Though hair and nails are in effect dead cells, we wouldn’t want to be without them. However, there are some less attractive areas of dead stuff that must be done away with. Ankita Mamgain looks at the hows and whys of exfoliation.
When it comes to skin care, the most basic and effective practice is what’s been described as the three-step process of cleanse, tone and moisturise. But if the first step itself is not done right, the other two may have little success. While regular skin cleansing is clearly beneficial, another absolute must when it comes to skin care is regular exfoliation.
Whether you have dry, normal, oily or sensitive skin, exfoliation can bring new life to your complexion. Our skin regenerates itself constantly – in a typical 30-day period, a cell should make its way from the deep layers to the epidermis, that is the skin’s outermost shell. However, factors like age, pollution, diet and weather can contribute to dead cells not shedding themselves naturally.
These cells clog your pores and create blockages, wreaking havoc for your skin.
That’s where exfoliation becomes really important. The practice accomplishes a few things at once: it decongests pores, evens out complexion and brightens the skin and allows other products (like serums and moisturisers) to penetrate more deeply and therefore be more effective.
Acne-prone skin sheds more cells than other skin types, but the cells do not fall away. Instead, they stick to the skin, clogging pores and hair follicles. As this dead cell debris builds, the skin produces excess sebum – which leads to blackheads and blemishes. Hence, contrary to many people’s belief, exfoliation is really important to manage and prevent acne.
How to Exfoliate
What type of exfoliation best suits you depends on your complexion, health and the sensitivity of your skin. The two methods of exfoliation are chemical and physical. Chemical exfoliation can vary in its degree of abrasion and cost, from mild toners all the way up to dermatological peels that could cost up to a few hundred dinars.
For physical exfoliation, there are a number of different products available in the market and their constituents can range from fruit seeds (apricot), nut shells (walnut), salt or sugar, chemicals, acids, ingredients that ‘digest’ your dead skin cell, circular exfoliates (jojoba beads) to grounds nuts, grains and even flours.
Abrasive over-scrubbing is not healthy and a thing of past. It scratches, tears and rips your skin. No matter how tiny the abrasions, they damage your skin and accelerate aging. One should avoid any products that contain exfoliants with jagged, sharp edges that do not dissolve, such as pit fruit seeds and nutshells.
In case of salt and sugar, although they do start with sharp edges, the particles dissolve with water and, with the circular motions of application, become round, thus preventing any skin damage.
If you don’t like the gritty formulas, which should be avoided if your skin is sensitive, try an enzymatic peel. It will sit on your skin for a few minutes and dissolve grey, uneven patches. Mainly, the peels contain fruit acids from pineapples, papayas and other exotic fare and are gentle enough for twice-weekly use.
Chemicals, acids, and micro dermabrasion an burn, blister and cause redness and swelling to your skin as well as age its appearance over time.
For fresh, clear skin, you don’t have to always purchase expensive products from the market. Some of the most effective scrubs are already present on your kitchen shelves.
A physical exfoliant, it is the main ingredient in many expensive exfoliation products. What makes it especially effective is that it is a fine, yet hard powder, making it highly successful at removing dead skin cells without causing excessive irritation.
A natural source of glycolic acid, it boosts new cell production and breaks down the protein that keeps the dead cells hanging onto your skin. Pure cane sugar crystals work best for the purpose. Mix them with your favourite massage oil (olive, jojoba, grapeseed, almond for example) to make a paste. Scrub on your face in a circular motion and rinse.
A potent source of trace minerals that rejuvenate your skin, stimulate cell growth, and help your skin retain moisture, a sea salt scrub is great for dry skin. Mix with lavender essential oil or your favourite massage oil to make a paste.
One of the gentler exfoliants, it’s perfect for sensitive skin. It is a natural anti-inflammatory and is very moisturising. Mix finely ground oatmeal with honey and/or kefir (you can also use yogurt or buttermilk). Scrub on your face in a circular motion, let sit for 15-30 minutes and rinse.
Raw honey is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. It kills skin infections, including acne. Honey reduces inflammation and hydrates and can be mixed with any of the other exfoliants mentioned above to boost the antioxidant and anti-bacterial benefits.
Once you’ve exfoliated, be sure to protect your skin by applying a good moisturiser with SPF. Rub in a cream that contains light-reflecting particles, too, for a brightening effect.