KaramMD Journal

The Power of Exfoliation + 5 Mistakes You Need To Avoid

Polish Enzymatic Exfoliator from KaramMD Skin

Why You Need Exfoliation: A Key Step into Your Skincare Routine

Over the years of helping my patients with their facial rejuvenation concerns, I always concentrate and look at what younger people look like. One of the most noticeable aspects of younger looking skin is that there's a certain brightness and smoothness to the complexion. The brightness reflects light, a property called luminosity, and it can’t be missed–it makes the skin look vibrant, healthy, and beautiful.

As our skin ages, in addition to all the other changes like fine lines and discoloration, when you touch the skin it feels uneven and rough, and the skin no longer has that luminosity. When you look at the skin microscopically, what you realize is the upper most layer of the skin, the epidermis, has a layer that accumulates dead skin as we get older, which is called the stratum corneum.

This accumulation of dead skin is literally like an onion. When you peel the skin of the onion, you see the glistening, bright and beautiful layer right below the rough and flaky outer layers. That is what we want to achieve wit our skin as it ages--we don’t want that dull layer there, and the way to address this is through exfoliation, which is removing the dead layers off the surface of the skin.

Skin Benefits of Exfoliation

Exfoliation is not only important for skin texture and tone, but the accumulation of dry skin also hinders the natural process of cell turnover. Cell turnover is the renewal of skin cells, and it plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy and vibrant skin. When the dry skin is not effectively removed and cell turnover rate is slowed, it can lead to various skin issues, including clogged pores, enlarged pores, and breakouts.

Exfoliation helps to address these concerns by sloughing off the dead skin cells, allowing the new and healthy skin cells to surface. This process not only fights dullness, but promotes a cleaner, fresher appearance as it uncovers the youthful and radiant skin beneath.

Regular exfoliation can also improve the efficacy of other skincare products by ensuring better absorption into the skin. This is why I added Polish to supplement the Trifecta, because it's crucial for any skincare routine if you want to get the most out of your products.

Exfoliation becomes increasingly important and valuable as we age. The problem is, there are a lot of choices when it comes to methods of exfoliation–some are expensive, some are inconvenient, some are downright wrong for our skin type and condition--so this was something I took seriously when developing an exfoliator. I wanted to create something that could be easily used for most skin types and most ages.

With that, let's start by differentiating between the various methods of exfoliation, explain what makes Polish so uniquely effective, and wrap-up with some critical exfoliation mistakes to avoid when incorporating this step into your skincare routine.

Methods of Exfoliation

Establishing a well-rounded exfoliation routine requires thoughtful consideration of various factors, including the types of exfoliants, their strengths, and the specific needs of your skin. To navigate exfoliation effectively, let's delve into the different methods of exfoliation available.

Physical Exfoliation

Physical exfoliants use small, gritty particles to scrub away and remove the top layer of dead skin cells. The abrasive action of these particles helps to remove the top layer of dead skin. This is probably the most common type that comes to mind when you think about exfoliation.

This includes scrubs made from sugar, salt, coffee grounds, or microbeads. You can also physically remove dead skin with brushes or loofahs, etc. In-office treatments like microdermabrasion, dermaplaning, and laser resurfacing also fall into this category, as it is a type of mechanical exfoliation method that involves manually removing the top layer of dead skin cells.

PROS: This instant gratification of removing dead skin cells to reveal brighter skin underneath, can be particularly appealing for those seeking a quick boost in skin radiance. Physical exfoliation also enhances the absorption of skincare products by removing the barrier of dead skin cells, allowing active ingredients to penetrate more effectively into the skin. This can maximize the benefits of your skincare routine if you follow exfoliation with your serums, moisturizers, and other treatments, leading to improved overall skin health. Additionally, the massaging action involved in physical exfoliation can stimulate blood circulation, promoting a healthy glow and potentially aiding in lymphatic drainage.

CONS: One significant concern is the potential for skin irritation, especially for individuals with sensitive or delicate skin. Over-exfoliation, whether due to excessive frequency, aggressiveness, or abrasive particles in the formula, can disrupt the skin's natural barrier function, leading to redness, inflammation, and increased sensitivity. Moreover, physical exfoliation may not be suitable for certain skin conditions, such as rosacea or active acne, as it can exacerbate these issues and cause further irritation. It is imperative to find a physical exfoliant with gentle ingredients and use as directed.

