What Is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells and build up from your outer layer of skin – the epidermis. 

You can use a chemical or physical exfoliation method (more on those soon) to remove the old cells. This prevents clogged pores and reveals the fresher, healthier skin underneath.

Exfoliation assists your skin’s natural cell turnover process. This process begins in the deepest layer of the epidermis where fresh cells are ‘born’.  These young, springy cells travel up through the other layers of the epidermis until they reach the skin’s surface.

Once they reach this point and settle here the cells that were once new and springy are dead, dry, and flaky.

Meanwhile, there’s a new batch of fresh cells making their way up from the deeper layers to the surface to replace the dead, dry cells.

Skin cell turnover is a natural process, but it slows down with age.

As a general guide, this process happens in healthy, young skin every 28 days or so. Once you get older, it begins to take a lot longer anywhere from 40 – 60 days, or even more.

This means those dry, flaky cells aren’t being replaced as quickly. This leads to skin concerns including dullness, uneven skin tone, and breakouts due to clogged pores.

The Many Benefits Of Exfoliation

Can help clear congested skin by unclogging pores

The longer dry, dead cells remain on the skin’s surface, the risk of them clogging pores and congesting skin increases. Along with oil and other debris, dead cells easily get trapped inside the pore which creates the ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. This can result in acne related skin concerns – from mild forms such as blackheads and pimples through to severe forms like acne cysts and nodules. One of the main solutions for managing congested skin by removing the dead skin cells is regular, gentle exfoliation. Exfoliation lifts away dead cells and unclogs pores to keep them clear. This minimises the chance of acne forming bacteria developing within the pore and triggering breakouts.


Can minimise the look of fine lines and wrinkles

You can’t eliminate fine lines and wrinkles with exfoliation, but you can help minimise their appearance. When you exfoliate and remove the top layer of dead skin, skin looks smoother and fine lines become less pronounced.


Helps promote a brighter, more even skin tone

A complexion in need of a good skin exfoliation session appears thick and dull in appearance, thanks to the build-up of old cells. Removing the dead cells can leave skin looking brighter and fresher instantly. Over time, skin tone becomes smoother and the appearance of hyperpigmentation may be minimised.


Allows skincare to penetrate deeper

We’re rounding off the list with one of the lesser-known benefits about exfoliation. Did you know it can actually help maximise the benefits of the ingredients in your other skincare products? Without a layer of dead cells in their way, serums, moisturisers, and masks penetrate more deeply into the skin. If a product is rich with nourishing and active ingredients it makes sense that the better it can be absorbed by your skin the better the results!

Chemical vs Physical Exfoliation Methods

There are two types of exfoliation methods – physical and chemical. They share the same goals – clearing dead skin cells, helping speed cell turnover, and leaving skin brighter and smoother – but go about it in different ways. To choose the best exfoliator for your skin type and concerns it’s important to understand how each method works.

Physical exfoliation

Physical exfoliating products are those containing small particles, like coffee, jojoba beads, or sugar granules. They require you to manually rub the product into the skin to allow the particles to do their job and buff away dead skin. Other examples of physical exfoliation include microdermabrasion treatments and any face mitt or washcloth with a textured surface that buffs away dead skin and debris. If you choose an exfoliating face wash, for example, avoid harsh ingredients like crushed fruit pits and nutshells – unless they are very finely ground. Larger particles can be super abrasive and because what is known as a ‘micro’ tear in the skin which damages the skin barrier.


Chemical exfoliation

 Other face exfoliators are classified as chemical exfoliants which are broken down into categories including AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) and fruit enzymes. Don’t let the term “acid” scare you, these ingredients can be extremely beneficial for skin. Instead of relying on a mechanical motion to remove the cells from your face, acids dissolve the “glue” that binds your dead cells, helping them loosen and slough off the skin.

Common types of acids and enzymes include:

Glycolic Acid (AHA) is an exfoliant that naturally occurs in plants including sugar cane and citrus fruits.

Lactic Acid (AHA) is a sensitive skin hero, lactic acid is the gentler, yet effective, exfoliator of the acids group.

Salicylic Acid (BHA) is more oil-soluble than AHAs. This means while it exfoliates the surface of the skin, it also gets down deeper and unclogs pores, removing the build-up of sebum and impurities.

Fruit Enzymes found in some fruits and berries break down keratin proteins attached to dead cells to reveal the fresher, brighter skin below.