In school I was taught that exfoliation is a vital step of a healthy skin care routine, as well as a vital step in a professional facial treatment. We are told that the only time we don’t exfoliate is if someone has rosacea, and even then, there are “gentle” acids for that.
The beauty industry suppresses symptoms, forces the skin to act in unnatural ways, and doesn’t think about the long-term damage being done to the skin’s natural functions… or maybe the beauty industry does know that. Maybe they want the skin to have long-term damage so that we all keep coming back, and that’s why they teach us, aestheticians included, that we need to exfoliate and use harsh chemicals and peels on this delicate organ. I mean very few of us ever really look into the scientific part of this. We’re just told to exfoliate, so we exfoliate. I did it myself for years.
- We’re taught that in order to have smooth skin, we must exfoliate.
- We’re taught that our skin is completely incapable of sloughing away its own dead skin cells, so we have to take on that job ourselves.
- We’re taught exfoliation is necessary for clearing acne and for “anti-aging”.
And for a while now, I’ve intuitively felt that this was wrong, so I stopped exfoliating my own skin. I have been one of the rare aestheticians who chose to dive deep into the biological and scientific side of the skin’s natural processes. I wanted to learn how it functions as an organ, rather than focus solely on erasing all of its external flaws through suppression.
And guess what?
All of what we have been taught about exfoliation is false information, and I am so disappointed that I was taught otherwise and that it took me all of these years to truly start understanding how the skin really functions! I apologize for telling you differently before, when I was not properly educated on this topic, but I am educated now.
The Top Layer of Dead Skin Cells
Our skin cells have a 28 day life cycle. When they are produced, they start at the bottom and begin moving their way up to the surface of the skin (what we see).
As the cells get closer to the surface, they die, and when THEY are ready, they naturally slough off the skin (aka the skin exfoliates itself). In fact, we lose about 30,000-40,000 skin cells every day, which I find mind-blowing.
The top layer of dead cells is our skin’s strongest layer of defence and is vital for our skin’s health. These cells are the most mature of all of our skin’s cells. They’ve been around the longest and have the highest amount of instinctive wisdom. They provide protection for all the cells beneath it, not just in the skin, but they provide protection for all of the cells in the entire body.
Yet within the beauty industry, and even in school as aestheticians, we are taught to dislike this layer and remove it. We’re taught that it goes against everything beauty stands for to keep this layer of dead skin cells upon us. We are led to believe that our body’s largest organ can’t function on its own, so it’s up to us to remove this layer for it.
But here’s the thing…
- Do you mistrust your heart to beat for you?
- Do you mistrust your liver to properly detoxify your body?
- Do you mistrust your kidneys to properly filter and remove waste and excess fluid?
Of course not. You know they’re always working to take care of you!
Do you see my point?
We need to fully trust every single process that our skin goes through. Our skin is the body’s largest organ. It’s one of the body’s forms of detoxification and it is one of the ways in which our body communicates with us. It knows exactly what to do to function properly, just like any other organ in the human body. It knows how to take care of us, and it works way harder to protect us than anyone can even fully comprehend. It responds to our environment and it adapts to protect us. Protecting us is its job.
So, Why Should You Stop Exfoliating Your Skin?
To Keep Your Skin Hydrated
The top layer of dead skin cells keeps moisture inside of the skin to keep it hydrated. A small, but very important part of its purpose is to prevent water from evaporating away from the body into the air.
Within the top layer of skin is our skin’s protective barrier. This waterproof layer is made up of our skin’s essential fats (lipids), which surround the dead skin cells. These lipids are made when the skin cells are alive, but as these cells move to the surface of the skin and die, these lipids come out of the cells and form around the cells, creating a strong, defensive, water-resistant protective barrier on the skin. It is this lipid barrier and dead skin cell combination that prevents water from evaporating from the skin and even from within the body.
When we remove this layer of the skin through exfoliation (and I mean any kind of exfoliation – scrubs, acids, peels, enzymes, etc.), we will be left with dehydrated skin, creating our skin to become very dependent on moisturizers and creams in order to feel “normal”. Over my career, I can tell you that about 99% of the population has dehydrated skin, and as I learn more and more about the internal side of how the skin functions, I have come to understand why.
