Q: Should I avoid using multiple exfoliating products at once?

A: Yes, unless your dermatologist tells you to use multiple products. Combining products, such as an exfoliating cleanser with an exfoliating treatment, can dry out and aggravate skin. Same goes with overdoing professional treatments like microdermabrasion. “It can make thin, aging skin even thinner if you get too many treatments too quickly,” writes Brown.

Q: Why do I need to exfoliate if skin does this naturally?

A: That’s because as we age, cell turnover slows and dry, dead cells build up on the skin. Using an exfoliating product helps slough off cells and increase cell turnover, revealing radiant skin.

Q: My cleanser contains exfoliation beads. As directed, I use it twice a day. Do I need to use an additional exfoliating product?

A: It depends. Does your skin feel rough? If so, you might need an additional exfoliator. If your skin feels dry or even raw, you're over-exfoliating, according to About’s spa expert Anitra Brown. If you’re not sure, consult your dermatologist or esthetician.

by team
Exfoliation sloughs off dead skin to reveal healthier, newer cells. This leads to a luminous, younger-looking complexion and helps your skin absorb moisturizers and other products. Here’s a comprehensive look at different types of exfoliants, what products to use and how often to use them.

What is it?

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. Why bother? After skin cells form, they trek through the epidermis toward the top layer — drying out and dying along the way.

When cells reach the surface, they build up, making your skin look thick, rough and lifeless. Individuals over 30 years old are more prone to cell buildup, because natural cell turnover tends to slow as we age. Exfoliation takes care of this buildup, replacing the dead cells on the surface of your skin with fresher, healthier cells.

Types of exfoliants

Exfoliants are generally classified as two types: physical (also known as mechanical) and chemical. Physical exfoliants use abrasive ingredients to remove dead skin cells, while chemical exfoliants use enzymes or acids.

Physical (or mechanical) exfoliation

To slough off dead cells, physical exfoliants use the following ingredients:

  • Jojoba beads
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Coffee grounds
  • Rice
  • Synthetic microbeads
  • Pumice stone particles

Common physical exfoliants include:

  • Scrubs and other products such as pads containing abrasive ingredients
  • Microdermabrasion, which removes the top layer of skin by using a device that sprays aluminum dioxide crystals

Product picks

You’ll find a variety of physical exfoliants on the market. Here’s a quick list of our favorites:

  • NIA24 Physical Cleansing Scrub boasts jojoba beads to exfoliate the skin, Pro-Niacin to strengthen skin’s barrier and chamomile, oat and sage to calm the skin. Plus, Pro-Niacin improves skin texture, tone and discoloration.

Chemical exfoliation

These exfoliants dissolve the bonds between dead cells on the skin’s surface using the following acids or enzymes:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), including glycolic, lactic, malic, citric and tartaric acids
  • Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), including salicylic acid. Unlike AHAs, BHAs are more effective at entering oil glands and exfoliating cell residue, which is what helps to treat acne, reports Household & Personal Products Industry
  • Retinoids, including adapalene, tazarotene and tretinoin
  • Natural enzymes, including bromelain from pineapple, pancreatin from certain meats and papain from papaya

Common chemical exfoliants include:

  • Lotions, gels, scrubs and other exfoliating products containing AHAs, BHAs or natural enzymes
  • Prescribed retinoids, such as Retin A, Differin and Tazorac
  • Chemical peels, such as AHA and BHA, carbolic/phenol and trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and natural enzyme peels

Product picks

Here’s a list of a few of our favorite chemical exfoliants:

  • skyn ICELAND Nordic Skin Peel combines lactic acid and papaya fruit extract to exfoliate the skin. Botanicals such as white willow bark and green tea comfort, restore and protect the skin.

Added benefits

In addition to removing dead skin cells — thereby creating a radiant complexion and allowing skin to better absorb active ingredients from other products — exfoliating can also:

  • Boost circulation. In her book, Spa Bodywork, Anne Williams notes that friction treatments, such as body polishes, salt and sugar glows and loofahs can act on circulation and lymph flow. Also, improved circulation might increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the skin.
  • Help with the appearance of fine lines. However, exfoliation won’t combat wrinkles. Exfoliation “generally does not improve significant wrinkles since its effects do not reach the dermis where wrinkles are formed,” writes G. Todorov, Ph.D., of Smart Skin Care.

