Choosing an Exfoliating Serum

Exfoliating in an important part of a skin care regimen.  An exfoliating serum is a convenient way to get smoother skin, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and eliminate discoloration like sun damage and melasma.  These serums use a variety of ingredients to achieve an exfoliating effect.  Some formulations are quite powerful and can cause irritation in new users.

Skin exfoliation is a natural process where the skin sheds dead cells as they are replaced.  These dead cells often don’t slough off properly, especially as we age, and can form a problematic layer that adheres to live skin.  This layer give skin a dull texture, makes it dry, and prevents your skin care products from absorbing properly, making them less effective.  To remove this layer, many people want to learn how to exfoliate properly.  You can use mechanical exfoliation, which removes dead skin with an abrasive material, like a facial scrub.  You can also use chemical exfoliation, which uses an acid to dissolve dead skin, and in higher concentrations, live skin that has been damaged by exposure or time with wrinkles and discoloration.  This exposes fresh skin below that is in better condition.

An exfoliating serum is a typically a form of chemical exfoliation.  They use alpha hydroxy acid like lactic or glycolic acid, often combined with other ingredients.  The intensity and effectiveness of these products vary.  Some exfoliating serums are mild and only use between 5% and 10% alpha hydroxy acids.  They are great to remove dead skin and protect against acne by helping to unclog pores.  They can reduce some hyperpigmentation and fine lines, but aren’t strong enough to make a big difference for wrinkles and dark spots.  A strong exfoliating glycolic or lactic acid serum will have a concentration between 10% and 20%.  These serums are often the most effective because the high concentrations can produce a peeling effect.  Heavy exfoliation like peeling has drawbacks, however.  Your skin needs time to adjust to a strong lactic or glycolic acid serum.  You should start off using a product that contains 10% or less of alpha hydroxy acids.  Once your skin tolerates use of that level well, you can try a stronger product.  Mild formulations can be used daily, but over exfoliation can occur from daily use of stronger products.  Alpha hydroxy acid product cause your skin to become sensitive to sunlight.  It will burn and discolor easier for a week or two after each application, so you’ll need to use sun block daily.  It takes a while to see drastic improvement from heavy chemical exfoliation.  You’ll get best results when you combine exfoliation with skin care products that contain antioxidants and botanical ingredients to help the new skin.

If you are looking for an exfoliating serum for aging skin, consider a retinol serum.  Retinol and other retinoids have an exfoliating effect.  They enhance collagen and sometimes elastin production and increase cellular turnover.  The exfoliating effect is gradual, though skin flaking is common in the beginning.  Your skin needs time to adjust to the highest strength retinol products.  Most products come in strengths of .15%, .5%, and 1% retinol.  Start with mild formulations in the beginning and gradually work your way up.  You should use retinoid products in the evening, because sun exposure can make them ineffective.  Retinol serums often contain alpha hydroxy acids, so check your product label for sun sensitivity warnings.

If you are looking for a gentle, every day exfoliating serum with little chance of side effects and change in sun sensitivity, try an enzyme serum.  Enzymes break up dead skin cells very effectively.  They are usually from fruit or other plant extracts, so you also get the benefit of phytonutrients and antioxidants.  These serums will sometimes contain other ingredients like retinoids or hydroxy acids, but are usually very mild yet effective.  They are a great choice for people looking to prevent aging, but typically won’t do much for wrinkles and fine lines.  Many of them do have skin brightening properties, so they can help improve hyperpigmentation like freckles or age spots.

An exfoliating serum is great for people who are prone to developing broken capillaries or have sensitive skin.  These skin types do not tolerate friction well and can be irritated by facial scrubs or other forms of mechanical exfoliation.  Sensitive skin can usually tolerate low levels of alpha hydroxy acids and does very well with enzyme serums.

You’ll notice smoother skin after the first few applications from an exfoliating serum, but other results take more time.  You should typically use a product for 8 to 12 weeks before deciding if it works or not, especially if you are trying to get rid of wrinkles or age spots.  Many of these serums work well with other effective anti aging products.  You can use a gentle enzyme exfoliating serum daily and a the best anti aging serum in the evening, or sporadically as a facial treatment.  A face serum will often forgo moisturizing properties to make room for higher concentrations of active ingredients, so you may need a separate facial cream or lotion to hydrate your skin.

Exfoliating is a huge part of every skin care routine and benefits all skin types.  There is wide variety of products and techniques you can use, some being mild and others quite intense.  Heavy exfoliation needs to be combined with moisturizing and rejuvenating to avoid irritation.  Choose an exfoliating serum that fits your goals and lifestyle.