Healthy Exfoliation – part 2

When we go too far – inflammation and thinning of skin
The Acid mantle – it isn’t made of leather and it doesn’t want to be removed completely. The acid mantle is a very fine, slightly acidic film on the surface of the skin acting as a barrier to bacteria, viruses and other potential contaminants that might penetrate the skin. The acid mantle is the key to true skin health and beauty. It is one place where oil and water must mix! This very fine film, with a slightly acidic pH rests on the surface of our skin, acting as a barrier to diseases and the elements. It gets compromised when the skin is washed or exposed to elements. The body works hard to keep this barrier intact, but once it is damaged, it can take up to 14 hours to restore. We need this layer in order to balance oil and moisture levels, prevent bacterial invasion and maintain a health pH. Drastic and excessive chemical exfoliation compromises the stratum corneum, which in turn leads to many skin problems: sensitivity, breakouts, dryness, and sun damage / sun sensitivity. Over-exfoliation can and will lead to a compromised acid mantle.

Sun sensitivity – a sunscreen after a chemical peel simply does not cut it anymore.
We know that overexposure to the sun’s rays can and will lead to free radical damage and skin
aging. We also know that excessive exfoliation (especially chemical exfoliation) makes our skin more sensitive to the sun’s rays – it compromises our stratum corneum and forces premature skin cells to the surface that are not fully prepared for our environment.

Results of a 1999 FDA study on the use of AHA and UV damage showed that, while AHA decreases the time required for skin to begin to burn, discontinuing use of the AHA product returned skin to normal within a week.

Logically, if we are responsible about exfoliation, meaning keeping it in moderation and supplying the skin with antioxidants, we are better prepared for sun exposure and do not need to worry about this as
much. However, I would still recommend use of a natural sunBLOCK, such as zinc or crushed minerals, just in case.

The Inflammatory Response – work with your skin – not against it
Inflammation breeds free radical damage and puts unnecessary stress on your skin. Whenever your skin is inflamed, it reacts as though it is being attacked (think “fight or flight” syndrome.) keeping our skin in a constant state of inflammation (however small the amount) tires our skin and its nutritional resources, and ages us prematurely.

Epidermal and dermal thinning – and broken capillaries
If we over-exfoliate our epidermis, we are sending an emergency message to our skin to send up extra nutrients form the dermis in order to repair damage. The dermis thins with age at a rate of 1% per year in healthy skin (more in inflamed or damaged skin). Due to its job as “protector”, the epidermis is not allowed to thin – so…when we over exfoliate, nutrients from the dermis are sent up to the epidermis, an act that starves our precious dermis of nutrition.

“The long-term result of chronic exfoliation is greater starvation which leads to more rapid dermal thinning…aka…aging skin.” – Ben Johnson, M.D.

Dermal thinning ages us faster than epidermal thinning. It can also indirectly lead to skin conditions such as “broken” capillaries and hyperpigmentation. The key is in moderation of exfoliation and supplementation of nutrients to raise the level of health of the skin by feeding the dermis, NOT starving it.

Hayflick limit – something we do not want to reach
The Hayflick limit is the number of times a cell will divide before it stops dividing. Since cells are the fundamental structure composing our bodies, it makes sense that cellular decline contributes to the aging
process. It was discovered by Leonard Hayflick in 1965, when Hayflick demonstrated that normal human cells in a cell culture divide about 52 times before entering a senescence phase (refuting the popular theory at the time that normal cells were immortal). This mechanism is believed to have evolved primarily to protect the body from creating a potentially-cancerous cell. Every time we force the skin cells to divide, we get closer to the cell’s Hayflick Limit. Normal exfoliation does not have a major negative effect on skin health as we have many, many skin cells, however, abuse of exfoliating products can lead to problems.

For information on proper exfoliation and supplementation – see part three of this series!

written by Jennifer Laz, Licensed Esthetician, bien-être spa


Ben Johnson, M.D.


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