Of course, in recent times there’s been an absolute explosion in the interest in the powers of acids, leading to many brands bringing out single acid formulations in ever higher strengths, to appeal to the seemingly insatiable skincare consumer who doesn’t mind destroying the skincare barrier in a misguided quest for chasing ever more glow (I am definitely guilty). All the way from New York City, Dr Gross sat down to school us on why he sees exfoliation as an absolutely essential part of any skincare routine, no matter your skin type or concern, and also why going in without the proper care or well-formulated product, will lead you not to ever-more radiant skin, but instead towards that most unwanted skin trifecta: redness, sensitivity, and inflammation.
“Part of what makes the skin so brilliant is that it is an external organ, but this also makes it subject to a lot of wear and tear. It has to regenerate itself to stay functional, so it has more cell turnover ability than our internal organs. Still, as we age, that slows down, like every other aspect of the body. Our skin’s reduction in cell turnover means we see dullness and a loss of radiance that’s really profound, so peels are important because they increase cell turnover and reverse this natural tendency of the body’s ageing process.
Acids get rid of the top layer of dead dull skin and reveal a fresh layer of young, healthy looking cells, so you look radiant. You have to use acids if you want glowing skin, but you have to use them in a very controlled way. There is no such thing as a one-step peel. By definition they are two steps: an acid step, followed by a neutraliser. If you’re just using the acid step alone, it can cause irritation, redness, and downtime.
Exfoliation is a very good thing, as it stimulates the skin cells to turn over more quickly than they do naturally, but if you’re going to do that in an aggressive way, you can throw skin off balance. Nothing comes back stronger in the human body because it’s been injured. The idea of purposely injuring the skin to improve it makes no sense to me.
You want something that’s gentle enough to use on an everyday basis; the skin will respond. It’s not that different from exercise. An ideal routine is one where you do something to stay fit on a regular basis. Every day, if you’re really good. Then, maybe once in a while, a couple of times a week, you might want to do something a little bit more impactful. You don’t want to do something so hard that you wake up sore the next day. I suggest my Alpha Beta Daily Peel be used every day, then replaced two days a week with the Resurfacing Liquid Peel, which is your heavier workout (I tell my in-clinic patients, “Sundays and Wednesdays, let’s do the resurfacing peel. Let’s kick it up a bit”.) By taking a gentler approach, you’ll win the race in the long run, because the skin is very happy, it cooperates, and then you get beautiful results.
Peels are great if you have acne, and terrific for rosacea, because they help to normalise oil chemistry and get rid of bacteria. Most of all, they are helpful to boost stimulation of your own collagen, and I think that collagen is the holy grail of looking younger. These are the fibres of the skin that give it its firmness, thickness, plumpness, and resilience, so that is what using peels help with. There are two big fads now: to drink collagen and to put it topically on the skin. Neither of those work. Neither of them! The only way to get more of that great structure is to use ingredients that stimulate the particular skin cells that make collagen within the skin.
I recommend a blend of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), and I particularly like glycolic acid. What it does that’s special, is it really gets into pores, because it’s a tiny, tiny molecule. Mandelic, another AHA, is huge compared to glycolic – it’s like Jupiter compared to a boulder. So glycolic can percolate through the skin and help stimulate more collagen, and at the same time it’s a great way to exfoliate. It does that by waking up the little bridges that hold the dead skin cells together. They don’t poison the cell itself, they just gently cut the bridges that hold the cells together, and then they lift off.
I see patients all the time who are so dry and over-stripped. What’s really uncanny to me is that all that redness and inflammation they have caused in overdoing the exfoliation makes free radicals form. If your body has an enemy – say, bacteria – your system knows that enemy has a delicate cell membrane, so it creates and shoots a free radical at it to destroy it. Unfortunately, free radicals also destroy good, healthy, normal skin cells, and collagen fibres. The whole reason we all use antioxidants like vitamin C is to fight free radicals, because free radicals injure your collagen, aggravate the formation of lines, wrinkles, and large pores, and contribute to a loss of radiance. So inflammation, which causes the free radicals to be formed, is really the enemy, and we always want to avoid it.
Damaging your skin is what you want to avoid. Exfoliating without neutralising can mean people leave acids on too long and that will cause disruption to the skin’s moisture barrier. My mantra is ‘always keep the skin in balance’. That’s the key thing. If you keep it balanced, if you don’t make it red and irritated and don’t dry it out, all the other ingredients you might use after a peel (your serums, vitamin c, hyaluronic acid, retinol, peptides, niacinamide) all work well, because the skin cooperates when it’s in balance.”