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How to Exfoliate Face: A Comprehensive Guide

Medically reviewed by:
 Dr. Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD

Dr. Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD

Dr. Rachel Nazarian is a board-certified dermatologist practicing in New York City. She completed her medical degree at Tulane University School of Medicine, where she received a grant from the Women’s Dermatology Society. Dr. Nazarian went on to complete her dermatology residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center, where she now serves on the faculty in […]

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By: Christina Davies
Updated on: February 02, 2024

Taking care of our skin is essential for maintaining its health and vitality. One crucial step in a skincare routine is exfoliation. Exfoliating your face helps remove dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and promotes a fresh and glowing complexion. In this article, we will guide you through exfoliating your face effectively. From understanding the benefits of an exfoliation routine to exploring different methods and products, we will provide you with all the information you need to achieve radiant skin.

Understanding the Importance of Exfoliation

Exfoliation plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy and radiant skin. It is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, allowing new, fresh cells to emerge. As we age, our skin’s natural exfoliation process slows down, leading to a buildup of dead skin cells. This accumulation of dead skin cells can result in a dull complexion, clogged pores, and an uneven skin texture.

Regular exfoliation in your skincare routine can help counteract these effects and achieve a glowing complexion. Exfoliating removes the barrier of dead skin cells, allowing skincare products to penetrate more effectively. This enhances the absorption of beneficial ingredients in skincare products, such as moisturizers, serums, and treatments.

Additionally, exfoliation stimulates cell turnover, encouraging the growth of new skin cells. This process promotes a more youthful appearance by reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. It also helps to even out skin tone, minimizing discoloration and hyperpigmentation.

Benefits of Exfoliating Your Face

Exfoliating your face offers numerous benefits for your skin. Some key advantages include:

1) Enhanced skin texture and smoothness:

Exfoliating helps to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. As a result, it promotes cell turnover and reveals fresher, newer skin underneath. This process can lead to a smoother and softer texture, making your skin feel more supple and youthful.

2) Improved absorption of skincare products:

By removing the buildup of dead skin cells and unclogging your pores, exfoliation allows your skincare products to penetrate deeper into the skin. This enhanced absorption ensures that the active ingredients in your moisturizers, hyaluronic acid serums, and other hydrating treatments can effectively work on your skin, delivering better results.

3) Minimized appearance of pores:

Regular exfoliation can help reduce the appearance of enlarged pores. When your pores are clogged with excess oil, dirt, and dead skin cells, they appear larger. By removing these impurities, exfoliation can help minimize the appearance of pores, giving your skin a smoother and more refined look.

Dr Rachel Nazarian MD, a board-certified dermatologist from NYC suggests using a method of exfoliationg regularly to keep pores smaller and to keep skin looking smoother. “The tendency of skin is to keep refilling those pore with dead skin cells and oil. Having a chemical exfoliating ingredients incorporated into your regimen can be helpful for longterm improvement in your skins appearance.”

4) Reduction in acne breakouts:

Exfoliating can be particularly beneficial for those prone to acne breakouts. By removing dead skin cells and unclogging pores, exfoliation helps prevent the buildup of bacteria, oil, and debris that can lead to acne. It can also help fade acne scars over time.

5) Brightened and more radiant complexion:

Exfoliation helps to remove dull and dead skin cells, revealing the fresh, healthy skin beneath. This can lead to brighter skin and a more radiant complexion. By promoting normal skin cell turnover, exfoliation also encourages the growth of new, healthy skin cells, which contributes to a youthful glow.

6) Evened out skin tone:

Exfoliating can help even out your skin tone by reducing the appearance of dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and uneven patches. By removing the top and outer layer of dead skin cells, exfoliation can reveal a more even and uniform complexion with glowing skin.

7) Stimulated collagen production:

Exfoliation stimulates the production of collagen, a protein that helps maintain the skin’s elasticity and firmness. Regular exfoliation can encourage collagen synthesis, leading to firmer, plumper skin and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles over time.

