What Material Should You Use for Exfoliation?

What Material Should You Use for Exfoliation?

What Material Should You Use for Exfoliation?

Are you in need of a facial rebound? Exfoliation is a growing part of the skin care business, and more and more people are adding exfoliation to their skin care routine. However, not everyone understands the purpose of exfoliation or what materials should be used to exfoliate. 

Therefore, let’s look at the process of exfoliation and what materials might be suitable for your body and skincare routine. 

What is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface layer of your skin to encourage cell turnover and to help rejuvenate the appearance of your skin. 

Exfoliation utilizes either mechanical or chemical abrasive materials to loosen these dead skin cells enough for them to fall away from your skin surface.  Naturally, your skin cells move from the deepest layer of your skin to being sloughed off over a period of 28 days. This period becomes longer as people get older. Exfoliation speeds that process up. 

Mechanical materials scrape the skin’s surface at the cellular level to remove the skin cells, while chemical materials disintegrate the bonds that connect dead skin cells to the surface of the skin.

Microdermabrasion and dermaplaning are two forms of mechanical exfoliation performed by dermatologists, while chemical peels are the most common chemical abrasive procedures performed in the office.

Without the oversight of a dermatologist, most people utilize mechanical (sometimes called natural) exfoliants to remove their dead skin cells at home.

Why Should I Be Exfoliating?

Exfoliating is great for a variety of reasons, both healthwise and cosmetic. Because exfoliating encourages your skin’s natural process of cellular turnover, exfoliation can help with a variety of skin issues, including blemishes and signs of aging. 

Further, exfoliation can help you get a closer shave and achieve softer, healthier skin by removing the top layer of dead skin cells.

How Often Should I Exfoliate?

Dermatologists generally recommend exfoliating one night a week and gradually increasing if your skin allows it (read: does not become irritated). 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, exfoliation frequency truly varies from person to person and body part to body part. So your arms may require greater exfoliation than your face, but your overall exfoliation frequency may be significantly less than another person’s schedule.  

However, it is possible to over-exfoliate. Thus, it is not recommended to exfoliate more often than a few times a week to protect the integrity of your skin barriers.

How to Exfoliate

Exfoliation is a great practice to use for multiple parts of your body. Gentle exfoliants can be used on your face to help with redness and blemishes. Slightly stronger exfoliants can be used on your limbs, especially places where you shave, to help remove dry skin and prevent bumps and irritation. 

You’ll want to avoid using any extremely harsh exfoliants on your face or body to prevent removing the skin barrier that protects the lower layers of the organ.

What to Look for in an Exfoliant

Mechanical exfoliants include two main parts: the abrasive material and a carrier liquid usually of higher viscosity.

The main ingredients often used as the abrasive material in mechanical or natural exfoliants include:

  • Baking soda
  • Sugar
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Sea Salt

The rough texture of these materials will help slough dead skin cells off the surface of your skin. 

When choosing the right one for you, look for naturally occurring substances and consider the extent of abrasion the ingredient will cause. Got sensitive skin? Choose a less abrasive, softer component like coffee grounds. 

The liquid carriers for these abrasive materials include:

  • Lotion
  • Honey
  • Herbal Tea
  • Oil -- especially olive or coconut oil

Picking a carrier that helps moisturize your skin while you slough off the dead skin cells helps prevent the dryness or irritation that can come with exfoliation. Consider what moisturizers work best with your skin, and mix the ingredients with your chosen carrier.

The Process of Exfoliating

When exfoliating, apply the mixture of abrasive material and carrier to slightly damp skin. Massage the mixture onto your skin in a circular motion for about 30 seconds. 

You want to provide even but light pressure to avoid damaging the skin. Too much pressure can cause tears in the skin or make your skin sensitive to damage. Then, rinse off with lukewarm water.

Aftercare Moisturizer

After exfoliating your skin, you should be sure to moisturize. Moisturizing helps return moisture to your skin removed during the exfoliation process and reduces the likelihood of irritation or dryness. 

Moisturizers with niacinamide, oatmeal, and ceramides (ingredients that encourage skin repair) are preferred to help your skin grow back stronger and healthier. 

Masks and serums can also help return moisture to the skin and build on the glowy finish developed through the exfoliating process.

Chemical Exfoliants

Beyond natural exfoliants, chemical exfoliants can also be useful tools to remove dead skin cells and encourage cell turnover in your skin. Chemical exfoliants loosen the ties between dead skin cells and allow them to be easily moved off the surface of your skin. 

You may have heard of these exfoliants being called “chemical peels,” as they cause the top layer of the skin to peel off, revealing the next layer of skin.

Some of the most common chemical exfoliants include:

  • AHA (alpha-hydroxy acids) including lactic, glycolic, and fruit acids
  • BHA (beta-hydroxy acids), including salicylic acids and willow bark extracts
  • Proteolytic enzymes

Chemical exfoliants can either be applied in small doses through over-the-counter products or larger, more impactful doses through the practice of a physician. 

Dermatologists recommend chemical exfoliants over mechanical exfoliants for the control they provide over the exfoliation process. Talk to your doctor to determine if chemical peels are right for you! 

Understanding the Benefits

As with all skin treatments, exfoliation comes with both benefits and possible side effects. Many people attribute numerous benefits to the process of exfoliation for its ability to reduce the signs of damage to the skin. Exfoliation can help lessen the signs of aging, sun damage, and the appearance of blemishes while adding a natural glow to your skin.

As noted, semi-regular exfoliation can encourage cell turnover, which can reduce redness, rough patches, and textured areas on your skin’s surface. 

Dermatologists note that exfoliation can benefit the limbs, where the skin may develop thickness or texture. In addition, exfoliation used in conjunction with shaving can reduce the likelihood of skin irritation and permit a closer shave.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Despite these numerous benefits, dermatologists warn of the potential dangers of exfoliation, especially over-exfoliation. 

Exfoliating too often or using a mechanical exfoliant that is too abrasive can damage the skin barriers, making them vulnerable to tears and injury. In addition, the face, neck, and chest are especially sensitive to injury, so more care should be shown when exfoliating these areas.

Allergic reaction to the ingredients of exfoliants is also a risk. Avoid ingredients that are known to irritate your skin or body. If you begin experiencing irritation or worse, an allergic reaction, contact your dermatologist or primary care provider immediately. 


Exfoliation is the process of using an abrasive material, either mechanical or chemical, to remove dead skin cells from the top layer of one’s skin. 

Mechanical exfoliation uses an abrasive material, like sugar crystals, to slough off the dead skin. In contrast, chemical exfoliation damages the bonds between dead skin cells on the surface of your skin. As a result, exfoliation can offer dramatic benefits to your skin, including adding glow, reducing blemishes, and helping ensure a close shave. 

However, over-exfoliation is always a risk, so be sure to take it slow when trying exfoliation and consult your doctor if any unusual or painful irritation occurs.


How to Safely Exfoliate at Home | AAD

Active Ingredients in Skin Care | CHEManager 

Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare | NIH

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.