What Is Exfoliation & Is It A Necessary Measure For Long-Term Skin Health?








Reference Lab

AUG 14, 2022


Adequately caring for your skin requires more than washing your face or using a daily peptide moisturizer. Maintaining optimal skin health also includes proper sun protection, consuming the right nutrients through a nutritious diet, and for many, regular exfoliation. Exfoliating your skin removes dead skin cells, uncovers newer skin cells, and improves how well products penetrate the skin.

What does it mean to exfoliate your skin?

Skin continually renews itself, but sometimes it needs a little help. That’s where exfoliation comes in. The epidermis consists of layer after layer of skin cells. Every 28 days, skin obtains a new outer layer of cells, with the topmost layer sloughing off and the other layers below rising to replace the cell above them. This progression of cells moving toward the surface means that the upper layers consist of older cells, while the lower layers consist of newer ones. Although the cells at the surface eventually fall off naturally, physical exfoliation helps speed up the process – uncovering fresher and healthier skin.1

Does the skin constantly renew itself?

The uppermost layer is called the stratum corneum, which is the visible outer layer of skin. More rigid than most cells, the skin cells that form the stratum corneum are high in keratin. Keratin is a hard protein that gives skin cells their strength and structure. Within the stratum corneum are even more layers, each getting successively harder, flatter, and dryer with more keratin content as they reach the surface. Lower layers are closer to a nutrient-rich blood supply, therefore remaining alive and softer. The closer to the surface skin cells accumulate, the fewer nutrients they receive and the more rigid they become.

At the very top layer of the stratum corneum, called the stratum lucidum, lay all the skin cells that have flattened and died. These cells eventually slough away naturally to reveal the younger cells underneath. Sometimes, however, the body needs help removing these skin cells, as they can stick to the surface tightly. This is where exfoliation comes in handy.1
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What is exfoliation?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), exfoliation removes the dead skin cells from the outer layer of skin before they naturally fall off. Although there are benefits to exfoliation, it’s a delicate balance. Exfoliation can harm the skin if performed too aggressively or too often. You need enough dead skin cells to protect the more fragile skin cells below, but an excess of dead cells turns skin dull and clogs pores.2

Is exfoliation actually good for your skin?

Regular exfoliation can improve the health and appearance of your skin, allowing newer skin cells space to thrive and making the appearance of skin brighter and smoother. Removing stagnant and dead skin cells:
  • Allows newer cells to come to the surface.
  • Improve the delivery and penetration of your skin care products.
  • Boosts collagen production
A layer of tough dead skin cells that is too thick may prevent creams, oils, and peptide body lotions from penetrating past the first few layers of the skin, making a skin care regimen less effective. Removing enough of the skin’s top layer for skin care ingredients to penetrate yields the best results.2

Regularly exfoliating your skin has also been shown to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. A 2016 review found that exfoliation can improve skin tone and texture by encouraging cellular turnover, as visible sink layers remain smooth and hydrated.3

What are the different types of exfoliation?

There are two primary ways to exfoliate your skin:
  1. Mechanical exfoliation
  2. Chemical exfoliation


Mechanical Exfoliation

Whether using a washcloth, brush, or pumice stone, the friction caused by mechanical exfoliation physically removes skin cells from the body.

Also known as physical exfoliation, mechanical exfoliation is typically done on wet skin (in the shower or bath), though not all mechanical exfoliation should be done on damp or wet skin.3 One way to get rid of dead skin cells on dry skin is through dry brushing - a mechanical exfoliation technique that has gained recent popularity. Dry brushing requires a soft brush that’s run repeatedly over dry skin to slough dead cells off.

Be sure to take extra caution when utilizing mechanical exfoliation techniques and devices, as there’s always the risk of skin damage. Because mechanical exfoliation relies on friction to remove skin cells, it can easily lead to tissue injury if performed incorrectly or too often.3


Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliation uses chemicals rather than friction to remove the upper layers of skin. A chemical exfoliant is meant to dissolve dead skin cells rather than sloughing them away, significantly reducing the potential of abrasion injuries. A few examples of common acids used for chemical exfoliation are:
  • Glycolic acid
  • Lactic Acidosis
  • Malic acid
  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)
  • Salicylic acid
  • Beta-hydroxy hydroxy acid
The goal of chemical exfoliation or chemical peels is to leave newer skin cells below undisturbed.3

How do you safely exfoliate your skin?

