Exfoliation (cosmetology)

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Cross-section of all skin layers.

Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells and built-up dirt from the skin's surface. The term comes from the Latin word exfoliare (to strip off leaves).[1] This is a regular practice within the cosmetic industry, both for its outcome of promoting skin regeneration as well as providing a deep cleanse of the skin barrier. Being used in facials, this process can be achieved by mechanical or chemical means, such as microdermabrasion or chemical peels.[2] Exfoliants are advertised as treatments that enhance beauty and promote a youthful and healthy appearance.[3][4]


Exfoliation was first practiced among the ancient Egyptians.[5][6] This was also used in Asia, specifically in China, during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1944).[citation needed]

Types of exfoliation[edit]


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.

Mechanical exfoliation methods involve physically scrubbing the skin with an abrasive material.[7] These types of 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][8] A variety of 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 known as a material to exfoliate the skin of the feet.[citation needed]

Aside from microdermabrasion, derma-planing is another mechanical method that exfoliates the epidermis by removing vellus hair. This procedure is performed by an aesthetician, who gently uses a scalpel across the skin to remove the outermost layer of skin cells and hair from the face. The hair grows back at the same rate and texture as before.[9] The procedure involves the use of a 25 cm (10 in) scalpel which curves into a sharp point. In most cases, the blade must be used on clean, dry skin and covers the forehead, cheeks, chin, nose, and neck. However, derma-planing can also be performed on skin that has oil applied to it.[citation needed]


Chemical exfoliation methods, also known as chemical peeling, utilizes chemical substances in order to remove dead skin cells from the face.[10] These types of exfoliants contain alpha-hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, and citric acid), beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid), polyhydroxy acids (lactobionic acid, gluconolactone, and galactose) or enzymes (trypsin or collagenase). These chemicals weaken cell adhesion, allowing them to ease away. Out of these, only AHAs (alpha-hydroxyl acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxyl acids) are available on the market for daily use. While AHAs are applied to clear the outer layer of the skin, BHAs penetrate and clean it from within.[11] These scrubs may be applied in high concentrations by medical professionals, or provided in lower concentrations via over-the-counter products. This type of exfoliation is recommended for people treating acne.[12][13] In Continental European beauty spa treatments, wine-producing grapes are considered to have exfoliating properties and are used in the practice of vinotherapy.

Different methods of hair removal also exfoliate the skin.

  • Waxing functions as a mechanical exfoliant, plucking the hair out of the skin. While it can be performed every two to eight weeks, waxing is not carried out as frequently as many exfoliants. Thus, it does not fully substitute for an exfoliation regimen.
  • Wet shaving also has mechanical exfoliating properties. Gliding a shaving brush vigorously across the face removes dead skin cells and cleanses the skin simultaneously. After applying the lather with a brush, the use of a razor removes dead skin because the razor is dragged closely across the skin, and exfoliates more effectively than an electric razor.


According to dermatologists, chemical or manual exfoliation is not medically necessary, as dead skin cells already exfoliate naturally,[13] and excessive artificial exfoliation can break the skin's barrier against microorganisms and lead to infection,[13] as well as tightness and sensitivity in the skin.[13] Artificial exfoliation can exacerbate dry, flaky skin, which needs moisturization for repair,[13] and can result in some initial redness to the skin. Near the end of chemical peels, the skin frosts, with colors varying from a bright white to grey on the skin surface.[6]

Exfoliation is a common term used in skincare and is often referred to as exfoliants, which are ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and enzymes that remove dead skin cells and reveal new, healthy skin. Exfoliation has become a buzzword in the beauty industry now and is often paired with the term "chemical exfoliation", which is often used in place of the more commonly used "microdermabrasion".

Marine environmental impact of microbeads[edit]

Microbead particles used in mechanical exfoliation are too small (less than 1 mm) to be caught by sewage works, so large amounts of microbeads are released into the environment, which damage marine ecosystems.[14] Consequently, in June 2014, Illinois became the first American state to ban the use of microbeads, and cosmetics manufacturers such as L'Oreal, Johnson & Johnson, and Colgate agreed to use more natural ingredients.[14]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ "Exfoliation". 31 March 2008.
  6. ^ a b "Medscape: Medscape Access". Emedicine.com. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  7. ^ Anitra Brown. "What Is Exfoliation?". About. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  8. ^ Cathy Wong, ND. "How to Use a Dry Brush for Skin". About. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  9. ^ "Tega Brain".
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "AHA vs. BHA: Choosing an Exfoliant, Acid Types, Products". Healthline. 15 March 2018. Retrieved 26 June 2021.
  12. ^ "Beauty & Skin: Facial Skin Exfoliation". Wdxcyber.com. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Exfoliating isn't necessary. But if you do it, follow the tips from these dermatologists". The Washington Post. 11 April 2021.
  14. ^ a b Hitchings, Lauren (23 June 2014). "Why Illinois has banned exfoliating face washes". New Scientist. Retrieved 24 June 2014.