Hidden Power of Serums and Exfoloation-01
Dr Ansul

The Hidden Power of Serums and Exfoliation

The top layer of the skin, known as the epidermis (from Greek epi, ‘on top’ and derma, ‘skin’), is one tough cookie. Thinner than paper but tougher than a rock, this multilayered, impermeable, and protective sheath protects us 24/7 from the harsh elements and maintains a critical water balance. This is the most important function of our skin, amongst many other vital functions, so don’t be fooled into thinking that everything you put on your skin gets absorbed because it simply doesn’t.

Believe or not, what gives this tough physical barrier its oomph is the uppermost crust or “horn layer” (about 10-30 layers thick), which is made up of tightly bonded dead skin cells that hold everything in but keep the bad guys out. Excess dead skin cells flake off of our body daily by the thousands making way for fresher layers of cells that are being pushed upward about every 30 days, which is known as the cell cycle. This function helps to maintain skin vitality, smoothness, and integrity. As we get older this process slows down, and we are left an excess build-up of dead cells that makes our skin look dull, mottled, or dry.

Aging makes it that much more difficult for actives within topical drugs and products to penetrate the skin; hence, the skin needs an extra push as we enter into the graceful phases of our life. Let’s get down to the basics, so we can get the most out of our products.

To maximize the efficacy of clinical grade skincare products, one should understand a little bit about the actives within the products themselves and about the correct application technique that will result in fast and visible results. You can have a great product with proven efficacy, but if you are not maintaining a regular skin care regimen or applying the products incorrectly, the results will often be disappointing. Compliance is an important factor when a positive outcome is desired, as is the application technique itself.

In this article, I will explore certain products, what they are, what they do on a physiological level, and power combinations that can potentially deliver fast results and maximize product effectiveness. It’s all about cumulative, optimal, and additive benefits, and this is what we are after. Having said that, it’s best to read usage instructions on product labels as well and follow tips by the manufacturer since they might have developed certain product combos that work synergistically.

What is a topical skincare serum?

A topical skincare serum is designed specifically to deliver the active component of the product in its purest state and in very high concentrations deep into the skin in order to produce maximum benefit. Therefore, when you use a serum, remember you will require a very small amount, since the actives are in high concentration, and tiny amounts will achieve dramatic results. Every serum is unique and is designed with a very specific action in mind. You can have skin-brightening serums, or ones that will help reduce wrinkles, deliver nutrients, or help the skin regain vitality and functionality. There are numerous serums all with varied actions. The common factor is that all contain concentrated actives and a little goes a long away.

I will mention some self-care tips and advice that will hopefully prove to be helpful as you begin your journey towards achieving healthy skin when using products.

How to select the best over-the-counter serum for you:

  • Identify your skin type (e.g. normal, oily, combination, dry, sensitive, or hypersensitive).
  • Your age (with age our skin changes, so products formulated for a particular age group will demonstrate maximum efficacy).
  • Identify your skin problem (e.g. age spots, wrinkles, dullness, acne, rosacea, redness, dryness, environmentally stressed, hormone induced skin conditions, sun damage, puffy eyes, dark circles).
  • Read labels and make sure that the brand is free from harmful ingredients as mentioned in my previous article (e.g. parabens, sodium lauryl sulfates, petroleum-derived products etc.). The fewer ingredients in your products, the better it is for your skin. Your skin tends to become overloaded, so it’s best to use one good brand at a time rather than piling on many products. This is toxic practice and should be avoided.
  • Select a serum that best suits your needs and apply a small amount to the affected area after cleansing and toning your skin.
  • Nighttime is for skin renewal and healing, so it’s best to keep your skin breathing without multiple layers of products. I do suggest you use a serum a night to allow maximum benefit. Serums are powerful elixirs and usually contain actives that might interact with sunlight, which is another reason why I like to advise my clients to use a serum a night.

If you desire faster more dramatic results, try exfoliating before applying the selected serum. This is a trade secret and one that will surprise you, since you will start noticing results in record time. I suggest trying out this combo whenever possible. Remember these tips apply to OTC products. If you are undergoing active treatment for a skin condition, please stick to your prescription products. If you have undergone minimally invasive or invasive skin procedures, please consult with your physician before using any products.