Dr Nazarian reminds readers that expectations needs to be managed with using exfoliation to treat scars. “They work better for discoloration and stains, like dark marks, but deeper scars require lasers and other modalities to repair them.”  

Different Types of Exfoliation Methods

Manual Exfoliation

Manual exfoliation involves physically and gently scrubbing the skin using granular substances or tools. Common manual exfoliators include facial scrubs, brushes, and exfoliating gloves. This physical exfoliation method effectively slows off dead skin cells and promotes circulation.

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliation utilizes acids or enzymes to remove dead cells and dissolve the bonds between dead skin cells. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are commonly used in chemical exfoliators. This method of mechanical exfoliation is gentle yet effective and suitable for various skin types.

Enzyme Exfoliation

Enzyme exfoliation relies on natural fruit enzymes to break down dead skin cells. Papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin are popular choices for enzyme exfoliation. This method is gentle and suitable for dry or sensitive skin.

Choosing the Right Exfoliator for Your Skin Type

Selecting the right chemical exfoliator for your skin type is crucial to achieving the best results. Here are some general guidelines:

  • For sensitive skin: Opt for gentle exfoliators with finer particles or enzymatic formulas.
  • For oily or acne-prone skin: Consider chemical exfoliators containing salicylic acid or tea tree oil.
  • For dry or mature skin: Look for moisturizing exfoliators with hyaluronic or lactic acid ingredients.

How to Exfoliate Your Face Step-by-Step

Now that you understand the basics let’s dive into the step-by-step process of exfoliating your face:

Step 1: Cleanse Your Face

Before exfoliating, it’s essential to start with your face wash on a clean canvas. Use a gentle facial cleanser that suits your skin type to remove any dirt, oil, or makeup from your face. Gently massage the cleanser onto your skin using your fingertips, then rinse it with lukewarm water. Pat your skin dry with a clean towel.

Step 2: Wet Your Skin

Wet your face with warm water to prepare your skin for exfoliation. Warm water helps open up your pores, making it easier for the exfoliator to remove dead skin cells and impurities for smoother skin.

Step 3: Apply Exfoliator

Apply a small amount of your chosen exfoliator product to your damp skin. It’s important to choose an exfoliator that is suitable for your skin type. There are two main types of exfoliators: physical exfoliators and chemical exfoliators.

Step 4: Gently Massage in Circular Motions

Using your fingertips or an exfoliating tool, gently massage the exfoliator onto your face in circular motions. Be mindful of applying gentle pressure, as harsh scrubbing can irritate the skin. Focus on areas where dead skin cells accumulate, such as the forehead, nose, chin, and cheeks. Avoid the delicate eye area, as the skin is thinner and more sensitive.

For physical exfoliators, let the granules or particles work properly and gently exfoliate you as you gently move them across your skin. Simply massage the product onto your skin for chemical exfoliators and let it sit for the recommended time specified on the product label.

Step 5: Rinse and Pat Dry

After thoroughly massaging the combination skin, rinse your body and scrub your face with lukewarm water until all the exfoliator is removed. Make sure to remove all traces of the product from your skin to prevent any potential irritation. Avoid hot water, which can strip your skin of its natural oils.

Once you’ve rinsed the face scrub and off the exfoliator, pat your skin dry with a clean towel. Avoid rubbing your face, as this can cause friction and irritation.

Step 6: Moisturize Your Skin

After exfoliating, it’s crucial to replenish moisture and nourish your skin’s surface itself. Apply a moisturizer suitable for your skin type to seal in hydration and restore the skin’s natural barrier. Look for a moisturizer that contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or ceramides, which help to lock in moisture and keep your skin hydrated. Gently massage the moisturizer onto your face and neck using upward motions.

It’s important to note that exfoliating should be done in moderation and according to your skin’s needs. Over-exfoliating or exfoliating too frequently can lead to skin irritation or, dryness, or sensitivity. Exfoliating your skin 1-3 times per week is recommended, depending on your skin type and your exfoliation method.

