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Is skin resurfacing doing more harm than good to our skin?

There is nothing quite as satisfying as a freshly scrubbed face, glowing and clean. The widely held opinion by many skin therapists and consumers is that the ultimate way to achieve a fresh, youthful look is by exfoliating or resurfacing, using different products or energy methods. But are these procedures actually doing more harm than good in the long term?

The popular theory is that skin needs a helping hand in turning over its cells thus achieving an anti-ageing outcome. But is this really necessary?

Why resurface our skin?

Skin cells turn over on their own every 28 days, a process that takes longer as you get older. It is the natural process of losing dead skin cells and replacing them with younger cells. For some doctors and skin therapists the jury is out as to whether the skin needs a nudge to do this more often.

Harsh daily exfoliating at home can be very damaging. In fact, it can cause micro tearing and compromise the all-important skin barrier. The skin is our largest organ and plays a very important role in keeping out harmful microbes, viruses and other invaders. It is actually an extremely important organ for keeping you healthy.

The skin barrier is made up of the top layer - the stratum corneum - which is comprised of building blocks called corneocytes and these are bound together with lipids consisting of cholesterol, fatty acids and ceramides. There are many products that help to bring the skin barrier back to health after being damaged and it’s important to choose one with the right percentage of these lipids. Ceramide creams are particularly good at strengthening the structural integrity of the skin barrier.

What role do actives play?

Some active ingredients (actives) such as vitamin C, vitamin A (retinol) or chemical peels are known for helping skin cell turnover. However, they can be too harsh if overused and may cause a compromised skin barrier and skin sensitivity. In some cases, it can take weeks to months to heal and repair. In this case, many practitioners recommend doing absolutely nothing to the skin to let it heal on its own. The only thing allowed for a few months is a light covering of something very mild like aqueous cream until the skin has repaired. This takes extreme patience and often isn’t possible when you need to wear makeup to work or other occasions.

How to safely use actives

If you feel you must use an active, the rule of thumb is to start low and slow. This means use the lowest percentage to begin with and only every second or third day to get the skin used to it. Mixing a retinol with a simple moisturising cream is a great idea, until your skin adjusts. Chemical peels should not be undertaken too often. Always take advice from your doctor or experienced skin therapist on how to progress with these treatments.

Similarly, with energy treatments such as resurfacing laser, skin needling or radiofrequency tightening, the practitioner makes all the difference. Make sure you have built trust in your practitioner and have a couple of good conversations prior to the treatment to ensure it is correct for your skin type. Again, doing a lighter treatment is often better than going for full ablation straight away. LED light therapy is a great adjunct to help the skin heal faster after a more invasive treatment.

Undoubtedly, these treatments can cause a nice plumping of the skin and a temporary increase in collagen, but the skill of the practitioner is paramount to avoid ongoing skin barrier problems.

If you would like to speak to a Doctor or Skin Therapist about your skin concerns, please call us or book your appointment online.

Written by National Skin Cancer Centres