Chemical Exfoliation

When applied to the skin, chemical exfoliants utilize specific acids to chemically dissolve and break down the protein bonds between dead skin cells, facilitating their removal.

Examples would be Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) which include Glycolic acid or Lactic acid, Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) like Salicylic acid, or Azelaic acid. Retinol could also be put into this category, as it promotes exfoliation through a chemical process, encouraging natural exfoliation by stimulating cell turnover, helping to shed old skin cells and promote the growth of new ones.

PROS: One significant advantage to chemical exfoliants is their ability to target specific skin concerns, such as hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and acne, by penetrating deeper into the skin layers. This makes them particularly useful for addressing stubborn issues that may not respond well to physical exfoliation alone. The stronger the chemical treatment, then you will have to do those in-office, and after downtime, you will have significant results.

CONS: While chemical exfoliants are less physically harsh, they still run the risk of over-exfoliation, leading to irritation, redness, and increased sensitivity, particularly if acids are used too frequently or at high concentrations. Certain skin types, such as those with rosacea or eczema, may be more prone to adverse reactions from chemical exfoliants, exacerbating existing skin conditions. Another consideration is the potential for sun sensitivity after using chemical exfoliants, especially those done in-office, as they can increase the skin's susceptibility to UV damage, highlighting the importance of diligent sun protection.

Finding the right balance of acids and formulations for individual skin needs can be challenging to do yourself. If you are considering chemical exfoliation, I would recommend careful experimentation and monitoring, or oversight of a doctor or dermatologist to avoid negative side effects.

Enzymatic Exfoliation

When applied to the surface of the skin, enzymatic exfoliators work similarly to chemical exfoliation to loosen the bonds holding dead skin cells together, happening through the process of digestion, thus helping with the removal of dead skin and promoting skin renewal.

However, the difference is that enzymatic exfoliation is derived from natural sources, such as Papain (from papaya) or Bromelain (from pineapple), which tends to make them a more gentle alternative to chemical exfoliants.

PROS: Enzymatic exfoliation presents several unique benefits for skincare enthusiasts, including its safety and usability for all skin types. Unlike physical or chemical exfoliants, enzymes gently dissolve dead skin cells, making it ideal for sensitive skin types. This gentle approach minimizes the risk of irritation, making enzymatic exfoliation suitable for all individuals, including those with reactive or delicate skin. Enzymatic exfoliants promote even skin texture and tone by encouraging cell turnover without causing any downtime or visible peeling. Their compatibility with other skincare products further enhances their versatility, allowing for seamless integration into skincare routines. Overall, enzymatic exfoliation offers a gentle yet effective way to achieve smoother, brighter, and healthier-looking skin.

CONS: The drawbacks of enzymes are far fewer than the other two methods of exfoliation due to it's natural process and gentle nature. With that, enzymes are going to work gradually over time, so if you are looking for dramatic, immediate results, you may want to consider another treatment. Another drawback could be for individuals with allergies to certain fruits or other ingredients used in enzymatic exfoliants.

The Power of Polish for Exfoliation

Polish Enzymatic Exfoliator is KaramMD’s answer to the exfoliating needs. It is a multi-functional resurfacing treatment that not only works to remove dead skin, but contains highly effective active ingredients and skin-supporting botanicals. It is the ideal companion to your skincare routine.

Polish has the consistency of an ultra-fine powder, which is water-activated and turns into a light paste upon application. After physically buffing away the top layer of dull skin cells using the gentle texture of the powder, you’ll wait about 3 minutes to allow time for the enzymatic mask to digest dead skin cells and remove even deeper layers of the dead skin, revealing a smooth, radiant complexion.

Polish has been clinically tested and proven to give you instantly smoother, softer skin, and a brighter glow. It sets the stage with a clean canvas for better absorption for the rest of your skincare routine, like Trifecta, but without the risk of abrasion, irritation, or damage to the skin barrier that can come along with other exfoliants.

The power of Polish really lies in its enzymatic properties, which make it suitable and safe for all skin types. If you continue to use Polish regularly, every 2-3 days, alongside daily use of Retinol, you will be continuously removing those accumulated layers of dead skin to keep your complexion looking fresh and bright. I see this in my Trifecta patients--the luminosity returns to their skin with consistent use of Trifecta and Polish.

