Knowledge Series

Knowledge Series
Knowledge Series

The Science of Exfoliation

We have all heard that it is important to exfoliate, but why is that? I briefly mentioned a few key points about exfoliation in my DIY Coffee Scrub post and with this post I am going to get into the science behind it all. Get ready to fall in love with your silky, radiant skin!


  • Primary cell type found within the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin)
  • These cells reside at the bottom of the epidermis in an area termed the stratum basale
  • Keratinocytes go through several transformations as they travel to the surface of the skin to act as barrier cells
  • During their ~14 day migration to the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the epidermis), each keratinocyte loses its nucleus and other cellular machinery, rendering it biologically dead
  • Keratinocytes are referred to as corneocytes once they reach the stratum corneum and will ultimately be shed

Stratum Corneum

  • Thickness varies throughout body, but generally composed of 15-20 layers of corneocytes
  • There are three key lipid elements to the stratum corneum: cholesterol, ceramides, and fatty acids
  • Forms a barrier that protects the body from invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, and prevents excessive water loss
  • The lifespan of corneocytes in the stratum corneum is 2-3 weeks


  • The shedding of corneocytes from the stratum corneum
  • The attachments that hold keratinocytes in place become weaker as they move upward through the epidermis 
  • Enzymes found only in skin and hair follicles accelerate this weakening, causing the cellular attachments to break and ulimately free the corneocytes from the surface of the skin
  • Desquamation occurs at a balanced rate with the formation of new cells
  • Age, dehydration, excess oil, and sun damage are just a few conditions that can slow this natural shedding process 


Exfoliating removes the dead corneocytes from the surface of the skin. This process encourages the cells that are generated down in the dermis to replace the cells that have been sloughed off. As a result, the skin’s appearance is refreshed as its natural clarity and balance is restored. Exfoliation can be performed mechanically by using abrasive scrubs or chemically with specific enzymes and acids.


  • Your lotions and potions will penetrate deeper into the skin
  • Improved texture and smoothness
  • Clearer pores
  • Greater balance that will lead to fewer breakouts over time 
  • Radiance and clarity


Now that you know the basics of exfoliation, you will hopefully be more in tune with the specific needs of your skin and how to take care of it.

For more information about exfoliation, check out my references: Gray's Anatomy, Dermascope (My drawing is based off of an image in this article)

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