The Right Way to Exfoliate Every Skin Type, According to Experts

January 28, 2022
Genesis Rivas
By: Genesis Rivas | by L'Oréal
The Right Way to Exfoliate Every Skin Type, According to Experts

If you’re anything like us, you love to indulge in an extensive skincare routine in the name of self-care. We love to indulge in an extensive beauty routine, but really our favorite step is exfoliation. When done correctly, exfoliating can get rid of dead surface skin cells and unveil a healthy-looking, glowing complexion. How you exfoliate, though, depends on your skin type. With the help of experts, we’re breaking down different methods of exfoliation for every skin type. 

What Is the Difference Between Physical and Chemical Exfoliation? 

There are two main types of exfoliation — physical, also known as mechanical, and chemical. Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City and consultant, explains that physical exfoliation involves scrubbing the skin with an abrasive formula that includes ingredients like sugar, salt crystals, pumice and could even include  skincare brushes, loofahs or sponges. 

“Chemical exfoliation involves the use of products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) or enzymes to help loosen the glue-like substance that holds the cells together and allows them to ease away,” she says. She adds that AHAs, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are generally preferred for normal to dry and sun-damaged skin because they have been proven to be effective in reducing the appearance of sun damage. 

BHAs like salicylic acid are most often recommended for normal to oily skin types for their ability to help reduce the severity of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and milia. “BHAs also have anti-inflammatory, skin-calming properties so they are gentle enough even for sensitive skin prone to redness or rosacea,” explains Dr. King.

How to Exfoliate Dry Skin

When exfoliating dry skin, it’s necessary to find a gentle exfoliator that will slough away dead surface skin cells while replenishing your skin’s moisture.  Dr. Kingrecommends exfoliating dry skin once or twice per week and increasing the frequency as tolerated. “Dry skin types should look for an exfoliant with AHAs, BHAs, or small granules to assist in the exfoliation process,” says Josie Holmes, an esthetician at SKINNEY Medspa

If you decide to go the chemical route, we recommend the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 5 Percent Glycolic Acid Toner, which is made with glycolic acid and promotes cellular turnover at the surface level without stripping the skin. The La Roche-Posay Ultra-Fine Face Scrub is a gentle option if you prefer a physical exfoliant.




How to Exfoliate Oily Skin 

“Salicylic acid or a physical scrub with ingredients that are oil-absorbing, such as charcoal or clay, are particularly good choices for oily skin,” says Dr. King. If you choose a physical scrub, be careful not to scrub too aggressively, though, as particles that are large and rough can create micro-tears in the skin that can lead to skin irritation and inflammation. According to Holmes, oily skin types can generally tolerate exfoliating up to three times a week. If you’re someone with oily skin that’s also acne-prone, Dr. Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco and consultant, suggests adding a retinol into your skincare routine, like the SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0. It promotes cellular turnover at the skin’s surface while reducing the appearance of blemishes, pores and discoloration.




How to Exfoliate Mature Skin 

When it comes to exfoliating mature skin, Joanne Yun Lee, a physician's assistant in dermatology at Glamoi Med Spa and consultant, thinks retinol is one of the best options because it is designed to exfoliate the skin’s surface but isn’t as harsh as a physical exfoliant. “For those whose main concerns are wrinkles and rough skin, retinoic acid or retinol are special types of exfoliants which work within deeper layers of the skin’s surface to increase surface cell turnover and promote younger-looking, smoother skin,” she says. In general, exfoliate mature skin about two to three times per week. 

How to Exfoliate Sensitive Skin 

When we asked our experts about exfoliating sensitive skin, they all agreed that you should steer clear of physical exfoliators and harsh acids. Instead, opt for a mild chemical exfoliator. Dr. Campbell says natural enzymes like fruit-based exfoliators are a good choice in this case. We recommend the Youth to the People Yerba Mate Resurfacing Energy Facial, which according to the brand, is formulated with papaya and pineapple, plus sustainable micro-exfoliants bamboo and diatomaceous earth to break down dead skin cells and smooth skin texture. Exfoliate sensitive skin once or twice per week, advises Yun Lee. 

How to Exfoliate Normal Skin 

“Those with a normal skin type can benefit from physical or chemical exfoliation,” says Dr. Nazanin Saedi, a board-certified dermatologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and consultant. You can typically exfoliate two to three times a week with a normal skin type. Try the IT Cosmetics Hello Results Resurfacing Glycolic Acid Treatment followed up with something rich like the Youth to the People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream

Photo: Chaunte Vaughn


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