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation literally means removing layers of damaged or dead skin cells using various methods. This is an age-old practice that has been used for centuries to achieve polished, evenly toned skin. Professional grade chemical peels and laser assisted peels provide the most effective form of exfoliation and can only be performed by a licensed skin care professional. Here we are discussing gentler approaches where we are merely removing superficial excess dead cells, dirt, traces of make-up, and impurities by using abrasive substances such as clay, sugar, pumice, loofahs, scrubs, dry skin brushes, exfoliating bars and sponges and/or chemical based exfoliants that can be used safely at home.

How to select an over-the-counter exfoliant:

  • Identify your skin type (e.g. normal, oily, combination, dry, sensitive or hypersensitive).
  • Your age (with age our skin changes, so products formulated for a particular age group will demonstrate maximum efficacy).
  • Type of exfoliant you prefer: chemical or mechanical.
  • Be sure it’s a reliable brand or tested method. I find that natural mechanical exfoliators like sugar crystals, finely ground nut seeds, or ground oats work beautifully without exposing your skin to harsh chemicals.
  • Determine the result you desire. For fast results, it’s best you select a combination of chemical and mechanical exfoliation.
  • Even though simple mechanical exfoliation is very safe, try and avoid exfoliation if you have overly sensitive skin.
  • Using your preferred exfoliating method, exfoliate gently twice per week, and try not to over-exfoliate since this may cause irritation, redness, and strip your skin of vital surface oils that are essential in preventing water loss from the skin’s surface. Moderation is the key so you don’t end up with raw skin!
  • It’s best to start slow and see how your skin feels and reacts. For some, only once in two weeks will suffice, whereas for those with very dry flaky skin, two times per week might be more suitable. See what makes your skin happiest and stick to it.
  • With increasing age, our skin becomes drier and cells take longer to regenerate, leading to an excess accumulation of dead cells. Therefore it is essential to exfoliate as we age.
  • It’s important to exfoliate in wintertime.
  • Always use a deep hydrating serum and cream post-exfoliation.
  • Remember, professional grade exfoliation works wonders but can only be performed by a skin care professional.

How can simple, at-home exfoliation help? It will:

  • Naturally deep cleanse your skin and remove deeply embedded dirt, make-up, and debris.
  • Remove excess dead cells that are the cause of dull, dry, and flat looking skin.
  • Loosen keratin plugs, which will help in reducing blackheads and whiteheads, and is a good acne preventative measure.
  • Reveal a fresh layer of skin that is more receptive to products.
  • Brighten and smoothen skin- a skin polishing effect.
  • Encourage the skin to produce new cells over time, leading to a vibrant and healthy complexion.
  • Improve circulation due to the massaging action during the process itself. This will lead to a rosy, dewy glow.
  • Facilitate penetration of creams and serums, which can be impeded by dead skin cells. Through exfoliation, excess dead cell build-up is gently removed, and your serum or cream will be able to penetrate deeply and produce optimal desired effects.
  • Enhance the efficacy of your product and bring you that much closer to achieving the desired result.

Before using a topical serum, prep the skin by using a preferred method of exfoliation. The actives within the serum will penetrate deeply, allowing you to maintain beautiful healthy skin with these simple at home measures.

As you can see from my notes, even though a good product can help you maintain healthy skin, implementing correct techniques and using power combos can make all the difference, so try using these useful tips before applying that all precious serum.

About Dr Ansul:
Dr. Ansul is our skin care expert with a passion for holistic methods of achieving and maintaining healthy skin. Her more specific interests include Laser Dermatology, non-invasive IPL systems, and her thesis is applauded for its bold new look at the future of non-invasive light based technology. Dr. Ansul’s expertise has allowed her to help individuals and companies alike, and has also garnered ample amounts of critical acclaim in her field. In her articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, Dr. Ansul offers insight on how to achieve and maintain healthy skin. You can learn more about her work by visiting her company’s website, Cuticonscious.
DISCLAIMER: The content of theBoomShop.com and BoomSpot is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.