Dead skin cells can build up on the skin surface, thickening its appearance. This buildup can make wrinkles and imperfections look much worse, and can cause the skin to have a hard look. As cells accumulate on the sides of wrinkles or depressed scars, those areas can look deeper than they really are.
Exfoliation can help all of these conditions. By removing these piles of cells, the skin will appear smoother and wrinkles or depressed scars will appear shallower. Removing dead cells from the surface stimulates the natural cell renewal process, revealing younger, plumper cells, and improving the skin’s barrier function by increasing the production of intercellular lipids.
There are two main types of exfoliation: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical exfoliation works by physically removing the dead cells. Examples of mechanical exfoliation are microdermabrasion, the use of an ultrasonic blade, brush machines, or the use of granular scrubs. Chemical exfoliation can be an application of alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic or lactic acid, salicylic acid, or enzymes. Alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids work by loosening the bonds between the cells and causing them to fall off the skin surface. Enzymes work by dissolving the keratin protein in the dead cells.
Stronger peels such as TCA are more aggressive chemical exfoliants that remove more of the surface skin cells. Light chemical at-home exfoliation can improve skin imperfections. Avoid excessive sun exposure and use a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.