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Everything you need to know about exfoliation

23 Nov 2022
Everything you need to know about exfoliation

We all know that proper cleansing, moisturizing, and applying daily SPF is the key to a healthy, glowing complexion. But how necessary is it to add exfoliating to our regular skincare lineup? Exfoliating removes cells from the surface layer of our skin by speeding up the cycle that our body naturally sheds these cells to give our complexion an instant but temporary glow. Sounds like a great thing, but we're also wary that we'll over-scrub, leaving our skin raw and red. Let’s sort out all the exfoliating confusion.

There’s More Than One Way to Slough 

First off, we start with the basics. There are two methods of removing skin cells that are ready to be sloughed: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical exfoliating includes any process in which the skin cells are removed by physical friction, such as with a loofah glove or a cleanser or cream with rough granules in it. This action physically gets rid of the loose cells on the outer layer of the skin. Chemical exfoliation, on the other hand, uses substances that biologically loosen the glue between the skin’s outer layer cells to allow the outer cells to shed. Though it is physically gentler on the skin, it may be harsher overall depending on the strength of the product and what else is going on in the skin care routine.

What to use to exfoliate 

There are different methods and tools to exfoliate skin. Facial scrubs and brushes are forms of mechanical, or physical, exfoliation. Acids and skin peels are forms of chemical exfoliation.


Exfoliating brush

exfoliating brush

This is usually a bristle brush used on the face or body to remove layers of dead skin cells. Some are designed for dry brushing. Others can be used with your facial cleanser or body wash.

Exfoliation sponge

Exfoliation sponge

These are a gentler way to exfoliate skin. You can lather an exfoliating sponge with warm water, soap, or body wash in the shower.

Exfoliating glove

exfoliation glove

If you find brushes or sponges difficult to grip, you can use a glove. Lather it with soap or body wash in the shower. They can be effective for large areas such as legs or arms.

Exfoliating scrub

exfoliation scrub

This can be applied directly to the skin using a gentle, circular motion. You can wash your skin with warm water after applying the scrub.



Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). Examples of AHAs include glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids. These work by breaking apart bonds holding dull and dead skin cells on your skin’s surface. This will cause your skin to naturally shed dead particles.

Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs). Examples of BHAs include beta hydroxyl and salicylic acid. These may be better for acne-prone skin.

What Method Should You Use?

Choosing which type to use will vary based on body area, skin sensitivity, and other parts of the skin care regime. If you’re using strong products to treat acne or have conditions like eczema or rosacea, or simply have sensitive skin, using chemical exfoliants like glycolic and salicylic acids often found in lotions and washes can be irritating, as can scrubs with natural beads if you rub too hard. To sum it up: Pay attention to how your skin reacts to whichever method you use, and stop if you experience any discomfort. As for mechanical brushes like Clarisonics, they might be efficient in reaching deeper layers of skin quicker, but this isn’t necessarily good for your skin if you use them too often.

How to exfoliate your skin-by-skin type:

When mechanically exfoliating, it’s important to be gentle on your skin. You can make small, circular motions using your finger to apply a scrub or use your exfoliating tool of choice.

If you use a brush, make short, light strokes. Exfoliate for about 30 seconds and then rinse off with lukewarm — not hot — water. Avoid exfoliating if your skin has cuts, open wounds, or is sunburned. Apply moisturizer with SPF after exfoliating.

Dry skin

dry skin

Exfoliation is important for dry or flaky skin. Avoid mechanical exfoliation on dry skin, because the process is drying and it can lead to microtears. AHAs are effective for dry skin.Glycolic acid will help remove dead cells sitting on the surface of the skin and encourage healthy skin turnover. Follow up with an SPF and moisturizer after using glycolic acid. It can make the skin more prone to sun damage.

Sensitive skin

sensitive skin

Avoid scrubbing or using mechanical methods of exfoliation. These will irritate your skin further and can lead to redness.Use a mild chemical exfoliator and apply with a gentle washcloth. For acne, you can also try a salicylic acid peel at your dermatologist’s office.

Oily skin

oily skin

Oily or thicker skin can benefit from manual exfoliation and brushing. Oily skin may have an extra layer of buildup on the surface that manual exfoliation can remove. Gently use an exfoliator or scrub in circular motions for best results.

