WHAT IS EXFOLIATION?
In the simplest terms, exfoliation refers to the removal of dead skin cells from the surface of the body.
Interestingly enough, the word exfoliate is derived from the Latin word ‘exfoliare’ which means ‘to strip off leaves.’
These days, most people are familiar with the term exfoliation within the context of mechanical or chemical removal of dead skin cells from the surface of the body or face at home or during a spa treatment.
Q: What does exfoliate mean?
A: To remove the outermost layer of dead skin cells.
BENEFITS OF EXFOLIATING
There are many benefits associated with exfoliating the face and body. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, exfoliation can result in…
- brighter skin,
- improved skin treatment effectiveness,
- increased collagen production, and
- reduced signs of aging
By removing the surface layer of dead skin cells, ingredients within topical products are better able to penetrate the skin. These benefits are particularly desirable for individuals who suffer from the negative effects of prolonged sun exposure and premature aging.
Q: What does exfoliating do?
A: Removes dead skin cells from the surface of the body using mechanical or chemical techniques. This process can lead to brighter skin, improve the effectiveness of topical skincare treatments, increase collagen production, and counteract signs of aging.
Q: Will exfoliating help acne?
A: When it comes to treating acne, exfoliation can be helpful or harmful depending on the type and severity of the acne.
According to Dr. Mary P. Lupo, individuals who suffer from non-inflammatory acne (containing whiteheads and blackheads, but not cysts or pustules) can benefit from exfoliation. Individuals who suffer from inflammatory acne (containing cysts and pustules) could do more harm than good by applying mechanical and chemical exfoliation. If you suffer from this type of acne, it is a good idea to consult a dermatologist before deciding on the best exfoliation method for your situation.
Dr. Lupo also cautions individuals who suffer from certain types of skin conditions such as rosacea, herpes simplex, molluscum contagiosum, and warts against using the more aggressive types of exfoliation because they can make these conditions worse and may even result in postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) or dark spots on the skin.
As with other medical conditions, if you suffer from any of these or any others that you think may become worse with exfoliation then you should speak with a board-certified dermatologist before adding an exfoliating routine to your daily personal care routine.
Q: Can you over exfoliate your skin?
A: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to exfoliating your skin and it is possible to cause more damage than good if you are overly aggressive with your exfoliation routine. For this reason, it is very important to consider several factors before deciding on the best exfoliation method for your unique situation.
Some questions that you will need to answer include…
What is my skin type? – Dry and sensitive skin requires a gentler approach than oily skin because it might not be able to tolerate the more aggressive 2% salicylic acid chemical products, brushes, or scrubs that are commonly sold over-the-counter. A konjac exfoliating sponge along with professional clinical treatment might be more appropriate for those with sensitive skin.
How often should I exfoliate? – To answer this question you will need to consider both your skin type and the method of exfoliation. In general, dry and sensitive skin should be exfoliated less frequently than oily skin.
Individuals who have oily skin may be able to exfoliate every day without irritation while those with dry and sensitive skin may need to limit exfoliation to a couple of times each week. More aggressive methods of exfoliation should be performed less frequently than the gentler options.
Do I need to speak with a dermatologist? – If you have a skin condition that you think might become worse with exfoliation or you simply have additional questions about the best exfoliation method for you then it is a good idea to schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist before experimenting with exfoliating products on your own.
This simple step can help you avoid negative outcomes and can give you peace of mind knowing that a qualified professional has evaluated your unique situation.
HOW TO EXFOLIATE SKIN
The process of exfoliating the skin is generally divided into two categories that include mechanical and chemical exfoliation. Most people choose to use both techniques in order to get the most desirable outcome.
When deciding on the best way to exfoliate your face and body, it is important to consider the questions outlined above before choosing the most appropriate approach for you.
When it comes to exfoliating the skin using mechanical methods, you will find that there are many different tools available including cloths, adhesive sheets, scrubs, sugar and salt products, pumice stones, loofahs, sponges, brushes, and professional services such as microdermabrasion.
In most cases, you’ll want to use a gentler method for the face and a more aggressive method for the body.
If you have dry skin, sensitive skin, or a chronic skin condition that could become worse with exfoliation then you may want to avoid the more aggressive techniques altogether.
Chemical methods for exfoliating the skin typically involve some form of scrub or cream that contains salicylic, glycolic, citric, malic, alpha hydroxy (AHA), or beta hydroxy (BHA) acid.
These products may also contain special enzymes that interfere with substances that hold dead skin cells together.
