Exfoliation is touted as a quick and easy way to give skin that longed-for glow.
In a nutshell, the number of times you exfoliate each week depends on your skin type and what you’re trying to achieve.
Below, we offer a few specific pointers on exfoliating.
|Once per week||Twice per week||Three times per week||Chemical exfoliant||Physical exfoliant|
|Dry or sensitive skin||X||X||X|
|Oily or acne-prone skin||X||X||X||X|
Humans lose around 500 million skin cells every day, meaning dead skin can build up pretty quickly.
Many think that weekly exfoliation is enough, and it’s a good starting point for a newbie.
Most experts advise that you exfoliate two to three times per week — as long as your skin can handle it.
Chemical exfoliants tend to be fine to use more regularly.
Physical methods, on the other hand, may be too abrasive to use multiple times a week.
According to aesthetician Elena Duque, these skin types should only exfoliate once or twice a week.
“The best exfoliant would either be an enzyme if you’re sensitive, or a glycolic [acid] if you’re dry,” she says. “Preferably one that contains a moisturizing ingredient.”
Physical exfoliants don’t have to be written off completely as sensitive skin types “can control the level of intensity,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
He recommends an ultra gentle one with ingredients like bamboo or rice powder.
These skin types can exfoliate two or three times a week if their skin can tolerate it.
Opt for products containing salicylic acid, notes Zeichner, as it’s oil-soluble. (These will mainly be of the chemical variety.)
People with oily skin can also try physical exfoliation to remove any extra buildup.
“If you’ve got combination skin, you’re in luck!” says Duque. “You can really go either way, and even switch between scrubs, acids, and enzymes.”
Again, stick to exfoliating two or three times each week if your skin allows.
Pay special attention to ingredients like mandelic acid, Zeichner says, “which is useful in removing excess oil from the skin but is mild enough to be used in dry areas as well.”
For mature skin, try a gentle chemical exfoliant twice a week. You should decrease frequency if your skin shows signs of irritation.
Duque recommends enzymes or glycolic acid products. Zeichner also praises glycolic acid.
“This alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is a great all-around exfoliator and helps provide anti-aging benefits by strengthening the skin foundation,” he says.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, there are two main types of exfoliants: physical and chemical.
The first type, states Zeichner, “uses gritty particles to physically remove cells from the surface of the skin.”
Chemical exfoliants, meanwhile, “use hydroxy acids to help dissolve connections between skin cells so they can more easily be shed.”
What you use depends on your skin type and sensitivities. You may need to experiment before deciding.
If you’re looking for a chemical exfoliant
Chemical exfoliants almost always contain AHAs or BHAs. Think glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and lactic acid.
However, enzymes derived from fruits may also be a feature. These can include the likes of pineapple and papaya.
Chemical options — serums, peels, and more — are typically gentler on the skin as they don’t involve abrasive action.
Some people even use them every day, though you should build up slowly rather than adopting this routine straight away.
If you’re looking for a physical exfoliant
Scrubs and brushes fall into the physical — also known as manual — exfoliant category.
They work, but can easily become too harsh if used excessively or applied with a lot of pressure. Plus, they don’t go as deep into the skin as the chemical type.
Pumices and jojoba beads are generally gentler options to try.
If you’re not sure about a particular product, test it on your hand.
Does it feel scratchy? Then it’s probably best to avoid using it on your face.
Signs of overexfoliation are pretty obvious. For example, irritation is a warning sign that something’s not right.
“No exfoliation should cause any visible flaking or redness of the skin,” says dermatologist Dr. Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin.
These are signs of skin damage, he adds, and could lead to infections and long-term conditions like eczema.
Small tears in the skin and broken capillaries may also occur from excessive exfoliation.
Not exfoliating enough, however, will allow dead skin to build up, potentially leading to dullness, congestion, and a rough texture.
Other skin care products may also not get the chance to penetrate as deeply as they should without proper exfoliation.
Exfoliation quandaries don’t just revolve around weekly timings. There’s a whole host of other things to consider.
Do you have to cleanse first?
Duque says, “cleansing first is a must.” After all, exfoliation only removes dead skin.
To do a good job, you need a clean base to work from. Plus, cleansing will remove makeup and other grime from the day.
Does it matter if you do it in the morning or at night?
It depends on your skin needs. Daily makeup wearers should exfoliate at night to help remove leftover residue.
People who wake up with a less-than-glowing complexion may want to exfoliate first thing.
Can you use more than one exfoliant at a time?
You can, but pay attention to how your skin reacts. It’s best to start off with one product and then add on a second if you feel your skin needs more.
If you do use two at once, choose gentle options that are less likely to irritate.
You can also combine both a physical and chemical type. Tonkovic-Capin recommends “slow” exfoliation using “facial pads presoaked with salicylic acid and resveratrol.”
No person’s skin is the same, meaning you may have to try a few products before you find an exfoliating routine that works.
If you’re still not sure what your skin needs, consult a dermatologist.
Lauren Sharkey is a journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraine, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.