Normal skin

normal skin

If your skin doesn’t have any complications, you can choose any method of exfoliation. Manual and chemical exfoliation are both safe for this skin type. You may need to experiment to find out which method works best for your skin.

Combination skin

combination skin

Combination skin may require a mix of mechanical and chemical exfoliation. Never use both on the same day as it can irritate skin. If your skin feels dry after exfoliation, use a moisturizer immediately after.

Exfoliation by body part 

Take care when exfoliating sensitive areas of the body, including the face. Exfoliating these areas too often can lead to dryness, redness, and itchiness.


face glow scrub

The type of exfoliant to use on your face depends on your skin type. To exfoliate your face mechanically with a scrub, apply gently to the skin with a finger. Rub in small, circular motions. Rinse with lukewarm water.For a chemical exfoliant that’s a liquid, apply with a cotton pad or washcloth. Work with a dermatologist to determine which type of exfoliation is safe for your skin.

Arms and legs

body scrub

The easiest way to exfoliate your arms and legs is with a brush, sponge, or glove. This can help get rid of dead skin cells and stimulate circulation. Look for a body scrub at your local pharmacy or online and lather with it in the shower. You can also try dry brushing.

Feet and hands

body scrub

There are scrubs and peels available to exfoliate feet and hands. You can also use a pumice stone to exfoliate feet.

Exfoliating benefits

The benefits of exfoliation include:

  • removing dead skin cells
  • improving circulation
  • encouraging skin turnover, resulting in brighter skin
  • allowing for better absorption of moisturizers and serums

Use a Gentle Hand

gentle hand
It might seem that applying pressure and rough strokes while exfoliating is the key to removing those loose skin cells, but being too aggressive will actually damage the skin. It is recommended to choose a softer loofah glove or a gentle cleanser like  that includes hydrating jojoba beads as its exfoliant.

If you find that you experience irritation even after exfoliating with a gentler hand, It is recommended to try to use other methods of improved skin care to reduce the need to exfoliate in the first place, such as: using fewer irritating facial products, seeing a dermatologist to determine if flakiness is actually a medical condition that can be treated and resolved, or taking shorter, cooler showers with less harsh cleansing products.

How Often Should You Exfoliate?

There’s no consensus on how often you should actually exfoliate, and it’s a topic that’s a hot debate amongst dermatologists. A common answer is two or three times a week, or on the other side of the scrubbing spectrum, once or twice a month. It is believed that actively exfoliating, if at all, should happen no more than twice a month, and that the daily skincare routine in between should be focused more on gentle care and reduction of inflammation, rather than daily or weekly irritation and trauma to the skin that can come from over-exfoliating.

Don’t Forget To Moisturize

While exfoliating may rid your complexion of loose dead skin cells so your face looks fresher with a brighter glow, it also removes what helps keep your skin moisturized. To help keep your skin hydrated, apply a fragrance-free repairing moisturizer following exfoliation. Removing the skin's protective outer layer, which is largely employed by the body as a moisture barrier to keep the skin's moisture in, can start the cycle of drying and new flaking. Applying a gentle emollient barrier can help to mitigate some of this effect.

Exactly How Often You Should Exfoliate Your Face

face exfoliation duration

Exfoliating is helpful to unclog pores and prevent blackhead formation, while also encouraging the removal of dead skin cells that are ready to be sloughed. It also improves the skin turnover, which is beneficial for skin renewal, which in turn keeps skin radiant and fresh. When it comes to facial exfoliation, It is suggested applying the exfoliating formula of your choice no more than two or three times weekly. Over-exfoliating pulls cells away that are not ready to be shed, which can trigger irritation and inflammation, and even worsen acne breakouts.

It is crucial to ensure you are exfoliating gently always opt for washes containing glycolic, lactic, salicylic acid or natural exfoliants. For sensitive skin, try a peel which treats without being physically abrasive to the skin. Harsh scrubs are not advised as they can overly irritate the skin surface and further trigger inflammation.

When to stop exfoliating 

stop exfoliation

Stop exfoliating if you notice your skin is red, inflamed, peeling, or irritated. Avoid exfoliation if you also use certain medications or acne products, including retinol and benzoyl peroxide. It may make your skin worse or lead to breakouts.

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