How to Exfoliate Your Face

Let's face it, we all want radiant, glowing skin, all of the time. Ideally. But as you know, this seemingly achievable goal can feel frustratingly difficult to reach and maintain with consistency. 

As we age, our cell turnover gradually slows down and leftover dead skin cells can give our face a dull complexion. Fortunately, there are many ways to coax out a healthy, glowing and smooth skin. One of the most effective, and least expensive, is exfoliation. 

In this article, we give you everything you need to know about exfoliation from how to exfoliate, when to exfoliate and what areas to exfoliate. 

What does it mean to exfoliate?

Exfoliating is the process of removing dead cells from the outer layer of the skin using an exfoliant which could be either physical or chemical.

  • A physical exfoliant would include things like using a liquid face scrub or a rough cloth.
  • A chemical exfoliant would include using a product that contains acids like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). These compounds are two of the most common types of chemical exfoliants.

Human skin is kind of like snakeskin in that it sort of slithers out of its dead cells. Fortunately not remaining intact during the process although that would make for some great TikTok videos!

Your skin sheds its dead cells about once every 30 days to make room for new skin cells. This process is also known as desquamation, which is the skin's own process of exfoliation.

In reality your skin is lazy and gets lazier with age, so it starts doing a pretty sloppy job in the exfoliation department. This leaves it feeling dry and looking flakey and dull. Worse still is that excessively clogged pores can lead to skin breakouts and accelerate wrinkle formation.

What are the most important areas to exfoliate?

The skin on your face can benefit most from being routinely exfoliated. By exfoliating regularly, you'll uncover the younger skin layer that lies just beneath your dull, damaged and dried skin cells. Removing that layer also cleans the skin and exposes those next generation cells to give you that healthy glow.

After the face, your arms and legs are the next most important areas that can benefit from exfoliation. The elbows and knees usually require special attention because they dry out way faster than any other part of the body.

Next up would be the butt, thighs, feet, ankles, and heels. Feet and heels tend to be the most neglected parts of the body, which makes exfoliating them even more important, especially if you in shoes all day long. When it comes to the butt and thighs, exfoliation not only keeps these areas smooth and supple but also improves circulation which helps whisk away any cellulite that is overstaying its welcome.

How to exfoliate your face?

Chemical exfoliation is the safest way to exfoliate your face. This is especially true if your skin is super sensitive. Chemical exfoliants should be applied, after cleansing, in small circular motions, either with fingers or on a cotton round. If the product is a face peel or wash, then you should follow the application directions you’ll find on the packaging. After applying, gently rinse with warm water.

After you have chemically exfoliated, it's really important to apply a high quality moisturizer to help your skin replenish. So don't miss that fundamental step. Furthermore, if you are going to be in the sun make sure to use an SPF since your skin will be more sensitive that usual and more susceptible to sun damage. This is why the evening is the best part of the day for your exfoliation ritual, especially if you have sensitive skin.

If you prefer to use a physical exfoliant, it should be done in soft, circular motions without heavy pressure to avoid tearing or irritating the skin. Rinse your face with warm water and again follow with a quality moisturizer.

How often should I exfoliate my face?

Generally speaking, you can exfoliate your face as often as your skin will tolerate. However, leading experts suggest starting with an exfoliation once or twice a week max, preferably with a chemical exfoliator before switching up to a physical one. If your skin is not sensitive and can take more management without reacting, then you can ramp that up to 3 or 4 times per week.

If you have sensitive skin and you notice that your face stings and looks angry and red, it’s time to take a step back. Find a soft manual exfoliator or one with an enzyme or glycolic acid because these compounds soften the skin and can show immediate results. 

When should I exfoliate my face?

You should aim for an evening exfoliation and only after cleansing, never before!  Regardless of your skin type, it’s important not to over-exfoliate since you can damage your skin. If you notice signs of inflammation such as excessive peeling or redness, switch immediately to a softer technique like a repairing clay mask designed to relieve stressed skin. 

Finally, like many beauty products, there is also no such thing as a one-size-fits-all exfoliant. You need to take into account your skin type and do a little experimenting before you lock in your preferred product, method and technique.