Should you exfoliate?

The bulk of dust in your house is dead skin from the people who live in it. The skin is continually renewing itself from below and part of this process is the shedding of dead cells. This creates a lot of dusting. As always seems to be the case with the skin, looking into the details of the process. The bottom layer of the skin is the junction of the dermis with the epidermis. Cells from the dermis migrate upwards, losing their fluids and becoming more squashed as they get nearer to the surface.


When they get to the top layer, the stratum corneum, they have become flattened and dried out and are now composed mainly of protein. They are now known as corneocytes. I can remember being taught that corneocytes were lost simply by them falling off. Once they corneocytes have got to this stage of being ready to be lost, they are known as squames. The process by which they are lost is known as desquamation. It is now known that this process is controlled by enzymes. The main enzyme involved is one of my favourites. It is called stratum corneum chymotryptic enzyme, or SCCE for short. The corneocytes are held together by tiny sttrands of protein called desomosomes. The role of SCCE is to snip these strands allowing the corneoctyes to desquame.

Enzymes have some common characteristics. They tend to work well when there is plenty of water about, and they have an optimum temperature and pH. There are a lot of biochemical processes going on in the skin, and our fried SCCE is just one of them, but nonetheless a crucial one. The rate at which skin cells are lost must be a pretty key one to keeping the skin in tip top condition.

Which brings us to exfoliation. A lot of people use scrubs to remove the top layer of their skin and reveal the younger looking skin beneath. That is the theory at any rate, and a lot of people regard this as part of their regular regime to keep their skin looking good. I have to say though, that I am beginning to wonder if this is in fact the best approach. Surely moisturising the skin and avoiding anything that is likely to interfere with the skin’s collection of enzymes should work better?

This is a scientific blog, and science is all about testing theories. I plan to find a good exfoliator and a good moisturiser and use them on either side of my face to see if we can see any difference between them. But if anyone else has any experience in this area I would love to hear from them.

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6 Responses to Should you exfoliate?

  1. sciencebase says:

    That’s a myth, surely, the idea that household dust is mostly skin cells? Most skin cells are shed when showering/bathing I’d guess

    Analysis reveals varying levels of protein, lignin, soil humics, combustion products and carpet fibres

  2. Colin says:

    I love to see a myth debunked, so I am all ears. I am not sure that the data you refer to contradicts the idea that dust is mostly composed of skin cells though. I have looked at dust from my house under a microscope and it certainly looked like it was composed of discarded corneocytes to me.

  3. Rae says:

    I feel the need to exfoliate. I guess some people are just not born with desquamation mechanism functioning well. Maybe that’s why many people are acne prone.

    I’m not a scientist though and I love reading your entries. It gives me another perspective aside from anecdotal blog entries.

    Thanks for putting up a blog.

  4. Junie says:

    I hear that Dermalogica have a Gentle cream exfoliate, this is what it says.
    Dramatically improve skin texture with this two-in-one masque/exfoliation treatment. Non-abrasive formula contains Lactic Acid and Hydroxy Acid to help detach dead skin cells, increasing cell renewal while improving texture for dramatically smooth skin. Formulated without artificial fragrances and colors.

    I am Interested in trying this, as it says non abrasive, I have been looking for other exfoliating products which are non abrasive, but have not found any.
    Do you know of any please that i can look at. ????

    I find that most exfoliaters have abrasive in them, surely these are not good for the skin, scrubbing with particles on the delicate skin, can not be good.

    What are your views on natural skin care, ???
    Many Thanks

  5. Colin says:

    @Junie I could probably get a whole post out of that question! Lactic acid and other alpha hydroxy acids work by breaking down the links between the cells at the upper level of the skin. This can make your skin look fresher, though it is possible to overdo and go beyond slightly freshened all the way through to raw and bright red. The trick is to pick the product and work out the dose that suits you. I don’t know the specific product you mention, but generally Dermalogica do pretty good formulations. I’d just say be careful and don’t use too much to begin with. Most exfoliators do have abrasives and this isn’t always a good idea. If you have particularly thin skin they can damage the skin’s barrier function. Some people love them though.

    As for natural skin care, some is okay and some I really like, but a lot of stuff sold as natural is just conventional products with a tip-in of a natural extract. The genuine authentic natural products made by people who really believe in the philosophy are usually horrible.

  6. Junie says:

    Thanks for your response
    Back to the drawing board for me, I will keep searching till i can find something gentle and non abrasive, I thought a new year, and i would change my skin care routine, but with so many products out there it is difficult.

    Thanks again for your response

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