Exfoliation is far from an "extra" part of skincare that only skincare gurus care about. In actuality, proper exfoliation is a critical part of the ideal skincare routine that everyone should incorporate, regardless of whether they care about having perfect skin or are just trying to keep breakouts at bay. Exfoliation simply provides too many benefits that regular washing doesn't. When you exfoliate regularly, you can get younger and healthier-looking skin that feels great at the same time.
In this guide, we’ll break down how often you should exfoliate, and why it’s important to stick with a good exfoliating scrub for the long-term.
What Is Exfoliation?
Your skin is made up of billions of skin cells. More importantly, your skin regularly replaces practically all of its cells about once every 30 days – you actually lose around 50,000 skin cells per minute! This is called cell turnover, and it's perfectly natural.
You see, your skin cells don’t live for very long before they die and become part of your overall skin barrier. These dead cells perform a critical function in protecting your skin from hazards and keeping moisture in the lower layers of your skin as well.
However, dead skin cells don't fall off perfectly. In fact, many of them fall into the pores of your skin and can eventually build up as debris. Over time, this can cause overly oily, acne-prone skin, and even patches of dryness.
Exfoliation is the act of purposefully removing dead skin cells and any other dirt and debris from your pores. When done correctly, an exfoliating cleanser sloughs off the topmost layer of dead skin cells and exposes a layer of fresh skin cells.
The result? Radiant, young-looking skin that’s surprisingly soft to the touch.
Why Is Regular Exfoliation an Important Part of the Skin Care Routine?
Exfoliation is a crucial part of any complete skincare routine for a few key reasons.
Better Looking Skin
For starters, exfoliation results in better-looking skin, period. By removing dead skin cells, newer and healthier skin cells are brought to the forefront. These are naturally younger, softer, and more flexible since they contain more collagen, which is a key compound that dictates how well your skin stays together. The reason many people get fine lines or wrinkly skin as they get older is because their skin produces less collagen.
Furthermore, exfoliating makes for better-looking skin since it can reduce the appearance of dullness, color spots, or splotches and evens out your skin tone. Additionally, your skin will get a slight glow; face scrubs can stimulate blood flow to the surface of skin, resulting in the appearance of an overall warmer complexion.
Another key benefit of exfoliation is reducing breakouts. While pimples can be caused by hormones as well, many people experience breakouts as a result of clogged pores. Your pores can become clogged due to excess sebum (the natural oil your skin produces to assist with protection and moisturization) along with dead skin cells or other debris.
By clearing away this debris and unclogging your pores, you improve your overall skin health, and remove the cause of some acne. Even better, clearing out your pores also reduces the likelihood of ingrown hairs.
While exfoliation won’t totally eliminate stubborn pimples, it can be a great support to improving skin health, especially when paired with acne-fighting skincare products that include salicylic acid, the most common anti-acne ingredient. However, be careful of over-exfoliating, as you might accidentally cause the opposite effect and cause your now dry skin to compensate and overproduce oil!
Better Long-Term Skin Health and Maintenance
If you want your skin to look healthy and have improved self-maintenance, exfoliating can help here as well. As mentioned above, exfoliating stimulates blood flow to the surface of your skin, resulting in a glowing and vibrant appearance.
More importantly, this blood flow brings vital nutrients and minerals to your skin. This, in turn, helps your skin cells produce more collagen and replicate more efficiently. In other words, your skin cells receive support in repairing and replacing themselves! Your skin will look younger for longer as a result.
How Often Should You Exfoliate?
The million-dollar question is: how often should you exfoliate your skin? Exfoliation by default is somewhat difficult for your skin to endure; you’re physically removing dead skin cells and scrubbing your skin harder than you would with a regular soap or face wash.
Because of this, you probably shouldn’t exfoliate every day. Over-exfoliation can remove young and healthy skin cells in addition to dead skin cells. If you exfoliate too much, you may even eventually rub your skin raw, resulting in pain, inflammation, and damaged skin.
You should exfoliate two or three times per week depending on your skin’s general sensitivity. Those with very sensitive skin can even drop this down to once per week and still get the majority of the benefits described above.
You should exfoliate both your body and your face, though the skin on your face will generally be more sensitive, so you should exfoliate your face less.
Exfoliating your body is important to keep skin smooth and soft. It’s recommended to use a body scrub once a week to start and then work your way up to 3-4 times a week.
Exfoliating two to four times per week is easy: you just need to make a little extra time for an exfoliation session after you wash your skin. Practicing exfoliation on set days of the week, for example, is a great way to remember when it’s time to give your skin a good sugar scrub!
Example Skincare Routine with Exfoliation
In an ideal situation, a typical skincare routine for combination skin would go like this:
- Wet and wash your face with a dedicated face wash product
- Exfoliate the skin on your face using a natural exfoliation product
- Possibly use a toner to penetrate deep into the pores and remove any last debris
- Use a moisturizer to ensure proper skin hydration (ones with built-in sunscreen are preferred if you'll be outdoors!)
- Dry your face
For the days you don’t exfoliate, just eliminate the exfoliation and/or toner steps depending on skin sensitivity, and you’re all set!
What Should You Use to Exfoliate?
Exfoliation can be performed with two types of products: physical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants.
Physical exfoliants use physical particles or ingredients to penetrate into your pores and remove dead skin cells, debris, and excessive skin oil. The physical scrubbing particles may include things like:
- Jojoba beads
- Sugar or salt crystals
- Coffee grounds
These articles are small enough that they can get into your pores and remove dirt and debris. Some exfoliation products are definitely better than others!
Some physical exfoliants are certainly better for your skin overall. Try not to use synthetic exfoliation products like microbeads, as these ingredients don’t degrade over time and are bad for your skin and the environment.
Chemical exfoliators also remove dirt and debris, but are usually a little harsher on the skin. Chemical exfoliation uses chemical reactions to break down and remove foreign elements from your pores, and can also be made of natural ingredients, like salicylic acid, which is found in coffee and apples, or glycolic acid, which is found in sugar.
Regular Washes vs. Exfoliation
Let’s clear up one last common miscommunication before we wrap up: face wash and exfoliating products are not the same things.
Green Goo’s Face Wash, for example, is more of a surface-level cleansing product that can get rid of the top layer of dirt and debris on your skin without penetrating too deeply into your pores. It’s a separate type of product because it generally doesn’t dry out your skin or contain any harsh elements that might rub your skin raw over time.
For this reason, you can typically use face or body wash products every day when you take a shower or get ready in the morning without having to worry about rubbing your skin too much or causing damage.
Exfoliating products are generally harsher on the skin and are often made of different ingredients.
Additionally, while we're on the subject--you should always avoid using regular bar soap on your face. Regular bar soap is too alkaline and can strip away the oils that help your facial skin stay moisturized throughout the day. In fact, regular bar soap is generally inferior to dedicated body wash products made with natural ingredients.
Ultimately, we’d recommend exfoliation for everyone. It’s an important part of a full-fledged skincare routine for your face and the rest of your body, and it’ll help you feel and look better over the long-term. Just be sure that you don’t exfoliate too often, and that you only exfoliate with legitimate products that are worth your time and money. Good luck!