The Do’s and Dont’s of Exfoliating, Based on Your Skin Type


If you’ve ever dreamed of velvety soft skin, exfoliators are here to help. Exfoliation, or the act of removing the dead skin cells from the outermost surface of the skin, can be achieved two ways: You can exfoliate by physically scrubbing away the dead skin cells with facial brushes, microdermabrasion, washcloths, and grain-based scrubs. You can also chemically exfoliate with products that dissolve dead skin cells.

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Chemical-based exfoliators have similar compounds to chemical peel ingredients like alpha and beta hydroxy acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid or salicylic acid—all of which work to gently dissolve the dead skin cells.

Mechanical or chemical exfoliation of your skin removes the dead skin layer increasing the penetration of other products that you place on the skin surface and enhances their absorption into the skin. In addition, because you are removing the dull, dead skin cells it helps to make your skin look brighter and more radiant.

Exfoliation is an easy and necessary step to achieving baby-like skin. Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, a dermatologist at Union Dermatology, broke down the specifics of exfoliation 101. Ahead you’ll find what to look for in an exfoliator depending on your skin type and a few product suggestions to begin your new skin journey.

If you have dry skin…

Avoid products with high amounts of alcohol. You would want to look for exfoliants that have moisturizing ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter, or ceramide. Since your skin tends to be dry, you should only exfoliate one to two times a week followed by a strong moisturizer.

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If you have oily skin…

Oily skin has a higher tolerance so you can exfoliate up to five times a week depending on the product. You should look for products that contain alpha or beta acids, salicylic or glycolic acids. Still moisturize after exfoliation, however, and be sure to not overdo it! If you dry out your skin too much it can cause redness and irritation. You may even stimulate increased oil production as your body responds to being over dry.

If you have normal skin…

Normal skin can exfoliate two to three times per week. While normal skin has the most options, if you exfoliate too much you will do more harm than good. You can manually exfoliate with a brush or washcloth as well chemically-based products that include granular sugar, crushed apricot pits or walnut shells and light amounts of acids. Start slowly and see what your skin can tolerate.

If you have combination skin…

If you have combination skin (i.e. your T-zone is oily and your cheeks are dry), you should keep the majority of your exfoliation to the T-zone area. You should follow exfoliation with moisturizer applied heavily to the dry skin areas and sparsely to the oily areas.

Special tips for women of color:

Dr. Gmyrek notes that exfoliation can be extra beneficial to people of color, who are prone to hyperpigmentation. The process works to remove brown spots and aids the penetration of chemical agents for hyperpigmentaton. Exfoliation can also especially help improve dry patches in darker skin types.

A few more dermatologist tips to remember:

  • Do not over exfoliate. If you do, your skin may become red and start to peel or flake.
  • If you have chronic or cystic acne or skin is already inflamed, you can irritate it further with exfoliation so it’s best to avoid it.
  • Always moisturize after you exfoliate, because you need to replenish the moisture you have just removed.
  • Consider the skin care products you’re already using: Some medications and even over-the-counter products may cause your skin to be sensitive or peel such as prescription products containing retinol or benzoyl peroxide. If you exfoliate while using these products, you may worsen dry skin and even cause acne breakouts.

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