While this top layer of dead skin cells is exposed to air and these cells do not actually hold water themselves, they do contain Natural Moisturizing Factors, which is the skin’s own natural mixture of humectants. Humectants are substances that draw water to themselves from the air. These substances, produced within the skin, are what enables the skin to stay hydrated on its own, so long as we don’t disrupt this natural processes.
If you want hydrated, supple, glowing skin, it’s best that you stop exfoliating and allow your skin stay hydrated.
To Protect Us from the Sun’s Damaging Rays
This layer of dead skin cells protects our living, less mature skin cells from the sun’s damaging rays. Have you ever wondered why we’re told not to go outside in the sun after exfoliation without sunscreen on? Or if you’ve ever had a peel, any type of acid treatment or enzyme treatment, you’re told to avoid the sun entirely. That’s because you have just removed the very layer of skin that is formed to protect you from the external environment, including the sun’s damaging UV rays. Go outside without that layer of skin, and you’ll be far more susceptible to burns, sun damage, and hyperpigmentation.
To Protect Us From Environmental Elements
Our top layer of dead skin cells also contains the skin’s acid mantle. The acid mantle is created by the skin and is a mixture of our skin’s natural sebum (oil) and sweat. The acid mantle protects us from environmental elements. It’s another one of our big protectors. The acid mantle is also very delicate, and is pH level sensitive. When we exfoliate, over-cleanse or use products that are not properly pH balanced with the skin, we completely wipe away our acid mantle, which takes 12 hours to rebuild itself. We also leave our skin open to permeability from the external world, which can cause skin inflammation and sensitivity.
To Allow the Skin to Function on its Own
My point in all of this is that the top layer of dead cells that we are all taught to dislike are there for a very important reason, and when your skin is ready (your skin, not you), your skin will slough them away on its own. We need to trust our skin to take care of us. After all, how did people survive years ago before the beauty industry created all of these products? Because I can assure you that there were a whole lot less skin conditions back then.
When we take on this job for the skin by exfoliating it, we actually force the skin to quickly move into action to protect us. Because the skin desperately wants that layer back to protect us, it will start producing new skin cells at a faster rate. This faster than normal rate means that those new skin cells may not be produced in optimal health condition and very likely may not function properly. This can lead to accelerated aging, skin inflammation and poor skin texture, not to mention all of the other biological processes that occur within these layers to keep us healthy, balanced and alive.
What Can You Do Instead of Exfoliating?
After learning more about this, I completely stopped exfoliating my own skin. I researched the science and tested it on myself first. I mean, the research and science I have done shouldn’t require my own testing… but I won’t share my findings with you until I’ve tested it myself and see the visual proof to back my research up. After a year of no exfoliation whatsoever and only using my minimalist skin care routine, my skin was (and still is) healthiest it’s been since I became an aesthetician.
Because I stopped stripping my skin. I stopped trying to force it to act the way I wanted it to, and instead started supporting my very wise and intelligent organ to function on its own.
The Adjustment Phase
If you have been exfoliating your skin, allow time for your skin to adjust. It WILL, without a doubt, hold on tightly to dead skin cells for awhile. It’s used to them being sloughed away pre-maturely, meaning the skin is also used to being in survival mode, so it will be working hard to protect itself. Once you stop exfoliating, the skin will re-learn that it no longer has to be in survival mode. Your skin will begin to look dull before it looks better, but daily massage will help with this natural process.
Your skin truly wants a minimalist skin care routine. In fact, some people who never wear makeup can even get away with never doing anything to their skin.
When we overdo our skin care routine, we can cause long-term damage, skin inflammation and premature aging. I know that a minimalist skin care routine is hard to grasp when we’ve always been sold multiple products. In terms of multiple different cleansers, exfoliants, drying masks, chemicals peels and acids… these can all negatively impact the skin’s innate process. Besides, if you only need one or two face products inside your beauty cabinet, think of all that time and money you can save to enjoy life a little more.