Exfoliation: What Is It, and How Often Should I Do It?



Everybody wants smooth, glowing skin and one of the best ways to get that is with regular exfoliation. Getting rid of dead, dull skin cells on the surface of the face helps give skin a smoother, more even look and reveals a fresher looking complexion. It should be incorporated into your regular beauty routine, unless you happen to have particularly sensitive skin or rosacea. Here’s a closer look at how, when and why you should exfoliate- without over doing it.

What Is Exfoliation?

In the simplest terms, exfoliating is the removal of dead, redundant skin cells from the top layer of the skin. This helps reveal the fresh, glowing skin underneath it. There are multiple way to exfoliate your face. A wash cloth can do the trick, while some prefer a facial brush such as a Clarisonic. A physical exfoliant is an abrasive scrub or paste. These kind of scrubs tend to have a chunky texture, as they contain ingredients like crushed walnut shells or apricot kernels. Less abrasive exfoliators may be formulated with rice powder that is mixed with water to create a paste, or a product that contains sugar, salt or jojoba beads. The beauty of a physical exfoliant is that it gives you instant gratification as your skin instantly feels smoother and softer.

The other way to exfoliate is with a chemical – mainly, an acid such as an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or a BHA (a beta hydroxy acid). They work in a more gentle way to dissolve dead skin cells so they can be easily whisked away. These acids are generally derived from fruits and plants. Enzymes derived from fruits such as pineapple (bromelain), papaya (papain) and pomegranate are also popular in exfoliators, but they do not penetrate as deeply as an AHA or BHA.

Here’s how AHAs and BHAs differ. AHAs include lactic, glycolic, mandelic and tarteric acid. Anyone who is new to exfoliation or has sensitive skin could try starting with lactic acid, which is one of the most gentle. Normal skin can generally handle glycolic acid.

BHAs help to tackle acne and oil clogged pores, and zap bacteria on the skin. They are also anti-inflammatory. The most common is salicylic acid, which is often found in acne products.
Microdermabrasion is another way to get a deep exfoliation. This is usually performed by a doctor or at a medical spa, and involves spraying the face with a fine layer of crystals to remove dead skin cells while the skin is simultaneously suctioned.

Why You Need to Exfoliate

Our skin constantly heals and repairs itself, but as we age cell regeneration slows down. That’s why it’s critical to add exfoliation to your skincare routine to keep that process moving. Getting rid of old, dead skin cells is key because when they build up, they can cause the face to look dull. Dry, dead skin can also clog pores, leading to breakouts, blackheads, enlarged pores and acne. Dead skin cells can also accentuate fine lines and wrinkles. Exfoliating regularly helps keep all of that bay.

Wiping out those dead skin cells helps the skin look brighter, and freshens up the complexion leaving it looking soft, youthful and glowing. Regular exfoliation also helps improve the texture of the skin, so your face will also look and feel smoother.

But looks aside, there are other benefits to exfoliating. By getting rid of dead skin cells, it helps products like moisturizer and serum work more effectively as they can penetrate deeper into the skin, without a layer of dead skin cells in the way. Improving the skin’s texture to create a smooth canvas also helps makeup glide on more easily.

Should I Exfoliate If I Have Acne?

Anyone with acne prone skin may think it’s best to avoid exfoliating as it may inflame the skin but the opposite is true. It sounds counterintuitive, but exfoliating can help clean out the clogged pores which lead to blemishes. If you have blemish prone skin, opt for a chemical exfoliator which will be more gentle to the skin, and can also help to fade acne scars. But it’s important not to over do it with harsh scrubbing and chemicals as it will backfire; over dry skin will kick start oil production.

The Best Way To Exfoliate Your Face

Before you reach for your exfoliator, you need to start with a clean face to get rid of any dirt, makeup and sweat. After cleansing, apply a small amount of exfoliator to the face. If using a physical exfoliant, use a dollop about the size of a quarter and apply it in circles to the face, avoiding the eye area. Be sure to use a light touch- less is definitely more in the scrubbing department. Rinse the product thoroughly and then apply your regular serum and moisturizer. Post exfoliation is also a great time to apply a hydrating sheet mask.

If you’re using a chemical exfoliant, which are also sometimes called peels, it’s important to follow the directions on the product. Some are meant to be applied overnight while others should be left on for about 10 minutes or so. You may feel a slight tingling when the product is applied and that’s normal; severe discomfort is not. Chemical exfoliation products come in liquids such as toners, serums masks and peels as well as pads soaked with glycolic or salicylic acid which can be swiped over the face.

It may be tempting to exfoliate every day but scrubbing your face is not like scrubbing a bathtub. Too much exfoliation can also backfire, causing skin to be red, irritated and inflamed, especially if you use a physical exfoliant. Some of the chunkiest scrubs are highly abrasive and can cause damaging micro tears to the skin.

As a rule of thumb, exfoliating two to three times a week should be sufficient but it depends on your skin type and if you have any issues such as rosacea or eczema. Anyone who is using a retinol laced product may also experience more sensitivity when exfoliating. When it comes to exfoliation, slow and steady wins the race. Start slowly and build your way up to a using the product a few times a week.

Body Scrubs vs Facial Scrubs?

Body scrubs and facial scrubs are formulated very differently and should not be interchanged. A body scrub (or polish) usually contains chunky ingredients like salt, sugar or coffee grounds. These are far too harsh for the face, which has some of the thinnest skin on the body. A body scrub could also contain hydrators like mineral oil which is fine for your legs but could clog facial pores. Using a face scrub on the body is fine although it may not be strong enough for stubborn spots such as heels and knees.

If you are narrowing down body scrub choices, keep in mind that salt based body often have sea salt which are thought to help rid of toxins.

Which Exfoliator Should I Use?

If you want smoother looking skin, skip the harsh physical exfoliators which can do more harm than good. Formulyst Retexturing and Perfecting Serum is powered by gentle but effective alpha hydroxy acid which works to dissolve dead skin cells. Packed with plant based acids, apply this serum to the face and neck to whisk away old skin cells, leaving behind fresher, smoother looking skin. The serum also works to on unevenness and blotchiness.



Carrot & Stick

Carrot & Stick takes a tough love approach to skincare. What does this mean? It perfectly balances the power of plants with innovative science, offering the best of both worlds. Read More


The philosophy of Formulyst is long-term and effective skincare, rather than covering up any imperfections. The comprehensive line of products tackles everything from wrinkles to dark spots and dry skin. While some brands rely on unnecessary fillers and scents, Formulyst focuses on ingredients that help create results, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Read More

Recommended Articles