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  • Mechanical vs. Chemical Exfoliation

    Holly SherrardExoliation is an ancient tradition dating back to Cleopatra’s milk baths and Greeks using an ivory blade to scrape skin cells off their bodies. In the early 1920’s, the leather tanning industry figured out that phenol peels don’t only remove the hairs from hides, but they also smooth the leather. Times have certainly changed with the early 1970’s discovery of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and today with multiple options when searching for a soft, wrinkle-free, smooth skin.

    Have you ever noticed that when you go to the beach and walk around in the sand, the callouses soften on your feet? Sand is a type of physical exfoliation, granules which are sloughing off dead skin cells from the body. Mechanical exfoliants are any abrasive material or substance that physically removes cells from the skin. Corn cob meal, silica, date, fig and olive seeds are all types of mechanical exfoliation as well as facecloths, loofahs and dry body brushes. When using these, be mindful to use a gentle touch to avoid leaving micro-scratches on the skin or causing any inflammation.

    On the other side of the exfoliation coin, we have chemical exfoliants which dissolve keratin protein or break apart the bonds (desmosomes) between the skin cells. AHAs are the most common of chemical exfoliants and are naturally occurring acids derived from plant sugars. These ingredients, in particular Lactic Acid, have the ability to stimulate hydration in the skin by increasing the glycosaminoglycans which bind water within the epidermis. Ceramide levels increase, which improves the barrier function of the skin, and collagen production increases. We see a decrease in fine lines, hyperpigmentation and hyperkeratosis.

    Enzymes are biological catalysts which enable chemical reactions in the skin. Papain (Papaya), Bromelain (Pineapple) and Bacillus Ferment all eat away at dead skin cells, revealing a healthier epidermis underneath. (Keep this in mind the next time you have irritated gums after eating pineapple…you have just exfoliated your mouth!).

    When choosing an exfoliant, ensure a proper skin analysis has been performed. Look for a combination of ingredients that work on multiple levels, such as Silica to remove dead surface cells with a synergy of Lactic Acid, Salicylic Acid and Prickly Pear – all excellent ingredients to regenerate the skin cells, brighten the skin and leave a smooth finish!