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HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU EXFOLIATE YOUR FACE AND BODY?

Published: September 7,  2022

Exfoliation is touted as a quick and easy way to give your skin a radiant glow. And it is. We lose around 500 million skin cells every day, so dead skin can build up pretty quickly. 


A quick exfoliating session can instantly reduce dullness for a fresh dewy face. But over-exfoliation is a bad thing. And it’s a skincare mistake that’s easily made. By incessantly scrubbing off dry, flaky patches of skin (in an effort to rid yourself of it!) you can accidentally exfoliate too much. Or use an ingredient that's too harsh for your skin. 


We’re diving deeper into exfoliation and breaking down how often you should exfoliate and the best ingredients to use for your skin type.

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IS EXFOLIATING NECESSARY IN EVERY SKINCARE ROUTINE?

We've talked about how to exfoliate your skin before—now let's talk about the why. The simple truth is everyone can benefit from exfoliating their skin. No matter which skin type you have, exfoliation can provide you with an instant glow by clearing away dead skin cells which cause dull skin. Exfoliating also allows your other skin products to be absorbed more easily, which makes them more effective and further improves your skin.

For some people, exfoliation isn't just helpful, it's imperative. Exfoliation is especially important if you're prone to blemishes and clogged pores. And for those with mature skin, the exfoliation process can even trick the skin into acting young again.

PHYSICAL EXFOLIATION VS. CHEMICAL EXFOLIATION

There are two main types of exfoliators—physical exfoliators such as exfoliating scrubs and chemical exfoliators like serums and peels. The main difference is that chemical exfoliants use acids or enzymes to dissolve and loosen the skin cells, while physical exfoliant products contain small, textured particles which physically scrub away the dead skin and debris. There are also products that incorporate both physical and chemical methods, like exfoliating cleansers that start with physical exfoliation but turn to chemical exfoliation when you add water.

WHAT IS PHYSICAL EXFOLIATION?

Physical exfoliation is when products remove dead skin with the use of small grains or a brush. All physical exfoliants use different exfoliating agents, and some may irritate the skin, so it's important to choose wisely. Check the ingredient list to make sure that none of the exfoliating agents are too large, since scrubs with large particles can easily cause irritation. Opt for gentle ingredients that won't damage the skin, like sugar, pumice, poppy seeds, and jojoba beads.

WHAT IS CHEMICAL EXFOLIATION?

Chemical exfoliation utilizes chemical reactions to loosen and remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover. There are two main categories of chemical exfoliants.

EXFOLIATING WITH ALPHA-HYDROXY ACIDS

Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are a class of chemical compounds derived from natural substances. Many are derived from organic sugars; glycolic acid (which is derived from sugar) and lactic acid (which is derived from milk) are the most common types. AHAs work by dissolving the bonds between skin cells to allow the removal of dead cells.

AHAs are water soluble, which means they can't penetrate the skin very deeply. As such, they're better for those with dry or sensitive skin.

EXFOLIATING WITH BETA-HYDROXY ACIDS

Beta hydroxy acids, or BHAs, are oil-soluble molecules, meaning they can reach deeper into the skin and pores than AHAs can to provide more in-depth exfoliation. BHAs also have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. BHAs exfoliate the top layer of skin but also penetrate deep into pores, dissolving the mixture of sebum and dead skin that can lead to acne and blackheads.

BHAs work best for oily skin that's prone to breakouts. The most popular BHA in skincare is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid exfoliates and unclogs pores without affecting oil production and can prevent and treat breakouts.

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HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU EXFOLIATE YOUR FACIAL SKIN?

Just like choosing an exfoliator is dependent on your skin concerns, how often to exfoliate depends in part on your specific skin type.

DRY OR SENSITIVE SKIN TYPES

People with dry skin or sensitive skin should only exfoliate once or twice weekly. These skin types should stay away from harsh exfoliants, which can irritate, leading to further dryness or sensitivity. An enzyme is best if you're sensitive, but a glycolic acid is better if you're prone to dry skin. If you'd rather use a physical exfoliator, choose one with ingredients like bamboo or rice powder.

OILY OR ACNE-PRONE SKIN TYPES

Oily skin types prone to blackheads and breakouts can exfoliate two or three times a week if their skin can tolerate it. A tea tree oil face serum or salicylic acid are the preferred ingredients for deep exfoliation. If you have oily skin, you may want to incorporate physical exfoliation to deep clean your pores and remove any extra buildup.

NORMAL OR COMBINATION SKIN TYPES

If you have normal skin or combination skin, you can use either physical or chemical exfoliation two to three times a week. Try scrubs, acids, and enzymes to find which works best for you, Look for ingredients like mandelic acid, which is harsh on excess oil but mild enough for drier areas.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH EXFOLIATING EVERY DAY?

There are a few major problems with exfoliating every day. To start, exfoliating every day strips the skin of its natural oils. As a result, the skin overproduces oil to compensate, which can cause breakouts.


