Our skin has two parts, the epidermis which protects us from the environment, and the dermis which builds the structure of our skin. Our dermis thins at a rate of about 1% a year from the age of 25. In order to protect this thinning dermis, the epidermis naturally thickens. We must maintain the density of the epidermis, because a loss of epidermal integrity will eventually lead to extreme trans-epidermal water loss, dehydration, wrinkles, impaired immune system, and even death (through infection, fluid loss, etc).
The dermis is where all the nutrients of the skin go, and it has to decide what goes where. And even while the dermis itself is thinning, it still sends those scarce supplies up to the epidermis to keep it nourished, because the epidermis does not have its own blood supply or source of nourishment.
The dermis thins because it is overwhelmed with free radicals, oxidative stress, and inflammation, all resulting from sun, diet, lifestyle, and stress.
For decades we have overlooked the dermis as a target for skin care, choosing instead to focus more on the reduced rate of epidermal turnover, which slows from 30 days to longer as we get older. The question you should ask is why does the epidermis slow down? The answer is simple - it cannot thin. And with its own food supply from the dermis becoming more and more scarce, the only logical thing to do is to slow down.
Where the beauty industry went wrong is that it thought the slowing epidermis just needed help to go faster, that somehow it did not know what it was doing and was in need of outside intervention.
There is no question that exfoliating the epidermis does speed turnover but this is not in the best interest of the skin, because the skin is rushing to fix the epidermal damage, to the detriment of the dermis. When the dermis is forced to fix the damaged epidermis, it must now divert nutrients and repair activity that it would have used to maintain itself. This leads us to the possible conclusion that chronic exfoliation accelerates aging.
When we look at the research on what chronic exfoliation does, the mild, but temporary, improvements that result seem meaningless in the face of the long term damage that results:
- the skin has less melanin to protect against UVR
- there is a significant increase in the amount of free radical damage to the skin cells and their DNA
- there has more damage to repair from the exfoliation treatment, whether chemical peels, microdermabrasion, or dermaplaning
- there is loss of hydration from the loss of protective lipids
- all the omega 3’s taken to build the epidermal cells were for naught
We are better off not second-guessing the skin's decision to slow down; instead we should work with it to restore its normal activities. There is no logical reason why adding inflammation via exfoliation could make our skin younger or healthier. Even when we look at research on the body's ability to repair itself, it almost universally has shown us that it never recovers 100% (and it certainly does not recover 110%) when damaged.
The theory of daily exfoliation has been implemented for the last 30 years. There is no evidence that it has benefited the skin and there is a tremendous amount of evidence that it leads to more damage. It is time we try a new approach to restoring the skin's health and repair activities to the full potential.
This new approach is called CORNEOTHERAPY - the concept of preserving the epidermis and its functions.
Cassandra is a Master Esthetician and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in the state of Washington. She has 20 years of experience in the beauty industry including electrolysis, laser hair removal, skincare, nutrition, and teaching. She is a member of the International Association for Applied Corneotherapy, the Association for Holistic Skin Care Practitioners, and the National Aesthetic Spa Network.