Aesthetic Dermatology Update

Winter exfoliation: A multicultural approach


Winter or postwinter exfoliation may seem counterintuitive to some patients because skin is often more dry because of cold weather and dry heat from heaters in the home, car, and workplace. Some patients even admit to using emollients less frequently in the winter because they are too cold to do it after bathing or are covering more of their body. But winter exfoliation can be an important method for improving skin hydration by aiding skin cell turnover, removing surface flaky skin, and enhancing penetration of moisturizers and active ingredients applied afterward. Different types of skin exfoliation techniques have been used for many years worldwide, and methods vary country by country. Here we explore exfoliation techniques used in various cultures around the world.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley, a dermatologist who practices in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley

Ancient Egypt: Egyptians are credited with the first exfoliation techniques. Mechanical exfoliation was practiced in ancient Egypt via pumice stones, as well as alabaster particles, and scrubs made from sand or plants, such as aloe vera. (Although the subject is beyond the scope of this article, the first use of chemical exfoliation, using sour milk, which contains lactic acid, has been credited to ancient Egypt.)

Iran: Most traditional Iranian households are familiar with kiseh and sefidab, used for exfoliation as often as once a week. Kiseh is a special loofah-like exfoliating mitt, often hand woven. Sefidab is a whitish ball that looks like a dense piece of chalk made from animal fats and natural minerals that is rubbed on the kiseh, which is then rubbed on the skin. Exfoliation results as the sefidab and top layers of skin come off in gray white rolls, which are then rinsed off. The dead skin left on the mitt is known as “chairk.” Archaeological excavations have provided evidence that sefidab may have been used in Persian cosmetics as long ago as 2000 BC–4500 BC, as part of Zoroastrian traditions.

Korea: Koreans have long been known for practicing skin exfoliation. Here in Los Angeles, especially in Koreatown, many Korean spas or bathhouses, known as jjimjilbang, can be found; these provide various therapies, particularly “detoxification” in hot tubs, saunas (many with different stones and crystal minerals for healing properties), computer rooms, restaurants, theater rooms. They also provide body scrubs, or seshin: A soak in the hot tub for at least 30 minutes is recommended, followed by a hot water rinse and a scrub by a “ddemiri” (a scrub practitioner), who intensely scrubs the skin from head to toe using a roughened cloth. Going into a hot room or sauna is recommended after the scrub for relaxation, with the belief that the sweat won’t be blocked by dirty or clogged pores. Scrubs in jjimjilbang are recommended as often as once per week.


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