As with mechanical methods, those who are thinking about adding a chemical method to their exfoliation routine should carefully consider their skin type before selecting specific products.
Again, a technique that one person uses may not be the best way to clean your face given the variations in skin types that exist and the range of tolerance that people have for different products.
HOW TO EXFOLIATE YOUR FACE
Facial exfoliation is a straightforward process in which you apply a chemical product, allow it to sit for a specified period of time, and then either rinse it away or remove it with a cloth or tissue. Scrubs, cloths, sugar and salt products, and konjac sponges are popular options for mechanically exfoliating the face and should be considered when deciding on the best way to wash your face.
With mechanical facial exfoliating products, you generally want to rub them against the face in a circular motion being careful to avoid delicate areas such as the eyes and lips. Before exfoliating the face, it is a good idea to rinse your face with warm water so that the dead skin cells become loose and easier to remove.
BEST EXFOLIATING FACE WASH
There are literally hundreds of different face wash options available on the market. While there are several great products to choose from, we think the following three choices represent some of the best facial cleanser available and we think you will agree…
- Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser – This is some of the best face cleanser on the market and gets great reviews. It contains salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acid along with jojoba beads. This face wash is designed to be used a couple times each week in place of your daily cleanser.
- Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant – Although this product is more expensive, it is extremely popular and gets very high marks from users. This product is a rice-based powder that contains papain, salicylic acid, and rice enzymes that work to smooth and brighten skin.
- Philosophy Microdelivery Exfoliating Wash – This product gets great reviews and contains amino acids, citric acid, and many other ingredients. This face wash was designed to cleanse, exfoliate, and hydrate at the same time. According to Philosophy, it can be used daily.
BEST FACE SCRUB
- Clinique Exfoliating Scrub – Designed for oily skin types, this product can be used three to four times per week.
- Biore Pore Unclogging Scrub – Extremely popular and very affordable. This scrub contains salicylic acid and spherical cleansing beads. It can be used every day or a few times each week with your normal cleanser.
BEST EXFOLIATING MASK
Face masks can serve many purposes and most will have a specific effect that they are designed to impart including things like pore size reduction, anti-acne, hydrating, anti-aging, etc. For the purposes of exfoliation, we like to go with those that reduce pore size and hydrate. The following are a few of the options that we like…
- Philosophy Daily Hydrating Exfoliating Mask – Bamboo charcoal works well to regulate moisture and pull impurities from the skin. This is a wonderful product to use in combination with our bamboo charcoal konjac face sponges. Both can be used for most skin types.
- Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask – Bamboo charcoal works well to regulate moisture and pull impurities from the skin. This is a wonderful product to use in combination with our bamboo charcoal konjac face sponges. Both can be used for most skin types.
BEST HYDRATING MASKS & LOTIONS
- CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion – This brand makes all sorts of great lotions and we like using their products after a exfoliating or just when our skin is in need of some additional moisture.
- First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Instant Oatmeal Mask – If your skincare routine is one that includes exfoliation or you have dry and sensitive skin then hydrating lotions and masks are an important step in making sure your skin looks great. This mask gets great reviews and can help relieve itching as well as reduce irritation. It is recommended that you use this mask two to three times per week.
- Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel – This product contains purified hyaluronic acid and olive extract. It’s a great option for restoring moisture.
BEST FACE EXFOLIATOR BRUSH
Facial exfoliating brushes are a popular method for mechanical exfoliation. While they aren’t the best skin exfoliator used alone, they can be a great addition to your skincare routine and work well in combination with chemical exfoliators.
While there are several brushes currently available on the market, there are really only a few that we would recommend using. Some of the products that we like are discussed here…
- Olay ProX Advanced Cleansing System – This is one of the most affordable brushes on the market and is one of the more popular budget friendly options. The reviews are not as high, but it does have three speeds and comes with a cleanser and polisher. We think this is a solid option for those looking for an entry-level brush.
- Clarisonic Mia 2 – This brush is more towards the expensive end, but you definitely get what you pay for and many users can attest to its quality. It has settings for different skin types and comes in several colors including pink, lavender, and sea breeze. This can be a great complement to the rest of your exfoliating routine and is worth a try.
- Philips PureRadiance – This brush is a more affordable option that is very popular with users. Some of the benefits associated with using a brush include deeper pore cleansing, softer and more radiant skin, and more even skin tone. Generally, you can find these in peach and blue colors.
