The skin is essentially made up of 3 stratas or layers. a) The Epidermal layer which is completely comprised of cells only, some new born, some dying and the top most layer are the dead cells that you can see, feel and touch. This top layer is called the stratum corneum and forms a barrier between your body and the rest of the world! This protective sheath is so tough that it does not allow anything to penetrate randomly (picture yourself being water logged every time you took a shower or were caught in a rainstorm!) Also, it will not allow anything, including blood, plasma and cells from being spilled out!! The lowest part of this layer is called the stratum germinativum because like a seedling, it germinates new cells.
b) The second strata or layer is called the Dermal layer and it is the part that contains a network of blood vessels, hair follicles, sebaceous (oil) glands, sweat glands, some immune cells and the most important cells from the standpoint of aging called the fibroblast cells. Why are they so important? They create collagen and elastin which are fibrous tissue that gives one that youthful, unlined and taut skin!
c) The third strata is the subcutaneous layer which is the fatty layer. This imparts that plumped up look which you will find in young people but also acts like a buffer between the skin and bones. This is the area targeted during lipo-suction.
For purposes of this article, I am going to focus on the Epidermis. When we are babies, the skin has enzymes that fine tunes a cellular cycle whereby automatically the upper layer of dead skin (stratum corneum) is exfoliated (removed) and new cells that are waiting just underneath, surface up to take their place. This cycle takes only 10-12 days. As we grow older, so let’s say at age 16, this cycle of the topical dead cells being exoliated and being replaced by new cells takes 28 days! Much older, for example, someone in their sixties and seventies will have this cycle retarded even further to 60-90 days. And, herein lies one of the sources of aging.
So what can you do to hasten the exfoliating process so you can then have new, refreshed skin cells taking the place of the old dead ones and helping you on your journey to looking younger? There are several ways you can do this, depending on your lifestyle, budget and ability to cope with down time (the time it would take for you to heal and recover). Also, remember whenever you remove a barrier, you allow your skin products to work more effectively because they penetrate better.
1) Scrubs: The easiest method would be to use a good quality scrub at home on a regular basis. All scrubs are not the same. Some have granules with rough edges that can create microscopic tears to your skin. Others have rounded granules that are more gentle on the skin. If you are using a Retin A or any acid based products in your home regimen, please be careful not to over exfoliate. Be sensible about it and perhaps follow a routine of every other night or perhaps every third night for those of you who have dry, sensitive and reactive skins.
2) Enzymes: They accelerate any chemical process. Using an enzyme after cleansing the face and letting it sit on your skin for 10-15 minutes will allow it to break down the dead proteins which are the dead cells. As an example, papaya is a meat tenderizer. If cooking meat, adds a few pieces and the papaya enzyme breaks down the protein and cooks it a lot faster. In the same fashion, when applied topically to the skin, it accelerates the breakdown of dead skin cells.
3) Acids: The subject of acids is very comprehensive so I am going to make this a short script. There are several type of acids, some more potent than other because of their ph. The lower the ph of an acid, the more potent. (review an earlier blog on ph balance). Most home care products that contain an acid such as lactic or glycolic are in the range of 4.8 to 5.5. Anything over this will not perform adequate exfoliation and any acid with a ph of 4.5 and under, then becomes a professional product, wherein aestheticians are trained on their usage. Sometimes unethical companies with an online presence have sold acids with a very low ph to a consumer and severe complications (to the point of burning and scarring) have occurred. Please let a professional handle a deeper and stronger peel. It’s not meant for the lay person.
How does an acid work? It creates heat which in turn creates inflammation and this in turn sends signals to the immune system that the skin has been injured. At this point massive amounts of white immune cells are released to deal with the inflammation but also collagen, elastin and new cells are created as a result of this ‘measured trauma.’ This is why lines and wrinkles appear diminished and hyperpigmentation conditions improved or resolved. Acne conditions will see satisfying results as well but subject to the condition not being hormonally related. People with PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome) have a hard time clearing their skin inspite of chemical peels and other modalities.
4) Microdermabrasion: Many years ago when microdermabrasion was introduced into North America via Europe, there were several versions of it eg. the crystal (aluminium oxide crystals) which exfoliated the skin but because aluminium is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, the fact that the practitioners and clients were both inhaling it, was considered somewhat of a hazard. Then came the salt crystals, which, in my opinion, was a waste of time and money because it did not have any significant impact on the skin. Later on we were introduced to the diamond, sapphire and hydra dermabrasion machines. They are all effective so long as they are done properly.
5) Dermaplaning: This term was coined by a company called Bio-Med over two decades ago. It basically comprises of using a blade (a tool used by plastic surgeons) for superficially scraping away dead skin cells. Clients love this procedure because it simultaneously removes facial hair as well!
6) Microneedling: It comprises of a device that hold 11-15 titanium needles and creates micro punctures in the skin, creating exfoliation but also boosting collagen and elastin production. This form of exfoliation and/or needle resurfacing has a downtime of 3-4 days and is a great tool for acne scars, smokers’ lines and basically an all round effective procedure.
7) Laser Resurfacing: There are ablative and non-ablative lasers. Ablative lasers such as the CO2 or Erbium are invasive and it can take anywhere between 4 weeks to 6 months to heal completely. The potential for complications is high too because these lasers vaporize the topical skin totally, rendering it raw and that can lead to infections, oozing and scarring! However, if all goes well, one sees absolutely dramatic results that may last up to 5 years. It is meant for someone with visible signs of aging but wherein surgery will not address the issue. Non-ablative lasers such as Cool Touch and Fraxel are not invasive and heat up targeted issue without destroying the tissue. Hence, there is barely any down time or complications but it does require mutliple sessions to see significant results.
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