Exfoliation: Like Autumn for Your Face

Exfoliation sounds like a spell Harry Potter might use, but it’s an important part of the “seasonal” cycle of healthy, beautiful skin. Your skin cells turn over on a much more rapid rate than Earth turns through the seasons of the year, but the falling leaves of autumn are a good way to think about how your skin sheds dry, dead surface cells.

Think of your skin — the largest organ of the body — as a sandwich. The top piece of bread, the part closest to the surface, is called the epidermis. The filling of the sandwich, below the epidermis, is the dermis, a strong and flexible layer made up of proteins called collagen and elastin.

This dermal layer, which accounts for 90% of your skin, is crammed with nourishing blood vessels as well as nerves, hair follicles, and oil and sweat glands. The bottom piece of bread, your skin’s inmost layer, is subcutaneous tissue — mostly fat, with blood vessels and nerves running through it.

What we think of as our skin is actually that outer section, the epidermis. It’s in the very thin layers of the epidermis that our skin’s seasonal cycle — which lasts about 28 days — takes places. Brand-new cells are born in the lowest layers of the epidermis, and work their way to the surface as they grow. By the time they reach the surface, skin cells have been depleted and are ready be shed like the dry leaves of autumn trees.

Here’s the amazing part. Every hour on the hour, your skin sheds more than 30,000 dead cells — that’s around a million lost each day to shedding or washing. The shed cells make way for newer cells working their way to the surface. That’s the natural process of exfoliation.

As we get older, though, or when we’ve been careless about protecting our skin from damaging UV rays, that cycle can be interrupted or thrown out of whack. Skin cancer occurs when damaged areas allow mutant cancerous cells to grow faster than healthy cells, for example. A more common problem is when the skin turnover cycle slows down and becomes sluggish, which can happen as we age. New cells don’t form as quickly, and dead cells cling to the surface. The skin takes on a dull, rough, dry appearance, with fine lines and areas of darkened pigmentation from sun damage becoming more apparent.

You can give nature a hand by maintaining and even jump-starting the process of exfoliation. Here are some suggestions:

Use a mild exfoliating cleanser on your face and neck daily. SkinMedica’s AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser uses a combination of gentle fruit-based acids to wash away dead skin cells and improve overall tone and texture. Avoid using harsh scrubs or cleansers containing plastic beads, as these can damage already fragile skin.

Use an exfoliating shower gel (and a loofah or rotating cleansing brush) all over, once or twice a week. Be sure to keep all scrubbers clean and free from bacteria, and use an allover moisturizer after exfoliating and while your skin is still damp from the shower or bath.

Wear sunscreen every day! You know we have to throw this in, but it’s especially important when you use exfoliating cleansers or other mechanical exfoliation treatments.

Treat yourself to a professional facial and/or a peel on a regular basis. At Comprehensive Dermatology Center of Pasadena, our full range of spa services combine expert gentle exfoliation with deep moisturizing and other nourishing treatments.

Try microdermabrasion, dermaplaning, or an IPL FotoFacial to give your skin a jumpstart. These mechanical forms of exfoliation — which should be performed by licensed aestheticians and laser nurses in a medical setting to assure your skin’s health — strip away the skin’s dead and damaged outer layer, and stimulate the circulation and collagen formation that build healthy new skin cells and underlying structures.

If you have active acne, very sensitive skin, or skin with a tendency to form keloids, you should talk with your dermatologist before beginning any exfoliation process. At Comprehensive Dermatology Center of Pasadena, we’re happy to help you choose the exfoliation treatments and products that are right for your particular skin type and condition. Contact us today before the leaves begin to fall!