The Beginner’s Guide to Exfoliation

BY Kaleigh Laurino · July 18, 2017

woman washing her face

From loading up on antioxidants to investing in laser skin resurfacing, there are tons of ways to get the smooth, glowing, healthy skin we all want. Exfoliation lies among the best ways to improve your skin’s texture and tone, and it’s something all of us can do right at home. However, it’s also really easy to overdo it by exfoliating too often or using the wrong method for your skin type. Learn how to properly exfoliate your skin from head to toe with this guide.

What Is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin. This can be accomplished by two main methods—chemical and physical. There are a couple of ways to physically exfoliate. The first involves using a skin care tool, such as a sponge, towel or brush, on your skin to displace and remove dead skin cells. The other method involves using a liquid, gel or scrub with granules like microbeads or sugar to smooth and refine the skin. With chemical exfoliation, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) or enzymes gently remove dead skin cells.

Benefits of Exfoliating

Why should you exfoliate? Your skin is constantly repairing and replacing itself. Because of this, you can be left with layers upon layers of dead skin all over your body. Exfoliating helps rid your body of these leftover dead skin cells, revealing healthier, brighter skin immediately after.

While brighter skin is certainly a perk, exfoliation can actually help improve the health of your skin as well. Board-certified dermatologist Gary Goldfaden, MD is an advocate of exfoliation to remedy acne. If you’ve struggled with acne, you know the pain of trying product after product to find a cure. If your skin is riddled with dead cells, the products may not be able to penetrate deep into the skin. Dr. Goldfaden states that when you exfoliate, you’re removing the top-most layer of skin, allowing for topical skin treatments to sink deep below the surface. Exfoliating, in the long term, can also be effective at reviving aging skin, as it helps stimulate collagen production.

How to Properly Exfoliate From Head to Toe

There are so many ways to go about exfoliating your skin, but it is important to learn the basics before diving right in. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, scrubbing with the wrong products, using the wrong methods or exfoliating too often can damage your skin and even cause you to break out. Here’s how to safely and effectively exfoliate at home.

How Often Should You Exfoliate?

Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to this. Every person’s skin is different, therefore warranting its own, unique skin care routine. If this is your first time experimenting with exfoliation, it is important to start with a gentle routine. One to three times per week is generally sufficient for most skin types.

What Type of Exfoliation Is Right for Your Skin?

Before we jump into how to properly exfoliate, it’s important to know your skin type. This will help you choose the best and most effective method of exfoliation. Those with sensitive skin, for example, may want to stick with mild chemical exfoliants or gentle physical exfoliants like a konjac sponge. Thicker, oily skin types can generally use stronger chemical treatments or more abrasive physical exfoliants without a problem.

If you have inflammatory acne, rosacea or hypersensitive skin, you may might want to seek expert advice before starting an exfoliation regimen, as some methods can make these skin types worse. Your dermatologist can advise you on how often to exfoliate and what method to use—based on your skin type and current skin care regimen.

How to Exfoliate Your Face

The first rules of exfoliating your face are to be gentle (avoiding over-exfoliation) and to moisturize after you exfoliate. When using an exfoliating scrub, apply it gently and in circular motions. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends to gently massage the product into the skin for as long as your specific product recommends, and rinse with warm water. For example, SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub recommends massaging the product into your skin for a full minute before rinsing. After every time you exfoliate your skin, it’s crucial to apply moisturizer. Exfoliating strips the skin of its last protective layer, drying it out more than normal cleansing.

How to Exfoliate Your Body

One way to exfoliate your body is with a warm shower and a loofah, sponge or washcloth. However, you can find both chemical and physical exfoliating body washes and scrubs to really soak in the benefits of exfoliation—while making your shower time a little more spa-like. For chemical exfoliation, we recommend Glytone’s Exfoliating Body Wash, which contains an 8.8 percent glycolic acid concentrate. For physical exfoliation, we love the sweet-smelling, hydrating Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish by Herbivore Botanicals. Gently massage the scrub or body wash of your choice in circular motions to eliminate dead skin cells, let it sit for a minute and rinse off.

How to Exfoliate Your Feet

The bottoms of your feet tend to be home to the roughest spots of skin on your body, so they require a little more TLC when it comes to exfoliating. If you’ve gotten a pedicure before, you know that physical exfoliation—scrubs, stones and files—can be an effective way to smooth rough heels. Your feet can also benefit from chemical exfoliation, which is what powers the cult-favorite exfoliating socks from Baby Foot. All you have to do is soak your feet for an hour, while your feet absorb the glycolic, malic and lactic acids. Then, within a few days, your feet will start to shed a layer of skin, revealing baby-soft feet.

By exfoliating properly and regularly, you can start to see a real change in your skin—all over your body. You’ll look and feel radiant, reduce the signs of aging and help your skin better absorb your favorite products.

Kaleigh Laurino

Kaleigh Laurino is the Content Manager for Chef’d, a meal kit delivery service based in El Segundo, California. She has worked in the creative field, specifically content creation, for over five years and specializes... Read More >