As skin care professionals, we know the importance of skin exfoliation for healthy cell turnover, a refreshed, clear complexion, and better product absorption, but do you know enough methods of exfoliation? No one way of exfoliation is perfect for all skin types, so I would like to mention many possible alternatives in this article, in hopes to inspire you to select from all the possible options!
To make things as simple as possible – there are 2 types of exfoliators – physical and chemical. Everything that is used to mechanically slough off the dead skin is referred to as “physical exfoliation”. This includes methods such as a scrub, microdermabrasion, and a rotating sonic brush to scrape off the dead skin cells with friction. This is a very easy way to refresh the skin, and it appeals to both men and women.
The easiest and most affordable exfoliating products to use at home are scrubs, and since the skincare market is highly abundant, you are guaranteed to find a natural product to your liking! I am a firm believer in natural ingredients, and I strongly advise you against the use of scrubs with microbeads. Microbeads are tiny round plastic beads that are found in some exfoliating products, and they are causing quite a stir in the environmental world. The plastic waste caused by these microbeads, which are not filtered out during sewage treatment, is damaging water ecosystems and killing marine life. A 2013 research at the University of Wisconsin-Superior showed that there were 1,500 to 1.7 million plastic particles per square mile in the Great Lakes! Not only are the beads damaging to fish, they are also bad for your face – microbeads can cause eye irritation, and promote rosacea and couperose. It’s no wonder that Illinois was the first state to ban the use of microbeads in June of 2014, and I sincerely hope all other states will quickly follow.
Instead of using plastic beads, consider other natural options like scrubs with ground up seeds and stone pits from apricots/peaches, crushed walnut husks, oats, coffee grinds, salt, and sugar. I especially recommend sugar for clients dealing with eczema since it’s non irritating on broken skin, and sea salt for psoriasis sufferers, but not more than once a week. All other scrubs can be used 3 times a week, but not more – our skin needs adequate time to amass dry dead cells, and you definitely don’t want to over-exfoliate!
These are just some examples of biodegradable ingredients that will not damage the environment, and will polish and refresh your face. Scrubs are affordable, since the ingredients are typically not too complex, and can range from larger ground formulas (for the body) to finely ground (for the face). I like the simplicity a scrub offers, especially for teens, and male clientele, but not everyone will benefit from them! See my list below for reference on what type of client should not be using a scrub.
Clients with these conditions should avoid scrubs:
- Acne/ Cystic Acne
- Elderly Clientele
The main reason I discourage acne clients from using a scrub, is because the rough particles in the scrub will not only damage and irritate the skin, causing redness, but in the case of acne, they will spread bacteria on the face, worsening the situation. For this same reason, I don’t recommend getting microdermabrasion treatment, or using a rotating sonic brush for clients who have acne, couperose or rosacea. These types of treatments are too rough, and should be avoided. Older clients tend to have thinner skin, which bruises and breaks easily, and using a harsh scrub, or any other mechanical mode of exfoliation, will cause damage, and pain. I recommend a gentle enzymatic exfoliation, or, if you must, a light oatmeal scrub.
Did you know that scrubbing, peeling and chemical exfoliation all have their roots in ancient Egypt? Egyptians used specks of alabaster combined with milk and honey. The earliest chemical exfoliant was lactic acid, an active ingredient of sour milk that was used by the nobles as part of a skin rejuvenation regimen. In the Middle Ages, old wine with tartaric acid as its active ingredient was used for achieving the same results. Both of these exfoliants are known to contain α-Hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are the active ingredients responsible for the skin exfoliation. AHAs are naturally occurring organic carboxylic acids with a hydroxyl group in the a carbon position. Lactic, glycolic, citric, and tartaric acids are naturally found in sugar cane, fruits, wine, and milk.
German dermatologist Paul Gerson Unna first described the properties of salicylic acid, resorcinol, phenol, and trichloroacetic acid (TCA) in 1882, and the development of other peeling agents for varying depths of penetration followed. In the 1960s, the Baker-Gordon phenol peel peaked in popularity, but by the 1990s, it was falling out of favor with practitioners because of complications and serious systemic renal, cardiac and hepatic toxicity to melanocytes causing hypopigmentation (loss of skin color). After this issue was discovered, only fair-skinned patients were allowed to use phenol peels, and had to go through the process slowly, and cautiously.
Enzymes are a wonderful way to safely exfoliate the skin – this has been my favorite method for years! An enzymatic exfoliation is a good natural way to clean out the pores, get rid of excess oils, slough off the dry and dead skin for a healthy cell turnover. Fruit enzymes, such as Bromelain (from pineapple) and Papain (from papaya) eat away at the oils and dry skin, to expose a refreshed, clear complexion. Enzyme masks are generally more gentle
and more safe than acids, and don’t thin the skin like Retin-A. A good natural enzyme mask brightens the skin, activates cellular function, increases circulation, fades discoloration and leaves the skin feeling and looking fresh, smooth and healthy.
Dry enzyme masks
that are activated moments before application are more potent, and have a longer shelf-life than pre-activated gel-like masks. This type of facial exfoliant usually comes in the form of a mask based on marine clay, bentonite, or oats. This is my favorite type of enzyme mask
, because it’s more gentle than an enzyme peel, which generally contain 10% to 30% AHA, and is not suited for everyone. An example of such a product would be a pumpkin peel.
It is quite strong, so please refer to my guidelines before administering it. Just like a chemical peel, please administer an enzyme peel with caution, making sure your client is a good candidate for the product.
Clients with these conditions should avoid peels:
- Acne/ Cystic Acne
- Elderly Clientele
- Tan or Sunburned / Using Tanning Bed
- Hypopigmentation Sufferers
- Type V and VI on the Fitzpatrick Scale
My rule of thumb, is that the client should always come out of the treatment room looking much better than when she entered, so I refuse to administer any harsh peels that cause redness, irritation, or scabbing. Take your peace of mind into consideration, and just assume everyone has sensitive skin when starting a treatment – it’s an approach I have been using for years, and it hasn’t failed me yet!
I sincerely hope this information was helpful in navigating you through the different types of exfoliants available on the market today! Of course, the best way to learn about your new product is by examining the label, so I encourage you to make this a habit. You will easily be able to select the best products for your clients, and they will forever appreciate your knowledge and care!