For many patients, having plenty of summer sun and experiencing dry, flaky skin go hand-in-hand. So reaching out for your favourite exfoliation scrub seems like the most natural thing to do in order to restore the smoothness of your skin. Right?

Unfortunately, no. Let’s take a closer look.

For a while, every health and beauty magazine were extolling the benefits of introducing regular exfoliation into your skincare regime. But what many women didn’t realise that over-exfoliating often caused the skin’s protective barriers to break down.

In fact, an overtly-vigorous scrub will make skin even more susceptible to UV photodamage and accelerate the ageing process. And by stripping away the lipid barrier your skin can no longer retain any natural moisture on its own. In the same way, this layer is also central in keeping moisture from escaping.

Layers of skin

Your skin has three layers which includes the epidermis [the top layer of skin which provides a waterproof barrier, and creates our skin tone and cellular turnover], the dermis [the middle layer which sits below the epidermis and is composed of collagen and elastin along with a complex network of hair follicles, nerves and sweat glands] and the subcutaneous tissue or hypodermis [which is made of fat cells and collagen and stores water and nutrients — the very composition that gives our skin its temperature control, plumpness and softness]. So as our skin cells mature, they travel from the base of the epidermis to its outermost layer.

The ageing process

As we age, less collagen and elastin are produced and our face not only loses its elasticity but the ravages of time begin to appear around our neck, cheeks and jowls. Even worse, the eyes can become sunken and darkened in appearance and our eyelids begin to droop.

As our collagen and elastin become less supple, it is not uncommon for the layer to become red and inflamed due to environmental factors and lifestyle such as stress. Trying to restore what we’ve lost is equally as tricky as when our cellular turnover slows right down diminish and topical products cannot counter the skin cells’ deterioration.

The key is understanding how the outermost layer of our skin [principal barrier tissue known as the stratum corneum] is meant to prevent water loss through the formation of lipids, which are embedded into a complex network of dead skin cells called corneocytes.

What does exfoliation do?

So many believe that exfoliation will help restore the foundation of youth. Yet by the time our skin cells reach the outer layer, they lose their nucleus and flatten out to form a layer of protection before the next cycle begins.

Exfoliation simply speeds that natural process along by clearing off the top dead layer to reveal younger and healthier skin cells, and a softer, smoother complexion.

What are the tell-tale signs of over-exfoliating?

First of all, your skin will feel tight and be noticeably dry with some sections looking flaky, red and itchy. Even worse, you may also be susceptible to acne outbreaks and other skin irritations. And it’s at that point where you believe you need to rid your face of any dead skin so you’ll scrub some more.

The next sign is that you’ll experience further inflammation and irritation to any active ingredients if your protective skin barrier has been compromised. In extreme cases, exfoliating too enthusiastically can cause small tears in the skin that open you up to infection.

What is the difference between physical and chemical exfoliation?

The outcomes are quite different as a chemical exfoliation is performed by a trained clinician to assist in cellular turnover. Physical exfoliation is primarily part of your home skincare regime where you use an abrasive scrub. Yet it is a process that often causes micro-tears in the skin. And though it can work wonders on cellulite, there are no points going your way when it comes to your face and décolletage. 

While they are seemingly effective on healthy skin they can also be destructively abrasive on compromised skin — whether they’ve been too harsh for your skin type, misused by way of excess scrubbing or simply if they’ve been overused on a regular basis. In fact, attempts to rid yourself of dead skin cells will impair your epidermis.

Cosmeceutical exfoliation treatments mostly contain acids to breakdown the skin cells that have clumped together. These common exfoliating ingredients often include two types of chemical exfoliants; AHA, or alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid and lactic acid [derived from natural sources such as pomegranate, lemon, papaya and grapefruit to treat dry, UV-damaged and ageing skin]  as well as BHA such as beta-hydroxy such as salicylic acid [organic acids known to treat breakouts, clogged or enlarged pores and to hydrate and soothe inflammation with its calming properties on the skin’s surface]

Products containing  PHAs are equally effective [poly hydroxy acids which have an even larger molecular structure that AHAs such as gluconolactone and lactobionic acid]. Any gentle chemical exfoliation containing PHA will also penetrate deeper into the skin and its minimal absorption is also ideally better suited to patients with sensitive skin conditions including eczema and rosacea.

But there should never be any guesswork in the products that you choose and as you age, you should always focus on increasing lipid levels in the skin to improve hypodermis health.

How often should I exfoliate?

A good way to start is to have our clinic introduce a chemical exfoliation treatment before you embark a physical one. Michele Hetherington, senior dermal therapist, will also review your skin and recommend a series of treatments or products to first maintain the health of your skin.

The other benefit with a chemical exfoliation treatment is that they tend to be less intense and are evenly applied.

If you do use an in-home exfoliator and your face has begun to sting, appear inflamed or red, you should stop immediately.

Taking the plunge

The first thing you need to establish is what caused it —either an irritant or you’re allergic to the product. Sometimes, the exfoliation product is simply just too harsh so before you begin, conduct a patch test it on your inner arm before putting it on your face to ensure your reaction isn’t related to any allergies.

You should also not apply any retinoid serums straight after exfoliation. Always begin using the softest brush head, minimise the initial frequency and start with a gentle product to avoid a bad reaction.

Picking a product that will work for your skin type will underscore your success especially if you have sensitive skin or a specific skin condition such as psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea. And when you have gone too far, book in an appointment so we can get you on the right track.

Book in consultation for $65 [30 minutes] with our senior dermal therapist, Michele Hetherington, who will discuss and tailor the best and most affordable skincare solution for you. After your consultation, enjoy a complimentary Red Light Therapy, which uses low-level red wavelengths of light to calm and restore your skin’s health.