Health & Beauty

Exfoliation Masterclass

February 27, 2020

We recently attended an exfoliation masterclass at Vancouver’s Collective Skin Care, where skin maven Kathryn Sawers answered all our burning questions and gave new insight into sloughing our skin. —Noa Nichol

collective skin care

Hi Kathryn! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.

I’ve been a certified aesthetician since 2001 when I graduated with an honours CIDESCO diploma. I started Collective Skin Care six years ago after managing a medispa for several years. My practice was born out of the desire to focus on traditional skin treatments—kind of a back-to-basics approach, but elevated through customization with each and every treatment. I’m passionate about helping people see results for their skin as well as providing them with the opportunity to escape their daily stresses.

So, what is exfoliation, and why is it a necessary skin-care step?

Exfoliation is a process by which excess dead skin cells are removed either through a physical medium (scrub) or a chemical means (enzymes and hydroxy acids) from the outermost layer of your skin. This becomes a necessary part of maintaining healthy skin, as the process by which our skin naturally desquamates slows down. This leads to dull, dry, flaky skin, enlarged pores; people may notice more blackheads forming as well as milia (white, pearl-like bumps). Regular exfoliation is also a great way to slough away precancerous cells. I like to use the analogy that exfoliation keeps the "engine" of your skin renewal process running smoothly.

Who should exfoliate? Is there anyone who shouldn’t?

Exfoliation can start as early as your teens. Most people can exfoliate, even those who would label their skin sensitive can usually tolerate exfoliation. It’s best to match the type of exfoliant and the frequency to the individual. Exceptions would be those with the most delicate and reactive of skins, anyone who is taking accutane, sun burnt or wounded skin, and recently waxed skin. If you are using retinol at a concentration of 0.5 per cent or higher, you will need to take a break from using it for about 48 to 72 hours before exfoliating your skin.

collective skin care

What are some of the various types of or ways to exfoliate?

There are physical exfoliants that can take the form of a natural bristle dry brush to a scrub with granules such as salt, sugar, coffee grinds, or seeds. Then there are chemical exfoliants. These generally fit into two categories: enzymes and hydroxy acids. Enzymes are the gentler option of the two, essentially munching away the surface dead skin cells. There are a variety of enzyme sources, but papaya (papain) and pineapple (bromelain) are quite common in skin care. Common hydroxy acids are salicylic, glycolic and lactic acid. They work by dissolving the intercellular "glue" that binds the skin cells together. People often associate the strength of a hydroxy acid product or peel by its concentration, however the intensity is determined by the pH rather than the percentage. This is why the depth to which a hydroxy acid product or peel exfoliates can vary so widely. Some products may combine both physical and chemical exfoliants. There are many shapes and forms exfoliation can take in a skin care routine—it can a treatment on its own, or formulated into cleansers, toners, essences, serums, masks and creams.

What should we look for in an exfoliant/exfoliating product?

A general rule of thumb to follow for any part of your routine is to avoid artificial dyes, fragrance, parabens and comedogenic ingredients. If you choose a physical exfoliant, ensure that the granules are perfectly spherical to avoid microscopic tears that can cause irritation. Look for an exfoliant format that will work for your lifestyle. If you’re someone who forgets to mask weekly, you should consider an exfoliant that you can use in your daily routine which makes it easier to remember.

Your tops dos and don’ts of exfoliation?

Do consult a skin expert to find the right exfoliation routine for your skin. Don’t use multiple exfoliants in your routine unless instructed to do so by a skin expert. Do be consistent with your routine. That’s the key to seeing results.

Exfoliate morning, night … or both?

It really depends on what your skin’s needs are and the exfoliant(s) you’re using. In some instances you may be able to do both morning and night. In other instances, that may be too much. The right level of exfoliation is a delicate balance to ensure you don’t impair your skin barrier.

Your top three exfoliating tips?

Exfoliate to turn up the dial on your skin radiance for a big event, i.e., job interview, big date, birthday celebration, etc. This could mean booking a professional treatment or using a stronger exfoliant in your at-home routine—generally that would be something you wouldn’t normally use more than once a week. Next, listen to your skin. If a product you’re using has directions for daily use, but you find your skin starts to feel dry, red and irritated, it’s okay to dial it back to every other day or three times a week. Last, stick to a product for at least a month to see if it’s right for you. I find when people use things inconsistently or start adding more products into the mix, they will likely find that a) they don’t get the results they want and b) things can go haywire and it becomes challenging to know which product is causing the issue.

Your personal fave exfoliant?

This is a very difficult question for me to answer as there are so many great options! These are a few of my current favourites: For a wow factor, I absolutely love Dermalogica’s Rapid Reveal Peel. It’s the at-home answer to near professional exfoliation results. For everyday, I tend to like to have something that has multiple benefits, so I will say Caudalie’s Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Night Cream. It’s nourishing and helps to even out the skin tone, while the glycolic acid helps to renew the skin. I wake up with smooth skin and a fresh glow.


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