Exfoliation 101

Exfoliation is a necessary part of skincare. Our skin needs help to renew properly. The natural renewal of the skin happens regularly but with an age it slows down and becomes less efficient.

The average renewal cycle of young healthy skin is about 28 days (the time it takes to completely renew the epidermis, the superficial layer of the skin). The older we are, the longer the skin renewal cycle takes. Skin of a woman aged 45 years is renewed in around 40-45 days and for a woman 65-70 years old it could take about 2 months.

Slowly renewed skin looks dull and “dusty”, it’s also easily damaged by ultraviolet or air pollution. Exfoliation helps to speed up the renewal process, efficiently eliminate dead cells and debris and stimulate the natural renewal process.

However, it’s very important to be reasonable. Excessive exfoliation could sensitise the skin and make it thin and irritated. Dermatologists recommend exfoliating the skin gently once in 7-10 days. If the skin is sensitive and prone to redness you should be extremely careful and use only very gentle exfoliators avoiding chemical and abrasive agents. Sometimes, exfoliation is not recommended - e.g. rosacea patients should not use this kind of product in their home care.


In the cosmetic industry 4 different kinds of exfoliators are used and many products combine different exfoliators together.


Mechanical or abrasive exfoliators, also called scrubs. They are based on abrasive ingredients helping to exfoliate the skin mechanically using a massage or brushing. Micronised nuts or nut’s shells, sand or even semi-precious stones like opals are used as abrasives. Some premium brands are offering scrubs based on precious stones like emeralds or diamonds, but to be honest, it doesn’t make a difference to the effect. Polymers and polyethylenes particles have been very popular too but the microplastic awareness is rising and now plastic-made products are out of market (at least we can hope!)


Chemical agents or acids, like Alpha Hydroxy acids destroy keratin and help to exfoliate the superficial layer of Stratum Corneum chemically. Highly concentrated products are called chemical peeling and represent chemically active concentrated acid solutions, burning the skin but in a controlled way. Less concentrated products can be used at home as a cleanser or exfoliators. The most popular ingredient of chemical peels is glycolic acid and active forms of retinol (even if it is not an acid). Chemical peels help to reduce pigmentation, control bacterial infections, or reduce wrinkles and improve elasticity of the skin. Unfortunately, it can sensitise the skin and make it more sensitive to ultraviolet and instead of lightening the pigmentation, provoke it. This kind of exfoliation is not recommended for people with sensitive, thin, or dry skin and once again - strictly not recommended in rosacea patients.


Plants enzymes destroy the keratin layers of Stratum Corneum similarly to chemical agents but with no change of skin pH. It reduces the risk of skin irritation and sensitisation but can still be irritating for those with sensitive skin because of the enzyme’s activity. Most important ingredients are papain and bromelain destroying keratin and other proteins but sometimes you could see peelings with lipase enzymes, destroying lipids. This kind of enzyme peelings are used for oily skin.


Bacterial or probiotic enzymes act similarly to plant's enzymes but more selectively and gently. This kind of exfoliator is the most universal and can be used for all types of skin including the most sensitive and even rosacea prone if needed. Probiotic enzymes destroy keratins and other peptides, helping to restore a healthy microbiome and even optimise sebum production in dry and oily skin. The most popular ingredient is Keratoline or Bacillus ferment filtrate.


  • Enzyme based exfoliation acts more efficiently in a wet and warm environment - try to use it after taking a shower in a warm bathroom.

  • Acid and retinol-based peelings should be applied on perfectly dry skin and often need to be neutralised by special alkaline products to stop penetration of acids deep in the skin. If not neutralised it could damage the skin significantly.

  • Mechanical scrubs can damage the skin with even the slightest excessive massage or excessively abrasive particles. Always be careful and be gentle.

  • Acid based exfoliators can be a good choice for oily and thick skin, but absolutely not recommended to people suffering from rosacea or sensitive skin

  • After exfoliation it’s recommended to use a sheet mask and apply your skincare. With skin thoroughly prepped it can make it easier for active ingredients to penetrate the skin.
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