Are You Exfoliating Properly? Here’s How To For Your Best Complexion Yet

November 6, 2019

How often do you exfoliate? Once a week? Three times a week? Never?


As new skin cells develop, dead cells accumulate on the surface of your skin over time and can trap in dirt, sweat, bacteria, and oil if they’re not removed—leading to uneven skin texture and clogged pores.

For this reason, exfoliation—the process of removing unwanted dead skin cells from the skin—is arguably one of the most important steps of anyone’s skincare routine.

Benefits of Exfoliating Your Skin

Sloughing away dead skin cells is beneficial for your skin because it enables it to better absorb your other skincare products (such as your serums and moisturizer) and aids in stimulating collagen and new cell production—which in turn can help diminish wrinkles and fade scars. For those that suffer from acne-prone skin, exfoliating can also help to reduce further breakouts by clearing clogged pores. When done correctly, exfoliating can leave your skin feeling noticeably smoother and looking more radiant.

Two Main Types of Facial Exfoliants

1. Chemical Exfoliants – Chemical exfoliants use acids—most commonly Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)—to rid the skin of dead cells.

2. Physical Exfoliants – Physical (also known as manual or mechanical) exfoliants use a tool (brush, sponge, etc.) or ingredient (clay, granules, etc.) to scrub away dead skin cells.

Which Type of Exfoliant Is Better?

Although chemical exfoliation may sound incredibly harsh, it’s actually generally safer on the skin and is safe to use on most skin types. AHAs (water-soluble molecules) like lactic or glycolic acids can work wonders for sun-damaged or dry skin because they target the skin’s surface, while BHAs (oil-soluble molecules) like salicylic acids are terrific for those with acne-prone skin because they have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Keep in mind, if you’re looking to target deep into your skin’s pores you should opt for BHAs because AHAs are unable to penetrate deep into the skin. Chemical exfoliants aren’t without their downfalls, however. Some chemical exfoliants like peels can be damaging to the skin and can cause your skin to flare up (especially when your skin is exposed to sunlight after being treated).

On the other hand, because physical exfoliation requires friction—manual scrubbing—to shed dead skin cells, it can actually damage and irritate the skin. Another downside to physical exfoliants is that they only work on the surface of your skin. They can also cause acne-prone skin to flare up due to bacteria harbored in scrub brushes or sponges. While chemical exfoliants are generally safe to use on all skin types, physical exfoliants should not be used on sensitive skin because they can exacerbate symptoms.

How To Exfoliate Without Harming Your Skin

1. Choose an exfoliant that works for your skin type. Those with dry, sensitive skin should avoid exfoliants containing alcohol and opt for ones that have moisturizing oils. If you have oily skin, try an exfoliant that contains BHAs.

2. Don’t over- or under-exfoliate. If you have dry skin, exfoliate no more than once or twice a week; those with oily skin can exfoliate more frequently (up to five times per week); and those with combination or normal skin will generally see positive results from exfoliating up to three times per week.

3. Be mindful of your skin. Always be aware of how your skin is reacting to an exfoliant. Whether you use chemical or physical exfoliants, or a combination of both—pay close attention to your skin to see if you have any redness, burning, itching, or peeling following treatment.


Always consult your dermatologist before trying a new product. If you have any skin conditions, such as eczema, rosacea, or inflammatory acne, consult with your dermatologist to determine what exfoliant will work best on your skin.

Do you have an exfoliation routine?

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Photo: Park Street via Unsplash,

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Audrey resides in Los Angeles, California with her rescue dog, Gullah Blue. Audrey is a passionate writer and advocates sustainable and cruelty-free living. Follow Audrey on Instagram @audreyenjoli.


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