A scrub for your skin type

To effectively exfoliate your skin, choose a product based on your skin type.

    Dry skin: Use products with the chemical exfoliant AHA, because you only need surface exfoliation and don't want to cause further dryness, writes Paula Begoun in The Complete Beauty Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Smart Beauty.

    Oily skin: Look for exfoliants with BHA, because it exfoliates the skin’s surface and inside the pores. Also, you can incorporate a gentle physical exfoliant in your regimen, suggests Begoun.

    Acne-prone skin: Exfoliation is particularly important for this skin type, because it generates more dead skin cells. Plus, these cells easily get trapped on the skin’s surface, further clogging pores.

    Ditch physical exfoliants, which can aggravate acne, and opt for a BHA product gentle enough for daily use, advises About’s acne expert Angela Palmer. If you need a stronger treatment, ask your dermatologist about prescription retinoids.

    Normal and combination skin: Try a BHA and a mild physical exfoliant. Normal types also benefit from at-home microdermabrasion treatments, esthetician Camille Capone tells Natural Foods Merchandiser. “After exfoliation, skin is primed for soaking up nutrients, so it's always good to follow up microdermabrasion with a vitamin and mineral-enriched serum,” she adds.

    Sensitive skin: Avoid exfoliating products with a high concentration of glycolic acid — or test the product first to make sure it doesn't cause irritation. Retinoids are irritating as well and might not be appropriate for sensitive skin. Instead, opt for gentle scrubs designed specifically for sensitive skin.

    • Product pick: Avene Gentle Purifying Scrub uses non-abrasive beads for gentle mechanical exfoliation. This paraben- and oil-free formula contains Avene Thermal Spring Water to calm and soften the skin.

    Eczema or rosacea: Some skincare experts advise against exfoliating the skin if you have eczema, rosacea or a similar skin condition. Your best bet is to consult a dermatologist.

How often to exfoliate

Your skin type doesn’t just determine the type of product you use; it also determines how often you use that product. Other factors include strength of the scrub and application technique, writes Todorov.

Some exfoliants include specific instructions on frequency. If not, follow these guidelines, according to Woman’s Day.

  • Dry and sensitive skin: Once a week
  • Normal and combination skin: Up to twice a week
  • Oily skin: Every other day

If you’re just starting a scrub, use it one to two times a week to reduce the risk of irritation.

See also:

Finding the Best Body Scrub for You

Treating Acne After Oral Contraceptives

RoC Product Review

Comparing Professional and At-Home Treatments


skyn ICELAND Nordic Skin Peel Chronic stress can impair skin’s ability to maintain moisture, leaving it flaky, broken-out or lackluster. These gentle double-duty pads help remove dry, dehydrated surface skin cells while a soothing antibacterial helps keep pores squeaky clean. Antioxidants and botanicals help protect, soothe and calm irritated skin. "
NIA24 Physical Cleansing Scrub This all-in-one cleansing scrub gently removes dead skin cells. Pro-Niasomes®, which are spherical Jojoba Beads infused with Pro-Niacin™, help wash away skin's visible imperfections, increase circulation and prime skin for the maximum benefits of the Pro-Niacin™. Pro-Niacin™ has been clinically shown to visibly improve skin tone, texture and hyperpigmentation. "
BENEV Salicylic Acid Exfoliator 2% For the first step in exfoliation, Salicylic Acid works best to remove those damaged layers of cells that build up on your skin surface daily. Salicylic Acid, a Beta-Hydroxy Acid, is a highly effective superficial peeling agent and pore cleanser. Salicylic Acid loosens and removes aging and dead skin cells, oil and debris attached to the skin's surface, stimulating new skin cell production and increasing collagen formation. "
B. Kamins Bamboo and Rice Facial Polisher A super-gentle polishing textured cleanser which helps to clarify and refine sallow, thickened, sun-damaged, mottled or acneic complexions. The B. Kamins bamboo and rice facial polisher contains natural, finely-milled powdered bamboo and tiny rice beads combined with our super moisturizing Bio-Maple™ compound and gentle tensio-active sudsing agents."
Avene Gentle Purifying Scrub The Avene Gentle Purifying Scrub is a non-abrasive exfoliating gel that gently eliminates surface impurities and unclogs pores. This scrub helps improve the appearance of tired, dull and lackluster skin. "

"The information provided on is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have a medical question or concern regarding any news item or article on this news magazine, please consult your physician..."