Exfoliation Myths - Busted
Fact or Fiction? The top layer of skin is dead and needs to be exfoliated by whatever means necessary…
Think again! The bottom layer of the epidermis (AKA basal cell layer) contains basal cells that divide and push older cells toward the surface of the skin. As the cells migrate upwards, they flatten out and become the outermost layer of the skin, which is the first line of skin defense and the barrier system.
It's a common mantra that this top layer needs to be stripped off to reveal new, healthy skin underneath. People scrub it with salt (eek!), they scrub it with sugar (oh my!), they scrub it with baking soda (oh NO!), thinking that once it is gone, the healthy cells will emerge and cellular turnover would be improved.
The myth that these cells are dead and have no function still persists. New research has found that the corneocytes (skin cells in the epidermis) have an advanced signaling system that reaches the basal cells. The analogy is that the corneocytes are like the grandmother of the younger generation of cells (the basal cells). If you scrub your skin with harsh scrubs, these cells on the top send messages to the cells on the bottom that sound something like:
“This person is crazy - she keeps scrubbing and abusing me. Don't bother coming up here to take over for me. I am going to hang on as long as I can to protect you!” The result is less cellular turnover and thickened skin (the exact opposite of what you want).
The top layer of skin needs to be treated with respect. So what is the best way to exfoliate? There are two options: Mechanical and Chemical.
Mechanical exfoliation should only be done with clay. The reason for this is that the clay molecules are rounded, and they absorb the dead cells onto their surface (like a snow ball picking up more snow when rolled around). It's gentler than most mechanical exfoliants with jagged edges (like sugar and salt).
Chemical exfoliation is a far more persuasive and effective solution. Mildly exfoliating with fruit acids gently dissolves the bonds holding the cells together and gets rid of damaged and unhealthy cells.
The cells in the top layer of skin are not dead, and they do have an intimate signaling system to the deeper basal cells which affects how the basal cells behave. Mechanical exfoliation with clay is one option for a gentle exfoliation of cells that are ready to be removed. For a slightly deeper exfoliation, look to a light chemical exfoliant that removes the cells that are ready, as well as damaged and abnormal cells, with the added benefit of cellular renewal.