The skin is the largest organ in our body and performs a number of basic functions: protective, defensive, sensory, excretory and reproductive.

Skin cells renew themselves according to a well-defined life cycle that can last about 28 days and ensures new, glowing, smooth, but most importantly, protected skin.

This life cycle called “cell turnover” can slow down over time, which is why it is important to care for our skin properly and consistently. And among the main treatments is certainly that of exfoliation.

What does the exfoliation consist of?

Exfoliation is a key step in skincare that employs certain cosmetic products that can remove dead cells accumulated on the stratum corneum of the epidermis.

Through the use of exfoliants, skin complexion improves, traces of dullness and possible cases of acne, blackheads or skin problems are eliminated.

How to exfoliate the skin?

There are different ways to exfoliate the skin, depending on the type of skin and the products used.

Exfoliants can be divided into three categories: chemical exfoliants, mechanical exfoliants, and enzymatic exfoliants.

  • Chemical exfoliants: these are acid-based cosmetics that act, when applied to the skin, by breaking the bonds between cells in the surface layers of the skin, thereby reducing the cohesive force and weakening the skin barrier in order to induce cell turnover.
  • Mechanical exfoliants: these are products such as scrubs or gommages that have abrasive substances within the formulation that remove dead cells once the product is massaged into the skin.
  • Enzymatic exfoliants: these are cosmetics that, thanks to the action of proteolytic enzymes, gently remove dead cells once the product is massaged and allowed to work on the skin.

What kind of exfoliant should you choose?

Although all methods are effective, it is important to choose the type of exfoliation best suited to our skin type and the blemish to be treated. For example, a scrub that is too aggressive could cause microabrasions, while a peel that is too strong could cause burning and redness.

In addition, it is important to pay attention to the ingredients in the products we buy.

In fact, among chemical exfoliants we find several acids:

  • alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs (glycolic acid, mandelic acid, and lactic acid) useful for spots and wrinkles.
  • beta-hydroxy acids or BHA (salicylic acid) suitable for oily or impure skin.
  • polyhydroxy acids or PHAs that denote more moisturizing than exfoliating characteristics.

Despite all their benefits, AHAs and BHAs can also have unpleasant side effects and if used often and incorrectly can lead to sensitive skin.

And that is why enzymatic exfoliation, which is suitable for all skin types and uses proteolytic enzymes, is often used.

These enzymes, after massaging the product in, are left acting for a few minutes in a way that ensures less cohesive force between cells, improved skin texture, and decreased skin blemishes.

The most commonly used exfoliating enzymes are:

  • Papaina (papain): is a proteolytic enzyme that is extracted from the papaya fruit (Carica papaya).
  • Bromelina (bromelain): a mix of proteolytic enzymes found in pineapple (Ananas comosus) juice.
  • Ficina (ficin): is a proteolytic enzyme extracted from the latex of the fig tree (Ficus carica).

In conclusion, exfoliating the skin is an essential step that, if done consistently and with appropriate products, can greatly benefit the epidermis, which will appear smoother, hydrated and ready to receive subsequent treatments.

Enjoy your exfoliation!

Article author:

Claudia Correro

Ph.D. in chemistry and pharma tech.

specialized in Cosmetic Science


-W.P. Smith, M. Bishop, G. Gillis, H. Maibach “Topical proteolytic enzymes affect epidermal and dermal properties”

– I. Boudry “Les formulations topiques à base d’enzymesTopical enzyme-based formulations”

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