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Exfoliating: The Right (And Wrong) Ways To Do It


April 12, 2017

Exfoliation can be a wonderful treat for your skin. It removes the dead skin cells from the outer layer, leaving it feeling and looking radiant. But exfoliation can also cause harm if it’s not executed properly. Using the wrong product or doing it too often can be too harsh for your skin, and can irritate or inflame it.

Luckily, there are a variety of ways you can safely exfoliate your skin, no matter what your skin type is: here’s my guide.

The Two Methods

There are two main methods for exfoliation: mechanical and chemical. Chemical exfoliation uses chemicals like alpha and beta hydroxy acids to dissolve dead skin cells.  For skin that is typically sensitive, dry, or acne-prone skin, a gentle exfoliating scrub (this is considered a chemical method) may be the way to go. For normal, oily, or combination skin, you could choose either method.

Mechanical exfoliation simply means you are using a tool, like a brush or sponge, to physically scrub and remove dead skin cells. This method is best for normal, oily, or combination skin that isn’t easily irritated.

Properly Executing Exfoliation

Choose the right product and method for your skin type.
Sensitive skin sufferers or anyone worried about the effects of exfoliation may want to steer clear of prescription creams, chemical peels, or products containing retinoid or benzoyl peroxide. A simple, natural, DIY scrub made of brown sugar and coconut oil is a gentle, safe way to rid your skin of dead cells.

Go easy and be gentle.
Remember, you’ve got to treat your skin well because it’s going to be with you for a long time. Don’t scrub too hard; rubbing gentle, easy circles with your fingers is all you need to do.

Moisturize afterward.
Exfoliating can dry out your skin. A soothing moisturizer is the best way to follow-up.

Don’t go overboard.
Find the right exfoliating schedule for you. Most people do it two to three times per week. Those with oily, thicker skin may need to exfoliate daily or every other day. Remember, the more aggressive the exfoliation procedure, the less often it needs to be done.

Avoid These Things When Exfoliating

Don’t exfoliate without evaluating your skin type and any skin conditions you may have. While there are many benefits to exfoliation, it can present problems in people with varying skin sensitivities.

If you have inflammatory acne, don’t try exfoliating at home on your own without consulting a dermatologist. Like we mentioned above, aggressive mechanical exfoliation techniques or harsh chemical treatments can actually aggravate your skin condition and make it worse. This goes for people with eczema or rosacea as well.

If you’re currently using medication, don’t exfoliate until it’s out of your system or without the advice of a dermatologist. Many medications do not react well to benzoyl peroxide, a common ingredient in over-the-counter exfoliants.

Don’t exfoliate without letting your skin recuperate, or without properly hydrating it afterward. A hydrating cream or moisturizer will penetrate better post-exfoliation, increasing desired results.

If you’re buying over-the-counter products, don’t ignore the ingredients label. Choose a chemical product with a low acid concentration—no higher than 10 percent glycolic or 2 percent salicylic acid.

In some individuals, more aggressive forms of exfoliation may result in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), or the appearance of dark spots on the skin. People with skin of color or those who notice such dark spots after burns or bug bites may be prone to PIH.

Additionally, exfoliation may aggravate other skin conditions like herpes simplex, molluscum contagiosum and warts, because these conditions include raised, fluid-filled bumps that could open and become infected. Before beginning an exfoliation regimen, consult with a CB-approved, board-certified dermatologist—they can recommend the best exfoliation options for your skin.


Speaking of chemical exfoliants, we love Dr. Dennis Grossat-home Alpha-Beta Peel, and we also love the low pH of Drunk Elephant’s new Baby Facial


Read client reviews, book sessions, and get expert advice. Only the best cosmetic doctors, skincare gurus, nutritionists, fitness and wellness professionals make it into our book.  

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