When introducing exfoliation into your skin care regimen, it’s best to start off slow and gentle, allowing your skin an adjustment period and ensuring no harm is done.4

Below are a few examples of tools and techniques you can use to safely exfoliate your skin.


Mechanical Exfoliation Methods

  • Exfoliation sponge: Less abrasive than other methods, an exfoliation sponge can be used in the shower or bath while cleansing the skin.
  • Exfoliating brush: An exfoliation brush’s bristles slough away dead skin cells on dry or wet skin.3
  • Exfoliating scrub: Scrubs often come in the form of cleansers with small, gritty particles that remove dead skin cells through abrasion. Although effective, scrubs have a higher risk of irritating or injuring the skin, especially if used too frequently.3


Chemical Exfoliation Methods

  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs): AHAs work by dissolving the bonds that hold dead skin cells onto other skin cells, allowing dead skin cells to fall away without harming healthy cells.3
  • Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs): Beta hydroxy and salicylic acid are the two most common examples of BHAs. These acids are ideal for blemish-prone or sensitive skin.3
Determining the right kind of chemical exfoliator for your skin type is just one step. The other step is determining how often you should exfoliate your skin to avoid harming sensitive skin, while also clearing an adequate amount of dead skin cells.

How often should you exfoliate your skin?

Skin sheds approximately 500 million cells per day from your body and face.4 Without assistance from exfoliation, those dead cells can build up quickly. Exfoliating 2-3 times a week is sufficient for most people to keep skin looking fresh without causing undue harm. People with sensitive or dry skin may start once a week and slowly work up to a frequency that their skin tolerates. It’s always best to err on the side of caution when exfoliating by starting slow and gentle.

What happens if you exfoliate too often?

Ironically, some signs of excessive exfoliation are the same as dead skin buildup.
  • Dry skin
  • Oily skin
  • Peeling
  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Rashes
  • Increased sensitivity
Initially, if you ever over-exfoliate the skin, it might appear overly tight and wax-like. This faux glow you see is caused by revealing skin cells that are too new and not equipped to handle external exposures. Eventually, those skin cells die, and your skin will become dry and sensitive.5

Is exfoliation necessary for all skin types?

Most skin types can benefit from skin exfoliation. However, some skin types may require less frequent exfoliation than others. People with very sensitive skin, with medical issues that impact their skin health, or who have acne-prone skin should consult their dermatologist before incorporating exfoliation into their skin care regimen.5

Exfoliation and OS-01: A Powerful Combo

Once the skin is exfoliated, it’s important to expose the new skin cells to ingredients that promote skin health and build a strong skin barrier. One such ingredient is OneSkin’s OS-01 peptide. The OS-01 peptide has been scientifically proven to improve skin health by:
  • Increasing skin’s epidermal thickness.
  • Aiding in cellular repair.
  • Boosting skin barrier function.
Furthermore, the OS-01 peptide enhances hyaluronic acid and collagen production, improving the skin’s firmness and hydration.

The OS-01 peptide is the primary active ingredient in OneSkin’s OS-01 Topical Supplements. Incorporating exfoliating techniques along with OneSkin’s Topical Supplements can improve the delivery of the 0S-01 peptide deeper into the skin, enhancing its effects. With exfoliation, you can boost your skin’s long-term health by making sure your topical skin care products meet their target!

The Takeaway

  • Exfoliation can boost skin health for most people, if done correctly.
  • You can exfoliate through mechanical or chemical exfoliation, though mechanical exfoliation has a higher risk of damaging skin.
  • Exfoliating excessively can injure skin cells and cause more harm than good—practice moderation.
  • If you’re unsure, start by using a cleanser vs an exfoliator.
  • Incorporating exfoliation into your skincare routine allows skin care ingredients, like OneSkin’s OS-01 peptide, to penetrate into deeper skin layers, thus ensuring an effective skin care regimen.
Sources:
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470464/
  2. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/routine/safely-exfoliate-at-home
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5172479/
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320435
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4720453/

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

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