Exfoliation and Acne |
How Exfoliating Can Help Clear Acne
Anyone interested in acne skin care will have heard the term exfoliation. What exactly is exfoliation? Why is it so
important for those with acne?
Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells. An exfoliant is a product or procedure that reduces the amount
of dead cell build-up on the skin. Whether your acne is mild or more severe, regular exfoliation will smooth
and soften the skin, brighten the complexion, and lessen breakout activity.
But before you run out and buy a scrub, take the time to learn about all the exfoliating products and
treatments available. Making the right exfoliant choice is essential to getting the results you are looking
Skin's Natural Exfoliation
The skin naturally sheds dead skin
cells through a process called desquamation. Every 28 days, on average, a new skin cell is "born" in the
stratum germinativum, the deepest layer of the epidermis. The cell travels up through the epidermis until it
reaches the uppermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum. Once the cell reaches this layer, it is
essentially dead. Ideally, new skin cells arrive at the skin's surface, pushing older cells off.
Acne and Dead Skin Cells
In those with acne, the natural
desquamation process goes awry. Acne-prone skin produces more dead skin cells than is typical, and these cells
aren't properly shed. This condition, called retention hyperkeratosis, is the reason regular exfoliation is so
important for acne prone skin types.
In normal functioning skin, excess dead skin cells are constantly being sloughed away naturally. In acne-prone
skin, dead cells remain stuck on the skin's surface and within the follicle, creating a clog (impaction). This
plug of cellular debris and excess oil forms a blackhead or, if bacteria invade, an inflamed blemish.
Because of the inability of acne-prone skin to naturally shed dead skin cells, an outside means of exfoliation
is necessary to help the process along. Regular use of an exfoliant can inhibit the formation of blackheads and
blemishes by keeping the follicles free of blockages.
There are literally hundreds of
exfoliating products and procedures available today, but all are found in one of two forms: physical or
Physical exfoliants work by manually removing dead skin cells with the help of an abrasive ingredient or
implement. Physical exfoliants may be as simple as an over-the-counter scrub, or as involved as a professional
procedure, such as microdermabrasion.
Physical exfoliants leave your skin feeling soft and smooth, but they may not be the best choice for acne-prone
skin. The friction involved in using a physical exfoliant can irritate already inflamed skin, exacerbating
redness and promoting additional breakouts. Those with acne, especially inflamed acne, should avoid physical
exfoliants altogether, unless otherwise advised by a doctor.
Examples of physical exfoliants include:
• Abrasive pads and cloths
Some of the most popular exfoliating
treatments use chemical exfoliants. Chemical exfoliants dissolve or loosen the bonds that hold dead cells on
the skin's surface by means of an acid or enzyme. Abrasive agents are not needed. Exfoliating acids and enzymes
can be incorporated into lotions, gels, masks, toners, and more.
Chemical exfoliants can be found over-the-counter at your local retail store, and many are gentle enough to be
used daily. Stronger daily and weekly treatments, as well as light chemical peels, are available at day spas
and skin spas. The estheticians working at these establishments can help you decide which treatments will be
best for your skin. For the most powerful chemical exfoliant products, ask your dermatologist. He or she can
provide you with a prescription treatment, or perform stronger chemical peels, if needed.
Most chemical exfoliants, whether over-the-counter or doctor prescribed, will dry the skin to some degree.
Incorporating an oil-free moisturizer into your daily skin care routine will help ward off excessive dryness,
peeling, and irritation.
Some common chemical exfoliants include:
• Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA)- glycolic, lactic, and tartaric acid
• Beta hydroxy acids (BHA) - salicylic acid
• Retinoids - Retin A (tretinoin), Differin (adapalene), Tazorac (tazarotene)
• Chemical peels - trichloroacetic acid (TCA), carbolic or phenol, AHA and BHA peels
Exfoliant Safety Tips
• If you need help choosing an
exfoliant, don't hesitate to ask your dermatologist for guidance. Your doctor will be able to recommend a
product or procedure that is both safe and effective for your skin.
• Unless recommended by your doctor, avoid using several exfoliating products at the same time. Doing so may
cause redness, excessive dryness, peeling, and considerable irritation.
• If you are currently using any acne medications, especially Accutane (isotretinoin), retinoids such as Retin
A (tretinoin) or Differin (adapalene), or any other topical or oral medications, talk with your doctor before
beginning any exfoliation treatment.
• If a product causes considerable irritation or discomfort, discontinue use and consult your doctor.
Angela Palmer is a skin care educator specializing in the treatment of acne and problem skin. An adult
onset acne sufferer herself, Angela has dedicated her professional life to helping others control and
conquer their acne.
Angela teaches skin care classes at numerous colleges throughout northern California, including California
State University, Stanislaus. She has developed an informational class specifically for those suffering
from acne, and is currently working on her book Healing Acne Naturally - A Holistic Guide to Acne