- Exfoliating removes the buildup of dead cells on your face.
- There are two types of exfoliators, physical and chemical.
- Exfoliating too often can irritate and damage your skin.
- Your skin type determines how often you should exfoliate.
Exfoliation involves removing dead skin cells to reveal brighter, healthier skin on your face. Without regular exfoliation, your skin appears dull and flakey and is more prone to breakouts. However, exfoliating too often damages the stratum corneum, the protective outermost layer of skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation. With these factors to consider, how often should you exfoliate your face? The answer depends on your skin type and the kind of exfoliator you use.
How Often Should You Exfoliate Your Face?
Most people can exfoliate one to three times a week. You can exfoliate in two ways: chemically or physically. Your skin may benefit from a combination of these two types of exfoliators or may only tolerate one of them.
Exfoliating with physical exfoliants
Physical exfoliants help you manually remove dead skin cells from your face by scrubbing them away. Common varieties include sugar, salt, crushed nutshells and microbeads.
Not all physical exfoliants are created equal. For most people, salt and crushed nutshells are too harsh for the face and should only be used in body scrubs, even though they are widely found in beauty products for the face.
Additionally, plastic microbeads are being banned in many countries due to their negative impact on the environment. These plastics are usually called polyethylene, polypropylene, polymethyl or nylon in a product ingredient list.
The frequency at which you can physically exfoliate your skin falls around one to three times a week. Use these products less often if you also include a chemical exfoliant in your skin care routine.
Exfoliating with chemical exfoliants
Chemical exfoliants loosen the bonds that hold skin cells together, allowing you to easily wipe dead cells away. Alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) are popular active ingredients found in chemical exfoliants.
Because chemical exfoliants don’t require any scrubbing, they are gentler on the skin than their physical counterparts. Start by applying them twice a week to determine your skin’s tolerance.
Is It Bad to Exfoliate Your Face Every Day?
It is not necessary to exfoliate every day; moreover, over-exfoliation can cause damage to your skin.
Many exfoliants contain particles that create microtears in your skin. Without enough time to heal between sessions, your skin becomes irritated.
Signs of over-exfoliating include redness, inflammation, peeling, small pimples and increased sensitivity to other skin care products.
How Often to Exfoliate Your Skin Type
The frequency at which you should exfoliate is determined by whether your skin is dry, oily or somewhere in between.
No matter which type of product you choose, keep in mind that freshly exfoliated skin is more prone to sun damage. Take extra care to protect your skin with a sunscreen containing at least SPF 30 after exfoliating.
Exfoliating dry skin
Dry skin types should only use exfoliants a few times a week. Even if your skin appears flakey, resist the urge to exfoliate too often as dry skin is easily damaged.
This skin type benefits from both physical and chemical exfoliants used in moderation.
Dry skin often shows the signs of aging earlier than oilier skin. Look for a product containing glycolic acid, an AHA that can deeply penetrate the pores of the skin. Glycolic acid applied in high concentrations has been proven to reduce the signs of sun damage, including fine lines, dark spots and roughness.
Citric acid is an AHA found in lemons. In addition to its exfoliating properties, citric acid has been demonstrated to increase skin thickness and reduce the appearance of sun damage.
Exfoliating oily and acne-prone skin
Oily skin can often tolerate more frequent exfoliation than dry skin can. Physical exfoliants can be used up to three times a week. For chemical products, some people may find they can use a mild exfoliating product almost every day.
Opt for products containing beta-hydroxy acids, which are oil-soluble and highly effective at dissolving plugs in clogged pores. Salicylic acid is a BHA that fights inflammation and helps dry up excess oil.
Azelaic acid is keratolytic, meaning it breaks down and dissolves keratin, a key protein in the outermost layer of skin. It can also help treat mild and moderate acne by killing Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne.
If you have severe acne, you should avoid physical exfoliants. A gritty face scrub will only irritate skin that’s already inflamed and possibly cause deeper infection.
Exfoliating sensitive skin
When you have sensitive skin, the stratum corneum is usually damaged. A compromised skin barrier results in moisture loss and increased reactivity to skin care products, among other symptoms.
Many people with sensitive skin cannot tolerate physical exfoliation and can only use very mild chemical exfoliants. Once a week, use a gentle chemical product containing lactic acid or mandelic acid—both mild AHAs—and increase or decrease your frequency of use based on your skin’s reaction.
If you find that your skin consistently reacts badly to any exfoliating product you try, consider consulting a dermatologist. They can help you develop a skin care routine to restore a damaged skin barrier and improve your skin’s health in the long run.
Exfoliate When Your Skin Needs It
A common-sense rule to prevent accidentally over-exfoliating is to exfoliate only when your skin needs it. Rather than always applying a product on a certain of the week, critically assess your skin’s needs to determine if exfoliating is necessary.
You can tell your skin is ready for exfoliation when you experience flakiness, oiliness or the feeling that your regular facial cleanser isn’t doing enough.
If you use retinoids, your skin requires very little exfoliation. Even during the initial phase of retinol use, when the skin often flakes, avoid exfoliating products as they will only further irritate your skin.
Exfoliation involves removing dead cells from the face using either a physical or chemical product. While regular exfoliation is an important step in any good skin care routine, knowing how often to exfoliate is crucial to maximizing its benefits.
On average, people can tolerate exfoliating one to three times a week. Those with oily skin can handle more frequent exfoliation and benefit most from BHAs such as salicylic acid or azelaic acid, both of which have additional acne-fighting properties.
Drier skin types can use AHAs such as glycolic acid and should exfoliate less often—only once or twice a week.
Individuals with severe acne or skin sensitivity should avoid physical exfoliants, as your skin may already be inflamed and easily irritated. Instead, choose a mild chemical exfoliator such as lactic acid or mandelic acid.
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