BEST FACIAL EXFOLIATING SPONGE
The konjac exfoliating sponge is a popular tool for removing excess dirt, oil, and dead skin cells from the face and body. These sponges are made from a fiber that occurs naturally in the root of the konjac plant which is native to Southeast Asia and has been used in Chinese medicine for a very long time.
Many of the sponges contain natural products such as bamboo charcoal, green tea, turmeric, and aloe powder that is added to them to impart additional health benefits while giving them a distinct color. The smaller round versions are often considered the best bath sponge for the face while the larger wave shaped versions are thought to be the best body sponge for individuals who want a soft product that delivers a very gentle exfoliation.
The konjac sponge is great for individuals who have dry and sensitive skin or for those searching for the best lip exfoliator. If you are in need of a more aggressive option then we would highly recommend a nylon exfoliating towel or any of the other mechanical and chemical methods discussed above. If you would like to learn more about the konjac sponge, be sure to check out our konjac sponge review included in our related comprehensive buyer’s guide.
BEST SCALP EXFOLIATION
Although it is less common for people to exfoliate their scalp like they would other parts of the body, it is believed that doing so can help encourage new hair growth and remove the dandruff that may cause irritation.
While most scalp exfoliating products use the chemical method for removing dead skin cells, a few offer bristled applicators that provide some degree of mechanical exfoliation as well. The following are some of the products that we would recommend trying out…
- Keranique Micro-Exfoliating Follicle Revitalizing Mask – Promotes healthy scalp and hair using its keratin amino complex. It removes scalp buildup and protects the hair against damage.
- Nioxin Hair Dermabrasion Treatment – Marketed as an anti-aging treatment to help regenerate and revitalize the scalp through exfoliation. It is supposed to help accelerate skin surface regeneration by up to 34%. CAUTION: THIS PRODUCT IS FOR PROFESSIONAL USE ONLY. It is recommended that you contact a qualified professional before using this product.
- Kerastase Chronologiste Revitalizing Exfoliating Care Scalp – This product contains abyssine and apricot seeds which work to regenerate and detoxify the scalp while gently removing excess dirt, oil, and dead skin cells.
BEST WAY TO EXFOLIATE THE BODY
The process for exfoliating the body is essentially the same as that for exfoliating the face. In both cases, it’s a good idea to use a chemical exfoliator in combination with a mechanical exfoliator to get great results. It’s also important to keep in mind that given the difference in skin sensitivity between the body and face, the best exfoliator for the face may not be the best exfoliator for the body. In most cases, more aggressive tools that you may not want to use on the face can often be safely used on the body.
The first step is to use a loofah, brush, or exfoliating glove to gently exfoliate away any dry or loose skin before getting in the shower. Once you’re in the shower, allow the skin to absorb some moisture before you begin the next step.
After a couple of minutes, apply your exfoliating cleanser or scrub to your nylon cloth, loofah, brush, or exfoliating glove and scrub your body in a circular motion. Once you’ve thoroughly scrubbed your body, you can rinse out any remaining cleanser and hang your preferred exfoliating tool to dry.
In order to exfoliate the feet, you may want to use a pumice stone that is more effective at removing dead skin cells from areas where the skin is tougher. After exiting the shower, you should apply a moisturizing body lotion since the exfoliation process causes the skin to dry out.
BEST BODY EXFOLIATOR BRUSH
There are several different body exfoliator brushes available that work great for dry and wet brushing. Our best recommendation is to browse through the options on Amazon to find one that appeals to you.
BEST FOOT EXFOLIATOR
If you’ve ever wondered how to exfoliate feet, then you’re probably aware of how popular the pumice stone is for softening up those dry and hard soles. As with the body brush, there are several different options when it comes to pumice stones.
Since these are relatively inexpensive, it’s a good idea to just browse through the products available in order to find one that suits your needs.
If you’re more interested in a gentler approach to exfoliating your feet, then you may want to consider using a foot scrub instead of a pumice stone.
BEST FOOT EXFOLIATING SCRUB
- bliss Aloe Leaf + Peppermint Foot Patrol – Contains salicylic and glycolic acid which works to chemically exfoliate the feet. The added peppermint helps to soothe and soften rough feet.
- Heel to Toe Exfoliating Foot Scrub – This product is said to contain exfoliating agents such as loofah, pumice, and walnut shell that works to mechanically remove dead skin cells from the feet to help refine rough and dry skin.
- The Body Shop Peppermint Smoothing Pumice Foot Scrub – An option that gets great reviews and that uses pumice granules from volcanic rock to replace rough and callused skin with smooth, soft feet.