Additionally, too much exfoliating can cause skin irritation and inflammation, since you're removing the top layer of your skin before it has time to heal. Over time, this habit can actually slow your body's natural cell turnover and can lead to accelerated aging.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU EXFOLIATE YOUR BODY?

Just like the skin on your face, exfoliating your body breaks down and removes dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin, unclogging pores to reveal fresh, new skin cells for a smoother, more youthful appearance. The rules for exfoliating your body are completely different than the rules for exfoliating your face, however. That's because the skin on your body is thicker and drier than your facial skin, so exfoliating it requires heavier tools.

When exfoliating your body, stick to physical exfoliants like sugar, salt, and coffee grounds. Try to exfoliate your body at least once every 10 days. If you have sensitive skin, one to two times a week is a better frequency. If your chest and back are on the oily side, exfoliate three to four times a week if possible.

How Often Should You Exfoliate IF You Have Oily or Acne-Prone Skin?

Oily skin types prone to blackheads and breakouts can exfoliate two or three times a week if their skin can tolerate it. Atea tree oil face serum or salicylic acid are your preferred ingredients here. If you have oily skin, you may want to incorporate physical exfoliation to deep clean your pores and remove any extra buildup. 

How Often Should You Exfoliate If You Have Combination Skin? 

If you have combination skin, you can go either way or switch it up depending on your mood.
Try scrubs, acids, and enzymes, but stick to exfoliating two to three times per week. Look for ingredients like Mandelic acid, which is harsh on excess oil but mild enough for drier areas.

WHAT ABOUT EXFOLIATING YOUR BODY?

Just like the skin on your face, the benefit of exfoliating your body is to break down and remove dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin and unclog pores to reveal fresh, new skin cells for a smoother appearance. But you don’t follow the same rules when you’re exfoliating your body. The skin on your body is thicker and drier and requires heavier tools. Stick to physical exfoliants like sugar, salt, and coffee grinds. Try to exfoliate your body at least once every 10 days, but we recommend one to two times a week if you have sensitive skin, and three to four if your chest and back are on the oily side. 

TOP EXFOLIATION TIPS FOR GLOWING, RADIANT SKIN

Follow these tips for vibrant skin without over-exfoliation damage.

  • Minimize exfoliation to three times a week or fewer. The absolute maximum you should be exfoliating is your skin is three times a week. Over exfoliate and you're likely to create tiny cracks in the skin barrier that lead to moisture loss and inflammation. You may also cause breakouts by stripping your skin of its natural oils.
  • Be gentle with your skin. Using products with with too many active ingredients or getting too many targeted treatments at once is just as damaging for your skin as over exfoliating. Try not to use retinol, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid all at once. Additionally, avoid getting exfoliating treatments like facials or microdermabrasion too close together. Each of those treatments on their own is helpful, but when you add everything together, you're doing your skin more harm than good.
  • Those with mature skin should use an exfoliating acid. An exfoliant or peel with alpha-hydroxy acids removes the dead layer of skin cells and stimulates collagen production to soften fine lines and wrinkles. Look for something with ascorbic acid, like a vitamin C booster. It's important to remember that AHAs can leave your skin sensitive to sunlight, so don't forget to apply an anti-aging sunscreen when you leave the house. There is one exception to this rule: If you're using retinol, skip acid-based exfoliants altogether. The combination is way too harsh on facial skin.
  • Don't be afraid to use salicylic acid every day. While you can't exfoliate every day, you can use a salicylic acid-based cleanser daily. Salicylic acid isn't harsh on the skin like a physical exfoliant, so daily use won't damage your skin.
  • Brush away flaky skin. If your skin is very dry and flaky, the fastest way to get rid of dead cell buildup is with a cleansing brush or an at-home microdermabrasion kit, which uses a tiny spinning disc of aluminum oxide crystals to slough away dead skin.
  • Listen to your skin. The most important rule when it comes to how often you should exfoliate your skin is to let your skin be your guide. Having a strict routine isn't always the best idea—some days your skin may feel rougher to the touch than others, and some days your skin may be more irritated. If your skin doesn't feel ready for an exfoliation treatment, don't do it. Listen, look, feel, and adapt your exfoliation schedule as needed.

EXFOLIATING CORRECTLY: A SUMMARY

For most people, exfoliating two to three times per week is a safe and healthy frequency. Ideally, apply an acid serum two to three nights a week and add in an exfoliating mask or peel once a week. If you're wondering how to get glowing skin, encouraging the top layer of dead skin cells to turnover is the secret to glowing, smoother skin.


Check with a board-certified dermatologist before exfoliating if you have chronic acne, as irritating already inflamed skin can leave behind dark spots. You should also hold off on exfoliation if you have any kind of cut or cold sore on your face (it can spread) or if you're sunburned.


If you have healthy, normal skin, exfoliating is one of the most important things you can do for the overall health and appearance of your complexion.

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