Regular use of exfoliation helps to promote more youthful-looking skin, and Polish is a favorite exfoliator for many due to its dual-action benefits. It is safe to use frequently, meaning every few days you can achieve immediate, radiant results, while also working deeply through the accumulated layers of dead skin towards long-lasting radiance. As with all skin care, consistency is key, and the more you stay on top of regular exfoliation, the less likely it will be for you to require extensive in-office treatments down the road.

Having established the benefits of exfoliation for achieving a smoother, brighter complexion, it's crucial to also understand the best practices for exfoliation, to maximize results and avoid potential pitfalls. Let's delve into the top mistakes to steer clear of when incorporating exfoliation into your skincare routine.

Top 5 Exfoliation Mistakes

01. Don’t use your exfoliator as a cleanser

Mistake: Some people mistakenly use their exfoliator as a substitute for a cleanser.

Correction: To achieve best results, use a dedicated cleanser before applying your exfoliator. Cleansing ensures the removal of surface impurities, allowing the exfoliator to work more effectively on the skin.

02. Don’t exfoliate too hard

Mistake: Applying excessive physical pressure during exfoliation can lead to micro-tears in the skin, resulting in redness, dryness, and potential irritation.

Correction: Gently massage the exfoliator onto your skin using circular motions. Allow the product to do the work, avoiding harsh scrubbing. This approach ensures effective exfoliation without compromising the skin's integrity.

03. Don’t exfoliate too often

Mistake: Over-exfoliation can damage the skin barrier, leading to increased sensitivity, redness, and dryness.

Correction: Follow the recommended frequency provided by the product instructions. Exfoliating more often than necessary does not yield better results. Adhering to the guidelines helps maintain healthy skin.

04. Don’t use the wrong kind of exfoliator for your skin type

Mistake: Using an exfoliator that doesn't suit your skin type can exacerbate issues. You need to tailor your exfoliator choice to your skin's needs.

Correction: For sensitive skin, avoid abrasive physical exfoliants; enzymatic exfoliators or light chemical exfoliants are more suitable. For acne-prone skin, avoid harsh physical scrubs that can worsen inflammation and even lead to more acne, again light chemical or enzymatic is best. If you have oily skin or dry skin, you want to use a less harsh approach, like enzymatic, so you don’t overdry your skin and further throw of your balance. For those with normal or more mature skin, you can handle physical exfoliation treatments, like potential in-office treatments, or complement your skincare routine with a light scrub. Adjust your exfoliation routine based on your skin type to achieve optimal results.

05. Don’t exfoliate and walk away

Mistake: Neglecting to follow up exfoliation with supportive products.

Correction: After exfoliating, your skin is primed for absorption. Take advantage of this by applying essential elements such as ceramides, lipids, hyaluronic acid, and other moisturizing agents. Products like Quench Vitamin C Serum and Illuminate Anti-Aging Cream provide the active ingredients your skin needs post-exfoliation, ensuring proper nourishment, hydration, correction of skin tone, and elements for cell renewal to benefit texture. This step supports the skin's renewal process and enhances its overall health and appearance.

Amir Karam MD

Board Certified Facial Plastic Surgeon
Founder / Creator of KaramMD Skin

Dr. Amir Karam is a renowned facial cosmetic surgeon and an authority in his field. With over two decades of experience helping patients achieve a younger, refreshed appearance. In addition to surgical procedures that sculpt a youthfully-defined facial shape, Dr. Karam takes the quality of the skin into account.


Customer Support

Hi Wendy-good question. You can definitely use your Polish in the shower. As long as you are following the directions and you leave it on long enough for the enzymes to work their magic, it will work even without drying. Hope that helps!

Customer Support

Hi Pam, thank you for your message. If you would like to use Tretinoin with your Trifecta, we recommend using it at the end. Trifecta is meant to be used as a complete skincare system, so after you finish all three steps, you would apply your additional Retinol or Tretinoin afterwards as a supplement to the Retinol we already have in Illuminate. Hope that helps!

Adele Casamassima

Hi, question. Do you ship worldwide? I was told by a friend that in Italy custom doesn’t let cosmetic products in. I live in UK , are you aware of the shipping option in UK? Thanks

Pam Wilkes

When is tretinoin applied if you are using the Trifecta?


I’ve been using the Trifecta for several months, and LOVE it! I also have the Polish. My question: after cleansing my skin, do I let the Polish dry before rinsing it off, or can I use it in the shower (it doesn’t dry)?
Thanks, in advance, for your reply!

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