Gone are the days that we turn to St. Ives Apricot Scrub to smooth skin. Of course, any old scrub will remove something but that’s about all it’ll do, other that cause irritation. These days exfoliation is no longer a one-size-fits-all thing but a step that can be catered to skin’s needs and wants. Here are the big players, what they can do, and the skin types they’re best suited for: CHEMICAL EXFOLIATORS Alpha Hydroxy Acids (a.k.a. AHAs): The two most popular AHAs for skin care are Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid. AHAs are water soluble and penetrate deeply, working from the inside out. Lactic is the less aggressive of the two and is best suited for those with sensitive, reactive and/or dehydrated skin but who still want to target things like fine lines, mild pigmentation and uneven texture. Usually made up of synthetic sour milk, lactic acid is available both over-the-counter and by professionals. Professional lactic acid peels range in strengths from 10% to 70%. Glycolic Acid , lactic’s more aggressive sister, basically “unglues” all the dead skin allowing it to shed and is best for those with photo damage, fine lines, rough texture, and hyper-pigmentation. Glycolic acid balances oily and dry areas and is great to use in conjunction with other anti-aging products such as retinoids and vitamin C. Like lactic, glycolic acid is also available OTC and by the pros. The highest concentration allowed for at- home use by the FDA and Heath Canada is 10%. A 10% glycolic is nothing to scoff at; with regular use it can have awesome benefits for the skin! Professional glycolic peels run from 20%-70%. The most noticeable results can be achieved with concentrations between 40 and 60 percent while concentrations above 70% are only performed by medical doctors. Keep in mind that a glycolic peel of 70% or more increases the chances of scarring and so there should be some discussion with your doc to weigh out the pros and cons and decide if that procedure is right for you. Next Up, Beta Hydroxy Acid (a.k.a. BHAs and salicylic acid) Beta hydroxy acid is salicylic acid, salicylic acid is beta hydroxy acid. Unlike AHAs, BHAs are oil soluable and work from the outside in. Because it’s soluable in oil, beta hydroxy acid can fight through all the congestion and accumulation of gunk in the pores making it an ideal exfoliant for those with oily and/or acneic skin. Over-the-counter BHA/salicylic acid products can come in concentrations ranging from 2 to 5 percent; this may sound low but regular use will help with any excessive buildup of oil or dead skin. It’s about high quality, fine tuned a formula that will get you results, not just high percentages. Professional BHA peels range in strengths from 20% to 30% and can be a really great complimentary treatment to go along with an at-home program to treat troubled skin. ENZYME EXFOLIATORS An enzyme exfoliant is usually made up of natural ingredients such as bromelain from pineapple, papain from papaya, or rice bran. They exfoliate the skin by slowly eating away all the dead skin cells on the surface. Enzyme exfoliants do not have the same penetrating power as AHAs or BHAs but are a great option for daily gentle exfoliation. MANUAL EXFOLIATORS Manual exfoliants are the traditional scrubs that have a rough, grainy texture. Another form of manual exfoliation is a cleansing brush or sponge. Of all the exfoliants I’ve mentioned, manual exfoliation is the most superficial because there is no penetration of the epidermis but only-you got it-manual removal of more obvious dry patches. TRETINOIN & RETINOL By now you’ve probably heard of tretinoin and its derivative retinol. Tretinoin or all-trans retinoic acid, a prescription form of vitamin A, normalizes the skin by telling cells to behave and gets them to act healthier. In the long run, over-the-counter retinol essentially does the same thing, but while tretinoin is already in the form of all-trans retinoic acid, retinol must convert in to it in the skin. Neither form are exfoliants per say, they are so much more than that, but both (especially tretinoin) can cause shedding of the skin which eventually gives way to new and healthier skin. Exfoliation should be a step in any skin care regimen. Benefits of exfoliating include:
- speeds up the skin’s process of shedding dead skin
- allows skin care products to penetrate better because they don’t have to cut through all the dead cells
- skin will feel and appear smoother and softer
Things to remember:
- Regardless of the type of exfoliant you opt for, wearing sunscreen is indispensable
- Aggressive doesn’t always mean better results; some sensation is normal while your skin is getting use to something new but avoid excessive irritation-irritation leads to inflammation and inflammation is skin’s enemy.