Exfoliation, or removal of the outermost layers of skin is a really popular way to smooth rough skin. It is excellent for those of us with older skin, because the natural 28 day process starting with skin creation and ending in shedding of those skin cells, slows down.
So exfoliating not only smooths the skin, but also improves suppleness and sheen¹, can also increase density of collagen and improve elastic fibre formation² (which reduces wrinkles, and increases skin firmness and elasticity). In addition some exfoliation may reduce the appearance of pore size, discolouration³ (or age spots), fine lines and also help treat acne⁴. Sold? Me too.
The problem is HOW. The most common way of exfoliating? Manually scrubbing the skin with some form of abrasive. Cringe! This can be too harsh, removing too many skin cells, irritating and reddening the skin. Over time that can lead to premature skin aging. Plus physical exfoliants, like beads, can be terrible for the environment.
The answer? Dermatologists hate scrubs and opt instead for hydroxy acids, which are gentler chemical exfoliators.
When choosing a chemical exfoliator, there are some things you should watch for. From a formulation point of view where the concentration of hydroxy acids increases above 5%, the product will be too acidic, so a buffer is added. The problem with buffers is that they can negate the effects of the hydroxy acids AND these buffers can also be skin irritants.
Bottom line; what should I look for in an exfoliation product?
- Definitely go for a chemical exfoliator in your daily skin care regime for use at night (and the use of a sunscreen during the day).
- Look for a product with a total concentration of 5% hydroxy acids or less (to avoid buffers)
- Key ingredients should include glycolic acid as well as at least one other hydroxy acid (eg. lactic acid).
- Avoid products with an ingredient ending in “hydroxide” in the list (they need buffering).
- If you have sensitive skin, patch test the product. Then start by using a small amount every few days and gradually build up.
- Try the product for at least 1 week) and see how it feels when applied and how it makes your skin feel in the days afterwards. Of all the products you use, this one will give you the quickest results for a smoother brighter skin.
¹ Thibault et al. 1998
² Kim et al. 1998
³ Kornhauser 2010
⁴ Dreno et al 2009