunscreen, be sure to check out our online guide.