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How Does Skin Exfoliation Work?

By: Dr. Wang Skincare Education Team

May 31, 2019

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Exfoliation is a ubiquitous beauty term these days, but the actual mechanics of exfoliation are sometimes misunderstood. Our skin is a complex and incredible collection of tissue which works in tandem to keep us safe from the outside world. The skin naturally eliminates dead skin cells after they have served their purpose. This is where exfoliation comes into play.

In this article, we will define skin exfoliation, review the types of exfoliation, identify how to safely exfoliate, and how to incorporate exfoliation into your skincare regimen.

What does “Exfoliation” Mean?

As per the American Academy of Dermatology, exfoliation is defined as “the process of removing dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin,” It is important to understand that skin is capable of exfoliating itself in a way. Consider a simple sunburn. After a few hours, dead skin might begin to form a thin layer on top of the living skin. This peeling skin is also known as desquamation, and it one of the body’s methods of expelling dead skin cells.

Healthy skin will also produce dead cells, just at a much lower rate than a sunburn sufferer. In most cases, gentle exfoliation will remove dead skin cells, leaving the remaining skin clean, smooth, and healthy.


Mechanical vs. Chemical Exfoliation

There are two primary forms of exfoliation: mechanical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation.

Mechanical exfoliation utilizes an abrasive surface to scrub away dead skin cells. Traditional abrasives have included pumice stone, fruit pits, micro-beads, and sponges. For a gentle and effective exfoliation, use charcoal sponges which are comprised of natural vegetable fibers infused with charcoal to gently remove dead skin without damaging the healthy skin beneath. Charcoal in the sponge also helps to remove impurity from the skin. Whether or not mechanical exfoliation is right for you is largely dependent on the body parts and your individual skin sensitivity.

Chemical exfoliation utilizes chemical agents to break up dead skin cells, allowing them to be washed away more easily. Examples of chemical exfoliants are products using salicylic acids such as acne cleansers and face cleansers. This may sound harsh and unnatural, but chemical exfoliation can be both safe and beneficial when done properly.

How Does Skin Exfoliation Work

How to Safely Exfoliate Your Skin

Much like any other skincare treatment, exfoliation is only beneficial when it is performed as intended. Consider the following when beginning your exfoliation regimen:

  • Will the exfoliant interfere with my existing skincare regimen? This is of particular importance to those who will be choosing chemical exfoliants. Beauty products may have active ingredients which interact with one another in adverse ways. When possible, consider purchasing packaged products together to ensure that they will work in tandem.
  • Is the skin healthy enough for exfoliation? Damaged skin generally does not need exfoliation — it needs time to heal. If your skin is extremely dry or experiencing other issues, consult with a doctor before exfoliating. If you have rosacea, eczema or sensitive skin, you need to be super cautious when comes to exfoliation.
  • Am I choosing the right exfoliant? As we mentioned previously, different exfoliants will be appropriate for different folks. Choosing chemical or mechanical is just the beginning.
  • Do I have the appropriate products to rehydrate skin? Many exfoliants will leave the skin depleted. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you have a moisturizer or serum to apply after exfoliation.

How Does Skin Exfoliation Work

Exfoliation in Skincare Regimens

So you have decided that exfoliation is right for you. You have selected your product and you are ready to go. Now what? Should you start right away? First thing in the morning? Right before bed? While there are no hard and fast rules for incorporating exfoliation into your skincare routine, there are certain guidelines which can help.

An important concept is to not overdo it. Exfoliation is not a simple process like washing your hands or brushing your teeth. It physically or chemically removes a layer of cells from your skin, taking other materials away in the process. A rule of thumb is to exfoliate between one (1) and three (3) times per week. Gentle exfoliants such as a soft, charcoal sponge may be used slightly more depending on the individual.

Some individuals prefer to exfoliate first thing in the morning, while others prefer to do so before bed. There is no right or wrong answer here. Morning exfoliation can help remove the night’s stagnation, while nighttime exfoliation can do a deeper cleanse from makeup and other irritants picked up during the day.

However, you choose to exfoliate, make sure you do so with your skin’s health in mind. Both mechanical and chemical exfoliants are powerful tools. Treat them accordingly!

Most importantly, remember to apply gentle moisturizer, serum or facial oil after the exfoliation to rehydrate the skin and rebuild the barrier.

How Does Skin Exfoliation Work

Exfoliating Dr. Steven Wang Herbal Skincare

Steven Wang, MD and Gui Wang, LAc have been working together for over 20 years to provide potent, herbal remedies for spas and individuals around the world. The father-son duo mixes Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with cutting edge scientific advances with the aim of bringing relief, comfort and happiness to our customers. Our products are the result of decades of dedicated research.

We believe that utilizing both modern Western medicine and time-honored Eastern medicine allows us to provide unique skincare solutions. To learn more, read what experts from The New York Times, Allure, Reader’s Digest, and more have to say about our revolutionary products.




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