Everything You Need to Know About Exfoliating Your Skin Safely

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

There are different methods for exfoliation. Your skin type should determine which method you use and how often you exfoliate. For certain skin conditions, including rosacea, exfoliation isn’t usually recommended.

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.

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

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

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 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

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 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

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

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

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

Pubic area

You can use a loofah or body brush to exfoliate your bikini line and pubic area. Always do this in a warm shower to soften skin first. Apply scrub gently and wash thoroughly afterward.

How often should you exfoliate

How often to exfoliate depends on your skin type and the type of exfoliation you’re using. Some chemical exfoliants can be strong, for example. In general, exfoliating skin one to two times a week is enough to be effective for dry skin.

Oily skin may require more frequent exfoliation. Avoid over-exfoliating as it can lead to redness and irritation. Talk to your dermatologist if you need help figuring out how often it’s safe for you to exfoliate.

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

When to stop exfoliating

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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