Facial Exfoliation: Too Much of a Good Thing?

05 /09/ 2014 by under: ,

Spring is in the air, a season for new beginnings! In the world of beauty and cosmetics, one tried-and-true way for a fresh new start is exfoliation. Regularly removing dead layers of facial skin gives your concealing products and makeup a smooth “canvas” to work on. Plus, younger, fresher skin is hiding just below that dull-looking layer on top. (Have you noticed that sloughing off the old skin cells gives your face a healthy glow like nothing else?) Think of it as spring cleaning for your face.

Still, I’ve always wondered: If a little exfoliation is a good thing, is more even better?

Recently I came across an article that discussed whether it’s possible to over-exfoliate the skin—to slough off the outer later of cells so often that the skin cells no longer reproduce. That’s a pretty scary prospect. Before tossing out your facial scrubs, though, keep reading, gals!

Many dermatologists recommend that you gently exfoliate no more than once or twice a week. Why? The top “horny” layer of your skin does have useful functions. One of them is protecting the fresh skin below from harmful UV rays. In addition, rough and frequent exfoliation can damage the newer skin cells. Sometimes it takes awhile to find the right exfoliating products (and frequency of use) that will be best for your own skin.

Popular options include facial scrubs with salt or sugar granules, or hydroxy acids, which chemically slough off the old skin. More extensive treatments include dermabrasion and chemical peels, done in a dermatologist’s office. Most of the time, trial and error helps us to find what’s best for our unique skin type.

But—what about over-exfoliating? If we exfoliate too often, can we run out of new skin cells? The article I read explained that cells do only replicate themselves a limited number of times. (Normally, the differentiated cells in the human body can only divide about 50 times.) Does that mean that the more we exfoliate, the faster we’ll use up our skin cells?

Thank goodness, it doesn’t! And here’s why: Something called “The Hayflick Principle” determines the life span of only a certain kind of cells– “differentiated” (specialized) cells. Each time a differentiated cell replicates, it loses a tiny piece of its DNA chain. Eventually, the chain gets so short that the cell can no longer reproduce.

Of course, this would be a very bad thing, if we were sloughing off differentiated cells that could never be replaced.

Fortunately, your skin consists of two types of cells. The deepest layer of the skin is able to produce a second type of cell, a “stem” cell, which can produce more differentiated cells and more stem cells. Every 35 days, you’ll have a beautiful “new” layer of skin. (This explains why you can never “wear out” your fingerprints!) We never need to worry about running out of skin cells.

What are your favorite exfoliating products and routines? We’d love to hear what’s been working for you. I’m curious about experiences you’ve had with various exfoliating products, and I know others will be, too. What are your favorites? If you’ve enjoyed this blog post, please share it with others and send us comments. We’d love to hear from you.

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