Frequency of Exfoliation

The frequency of exfoliation depends on your skin type and the exfoliation method used. Generally, it is recommended to only exfoliate skin 1-3 times per week. However, individuals with sensitive skin may need to exfoliate less frequently, while those with oily or congested skin may benefit from more frequent exfoliation.

Precautions and Tips for Effective Exfoliation

  • Avoid exfoliating if you have sunburned, broken, or irritated skin.
  • Always follow the instructions provided with your chosen exfoliator.
  • Be gentle when exfoliating to avoid causing micro-tears or irritation.
  • Protect your skin with sunscreen after exfoliating, as it can increase sensitivity to the sun.

DIY Exfoliating Recipes

If you prefer natural and homemade skincare, here are a few DIY exfoliating recipes you can try:

  1. Honey and Sugar Scrub: Mix honey and brown sugar to create a gentle exfoliating scrub. Apply to damp skin and massage in circular motions.
  2. Oatmeal and Yogurt Mask: Combine ground oatmeal and plain yogurt to create a soothing and exfoliating mask. Apply to your face, leave on for 10-15 minutes, and rinse off.

Exfoliation for Specific Skin Concerns

Exfoliating for Acne-Prone Skin

Individuals with acne-prone skin can benefit from exfoliating to unclog pores and prevent breakouts. Opt for gentle chemical exfoliators with salicylic acid or tea tree oil.

Exfoliating for Dry Skin

For those with dry skin, choosing moisturizing exfoliators that won’t strip away natural oils is essential. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid or lactic acid to provide hydration while exfoliating.

Exfoliating for Aging Skin

Exfoliation can help diminish the appearance of fine lines and promote a more youthful complexion. Consider chemical exfoliators with AHAs or enzymes to encourage cell turnover and collagen production.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1: How often should I exfoliate my face?

The frequency of exfoliation depends on your skin type and the exfoliation method you’re using. Generally, it’s recommended to exfoliate 1-3 times per week. However, it’s important to listen to your skin and adjust accordingly. You may need to exfoliate less frequently to avoid irritation if you have very sensitive skin too.

Q2: Can I exfoliate if I have sensitive skin?

You can exfoliate if you have sensitive skin, but choosing gentle exfoliation methods and products specifically formulated for sensitive skin is important. Avoid harsh physical exfoliants made with large particles or abrasive materials, which can irritate. Instead, opt for mild chemical exfoliators with low concentrations of AHAs or BHAs, as they are generally gentler on sensitive skin.

Q3: What should I do if I experience redness or irritation after exfoliating?

If you experience redness or irritation after exfoliating, it’s important to soothe and calm your skin. Rinse your face with cool water to help alleviate any discomfort. Apply a gentle, hydrating moisturizer to nourish and protect your skin. You can also apply a cold compress or aloe vera gel to reduce inflammation. It’s advisable to avoid exfoliating until your skin has fully recovered.

Q4: Can I use body exfoliators on my face?

Using body exfoliators on darker skin tones on your face is generally not recommended. Body exfoliators are typically more abrasive and designed for thicker skin, which may be too harsh for delicate facial skin. Facial exfoliators are specifically formulated with smaller particles or gentle chemical ingredients to suit facial skin’s texture and needs.

Q5: Is exfoliating suitable for all skin types?

Exfoliating can suit most skin types, but choosing the right exfoliation method and products is important based on your skin’s needs. While exfoliating can provide various benefits, being cautious and mindful of your skin’s tolerance is crucial. People with sensitive or acne-prone skin may need to choose milder exfoliation methods, whereas those with oily skin or thicker skin may tolerate more frequent exfoliation.

Those with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea should always speak to a board-certified dermatologist before starting an exfoliator. The risk of flaring their underlying skin conditions is high, and they require closer monitoring and discussion before use.


Exfoliating your face is a vital step in your skincare routine that can significantly improve your skin’s appearance and health. By understanding the benefits of exfoliation, choosing the right method and products, and following proper techniques, you can achieve a smoother, brighter, and more youthful complexion.


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