Exfoliation (cosmetology)

Exfoliation involves the removal of the oldest dead skin cells from the skin's surface. The word comes from the Latin word "exfoliare" (to strip off leaves).[1] Exfoliation is involved in all facials, during microdermabrasion, or chemical peels. Exfoliation can be achieved by mechanical or chemical means.[2] In popular media, exfoliants are advertised as treatments that promote beauty, youthful appearance, or health.[3][4]

Cross-section of all skin layers.


The first practice of exfoliation is credited to the ancient Egyptians[5].[6] Exfoliation has also been used in Asia, specifically in China, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1944).[7][8] In the Middle Ages, wine was used as a chemical exfoliant, with tartaric acid as the active agent.[6]

Types of exfoliationEdit


Exfoliation methods used in Canada, 2011. Shown: top right, a bath sponge made of plastic mesh; lower right, a brush with a pumice stone on one side and a natural bristle brush on the other side, for foot exfoliation; lower left, a mud mask package for facial exfoliation; top left, a jar of perfumed body scrub to be used while bathing.

This process involves physically scrubbing the skin with an abrasive material.[9] Mechanical exfoliants include microfiber cloths, adhesive exfoliation sheets, micro-bead facial scrubs, crêpe paper, crushed apricot kernel or almond shells, sugar or salt crystals, pumice, and abrasive materials such as sponges, loofahs, brushes, and fingernails.[3][10] Facial scrubs are available in over-the-counter products for application by the user. People with dry skin should avoid exfoliants, which have a significant portion of pumice, or crushed volcanic rock. Pumice is considered a material to exfoliate the skin of the feet.

Along with microdermabrasion, derma-planning is a mechanical method, which is a medical procedure that exfoliates the skin (or epidermis) by removing dead skin and vellus hair. The procedure is performed by an aesthetician, who will gently glide a scalpel across the skin, removing the outermost layer of skin cells and hair from the face. As a by-product, it also shaves off the vellus hair, but the hair will grow back at the same rate and texture as before[11]. The procedure involves the use of a 25-centimetre (10 in) scalpel which curves into a sharp point. In most cases, the blade is used on clean dry skin on the forehead, cheeks, chin, nose, and neck. Derma-planning can also be performed on skin that has had oil applied to it.


Chemical exfoliation, also known as chemical peeling, aims to remove dead skin cells from the face using chemical substances and exfoliants resulting in the improvement of the skin.[12] Chemical exfoliants include scrubs containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid, fruit enzymes, citric acid, or malic acid which may be applied in high concentrations by a medical professional, or in lower concentrations in over-the-counter products. Chemical exfoliation may involve the use of products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs, like glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, and citric acid), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs, typically salicylic acid), polyhydroxy acids (PHAs, like lactobionic acid, gluconolactone, and galactose) or enzymes that act to loosen the glue-like substance that holds the cells together, allowing them to ease away. This type of exfoliation is recommended for people treating acne.[13][14] In Continental European beauty spa treatment, the wine-producing grapes are claimed to have exfoliating properties and are used in the practice of vinotherapy. Out of these, only AHAs and BHAs are available freely in the market for daily use. While AHAs are applied to clear the outer layer of the skin, BHAs penetrate and clean it from within.[15]

Some methods of hair removal also exfoliate the skin.

  • Waxing is a mechanical process to pluck the hair, but it also functions as a mechanical exfoliant. It can be done every two to eight weeks. It is not carried out as frequently as many exfoliants. So, it does not fully substitute for an exfoliation regimen but may substitute for a normal session in a regimen.
  • Nair is an example of a chemical hair removal product that also functions as a chemical exfoliant. It is applied more frequently than waxing (once a week rather than once a month) since it only partially destroys the hair below the skin, rather than destroying the entire root as with waxing. Using it weekly can substitute for a weekly exfoliant regime. It is a very aggressive chemical and cannot be used on the face, so other exfoliants would need to be used on the face.
  • Wet shaving also has exfoliating properties: first, the action of moving a shaving brush vigorously across the face washes the face and removes dead skin at the same time. After applying the lather with a brush, the use of a double-edged safety razor or straight razor removes dead skin simply because the razor is dragged much more closely across the skin, and removes dead skin more effectively than a cartridge or electric razor.


According to dermatologists, chemical or manual exfoliation is not medically necessary, as dead skin cells already exfoliate naturally.[14] Excessive artificial exfoliation can break the skin's barrier against microorganisms, and lead to infection.[14] The process can also lead to tightness and sensitivity.[14] Artificial exfoliation can exacerbate dry, flaky skin, which needs moisturizing for repair.[14] This can lead to some initial redness to the skin; near the end of chemical peels, the skin will frost, with colors varying from a bright white to grey on the skin surface.[6]

Another disadvantage of exfoliation is the high prices of some of the products and methods used to achieve it.

Marine environmental impact of microbeadsEdit

Microbead particles used in mechanical exfoliation are too small (less than 1mm) to be caught by sewage works, so large amounts of microbeads are released into the environment, which damages marine ecosystems.[16] Consequently, in June 2014 the US state of Illinois became the first to ban the use of microbeads, and cosmetics manufacturers such as L'Oreal, Johnson & Johnson, and Colgate agreed to use more natural ingredients.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Exfoliation - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  2. ^ "New Skin - Via Exfoliation". Reuters. Archived from the original on 6 March 2008. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  3. ^ a b Alex Muniz. "Exfoliation - AskMen". AskMen. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  4. ^ "Natural Exfoliants for Your Body, Face, Lips: Which Ones Work Best?". Healthline. 29 October 2019. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  5. ^ https://hbmag.com/exfoliation/
  6. ^ a b c "Medscape: Medscape Access". Emedicine.com. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  7. ^ Positano, Rock (18 September 2007). "Getting Under Your Skin". New York Post. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  8. ^ "Culture Insider: Skincare in ancient China[1]- Chinadaily.com.cn". www.chinadaily.com.cn. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  9. ^ Anitra Brown. "What Is Exfoliation?". About. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  10. ^ Cathy Wong, ND. "How to Use a Dry Brush for Skin". About. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  11. ^ https://livingcitiesforum.org/tega-brain
  12. ^ Soleymani, Teo; Lanoue, Julien; Rahman, Zakia (August 2018). "A Practical Approach to Chemical Peels". The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 11 (8): 21–28. ISSN 1941-2789. PMC 6122508. PMID 30214663.
  13. ^ "Beauty & Skin: Facial Skin Exfoliation". Wdxcyber.com. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Exfoliating isn't necessary. But if you do it, follow the tips from these dermatologists". 11 April 2021.
  15. ^ "AHA vs. BHA: Choosing an Exfoliant, Acid Types, Products". Healthline. 15 March 2018. Retrieved 26 June 2021.
  16. ^ a b Hitchings, Lauren (23 June 2014). "Why Illinois has banned exfoliating face washes". New Scientist. Retrieved 24 June 2014.