Your Complete Guide to Exfoliators and How Often You Should Use Them

March 27, 2019
Your Complete Guide to Exfoliators and How Often You Should Use Them

Exfoliators. We see them everywhere, from beauty aisles to our Insta feeds and even our own medicine cabinets. While we love the way a good scrub makes our skin feel, how do we know how often we should use them or if they’re even right for our skin type? We sat down with Karen Hammerman, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Garden City, New York to chat about all things exfoliation.

What Does an Exfoliator Do?

Exfoliators work to shed surface skin cells to reveal a smoother surface underneath. “Exfoliation is physically or chemically removing those dead and dull skin cells, which helps speed up your skin’s renewal process and helps it to behave younger,” says Dr. Hammerman.

What Types of Exfoliators Are Out There?

According to Dr. Hammerman, there are two types of exfoliators: physical exfoliators and chemical exfoliators. “Physical exfoliators work against the top layers of the skin to remove dead, dulling cells via rubbing and sloughing,” she says. This refers to exfoliators that contain things like crystals, micro-fine granules or natural beads. On the other hand, chemical exfoliators can penetrate deeper into the skin’s surface. “Chemical exfoliators dissolve the intercellular glue that holds dead skin cells together and can be a great option for skin that has deep congestion, is more resistive or can’t tolerate physically scrubbing,” she says.

How to Exfoliate if You Have Normal Skin

For normal skin types, you can exfoliate two to three times a week. It is important to note, however, that you don’t want to overdo it because too much exfoliation can cause more harm than good. “You can manually exfoliate with a brush or washcloth, as well as chemical-based products, but start slowly and see what your skin can tolerate,” says Dr. Hammerman.

How to Exfoliate if You Have Dry Skin

For people with dry skin, Dr. Hammerman suggests avoiding products with high amounts of alcohol. “Look for exfoliants that have moisturizing ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter, or ceramides,” she says. Because dry skin needs a gentle regimen, consider opting to exfoliate one to two times a week and follow with a moisturizer.

How to Exfoliate if You Have Combination Skin

If you have combination skin (i.e your T-zone tends to get oily, but your cheeks are dry), you’re going to want to make sure your regimen mimics your skin and exfoliate only in the areas that you are oily only a few times during the week. Then, follow exfoliation with moisturizer applied to your dry areas and sparsely on the oily areas.

How to Exfoliate if You Have Oily Skin

“Oily skin has a higher tolerance, so you can exfoliate up to five times a week depending on the product,” says Dr. Hammerman. Specifically, you’ll want to look for products that contain alpha or beta hydroxy acids like salicylic or glycolic acids. You should still moisturize after exfoliation because “if you dry out your skin too much, it can cause redness and irritation, and you may even stimulate increased oil production as your body responds to being over dry,” she adds.

How to Exfoliate if You Have Sensitive Skin (or Conditions Like Acne, Eczema or Rosacea)

Sensitive skin conditions like eczema or rosacea may make you stay away from exfoliating, but according to Dr. Hammerman, you shouldn’t. “Stick to chemical exfoliators and alpha-hydroxy acids, which will help reveal softer skin without physically irritating it with harsh textures,” she says.

If you have acne, Dr. Hammerman suggests talking to your dermatologist about whether exfoliation is right for you. “For many people, exfoliating not only helps to smooth and soften your skin, but can also help diminish the appearance of marks or acne scars over time — however, if your skin type is prone to blemishes, it's important to avoid exfoliating areas that are in a current flare up,” she adds.

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