BEST EXFOLIATING BODY WASH
- St. Ives Renew and Purify Body Wash – Gets great reviews and is on the more affordable end. Contains pumice and citric acid.
- Peter Thomas Roth Blemish Buffing Beads – Uses a combination of mechanical and chemical exfoliation to unclog pores, remove dead skin cells, and help prevent future breakouts. This product contains jojoba beads, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid.
- Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash – Formulated for acne prone skin, this product contains salicylic acid which helps remove excess dirt, oil, and dead skin cells. Consistent use will help to encourage smooth, clear skin.
BEST EXFOLIATING BODY SCRUB
- Soap and Glory the Breakfast Scrub Body Exfoliator – Contains organic cupuacu bio scrubs, bananas, almond, and honey extracts. It is designed to smooth and moisturize the skin at the same time.
- Dermalogica Exfoliating Body Scrub – Helps buff away dirt, oil, and dead skin cells using pulverized fig, olive, and date seeds. This product also contains rice bran and papaya enzymes that smooth rough skin.
- Kaeng Raeng Detoxfoliant Natural Sea Salt Body Scrub
- SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Hand & Body Scrub
BEST EXFOLIATING BACK SCRUBBER
The back is probably the most difficult part of the body to reach when it comes to cleansing and exfoliating. For this reason, a number of different tools have been created that make it much easier to get the same kind of exfoliation on the back as the rest of the body. These typically include things like exfoliating cloths, gloves, brushes, and loofahs. We’ve outlined a few of the products that we like here…
BEST EXFOLIATING BODY CLOTH
An exfoliating body cloth is a special fabric that is usually made of nylon, polyester, or a combination of the two and is designed to be used in the shower with cleanser. Most of the cloths being sold are at least 10 inches wide and 30 inches long which makes them ideal for exfoliating hard-to-reach areas of the body such as the back.
Polyester and nylon have a more abrasive texture than a konjac sponge which makes them ideal for individuals who are looking for a more aggressive exfoliation. The cloths are widely considered to be the best exfoliator for men since they are quite a bit rougher than other mechanical options. Just be careful if you intend to use them on the face where they may provide more exfoliation than desired. These may also not be the best exfoliator for acne prone skin since they can cause the blisters to open or become dry leading to more discomfort.
We do manufacture and sell our own brand of exfoliating body cloths, but there are several other brands available as well if you want to compare options to decide for yourself which is the best exfoliating bath cloth…
- Mayberry Health and Home Exfoliating Bath Cloth – Our cloths are approximately 11 inches wide and 36 inches long and are made of 100% nylon. The cloths come in gray and white and have stitching on all four sides for added durability.
- Salux Exfoliating Bath Cloth – These cloths are approximately 11 inches wide and 35 inches long. They are made of 60% nylon and 40% polyester and come in a variety of neon colors.
- Green Heart Labs Exfoliating Bath Cloth – These cloths are approximately 11 inches wide and 35 inches long. They are made of nylon and come in a variety of neon colors.
BEST EXFOLIATING BODY LOTION
The exfoliation process removes excess dirt, oil, and dead skin cells from the skin’s surface which, in turn, leads to dryer skin unless lotion is applied. If you’re thinking about adding an exfoliating method to your bathing routine then you may want to consider using a lotion that works to restore any moisture that is lost while it exfoliates.
These options are often the best exfoliator for dry skin and are commonly included with konjac sponges as some of the best skin care products for sensitive skin as well.
The following are a few of the products that we like…
- NeoStrata Lotion Plus AHA – This product is an extra strength lotion that contains 15% AHA (glycolic acid) and is believed to reverse signs of aging, even skin tone, heal dry skin, and improve texture. In general, this lotion is not recommended for sensitive skin since it is higher strength. Those who have normal to oily skin and who are using this lotion should apply sunscreen before heading outdoors.
- Curel Rough Skin Rescue – This is a more affordable exfoliating body lotion that also contains alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and helps restore moisture while removing the surface layer of dead skin cells. Again, be sure to use sunscreen when spending time outdoors because this lotion can increase your sensitivity to the sun.
- Glytone Exfoliating Body Lotion – This is a very popular exfoliating body lotion that contains the chemical exfoliant alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). When using exfoliating products that contain chemical exfoliants, it is very important to recognize that they can increase sensitivity to sun exposure and you should make sure that you are applying sunscreen when spending time outdoors.
We try to update our recommendations for the best exfoliating products on a regular basis as we gain experience with new items. If there is a product that you have used and love, please feel free to let us know in the comment section below so that we can tell others about it.