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How to Exfoliate for Glowing Skin

Young woman with gold toned skin pictured with hair towel and eyes closed, holding Rodan + Fields Multi-Acid Enzyme Peel

Regular exfoliation is the key to achieving a radiant complexion. Removing dead skin cells can smooth out your complexion and reveal the luminous skin beneath the surface. If you want to give your skin a fresh, healthy-looking glow, a physical or chemical exfoliator can help. Understanding each type of exfoliant can help you select the right products for your skin.

What Is Chemical Exfoliation?

Chemical exfoliators use acids to break down skin cells. They can rejuvenate acne-prone and sensitive skin without causing irritation.

Alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic acid, lactic acid and mandelic acid, break down and loosen the bonds between dead skin cells to reveal brighter, newer skin. Beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliants like salicylic acid are often used to treat acne-prone skin. Here are a few different kinds of AHAs and BHAs:

Glycolic acid is made of small molecules that can help support natural cell turnover. It brightens skin by fading imperfections and refining skin texture.

Lactic acid is made of medium-sized, slow-penetrating molecules that exfoliate gently. This moisturizing acid can improve skin tone and help clear acne-prone skin.

  • Mandelic acid has large molecules that penetrate pores slowly. It sweeps away dead skin cells and supports accelerated cell turnover, which helps to regulate oil production, clear pores and promote smoother, blemish-free skin. It can also reduce discoloration and help your skin look more vibrant.
  • Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that penetrates pores to clear out cellular debris and reduce congestion while improving skin tone and texture.

What is Physical Exfoliation?

Physical exfoliants use gritty material to slough away dead skin cells as you rub them over your skin. They commonly include sugar, salt, plant or mineral particles suspended in gel, cream or paste, or tools like pumice stones, loofahs, washcloths and brushes. These exfoliators can help improve circulation and make your skin glow, but they should be used with care. Using the wrong exfoliator or rubbing too hard can tear and irritate your skin, which can lead to breakouts or inflammation.

Mineral granules

Exfoliants made from silica or magnesium oxide crystals tend to have larger particles that are well-suited to oily, thick, resilient skin.

Plant granules

Products with small, smooth, uniform granules, like jojoba beads and fine powders made from almond, oat or rice flour, have a low risk of irritating dry, sensitive skin. Naturally derived particles made from ground and crushed nuts, fruit pits, seeds and shells may have irregular edges that make them better suited to scrubbing your body.

Sugar scrubs

Sugar scrubs manually rub away dead skin cells from the epidermis to enhance radiance and smoothness and encourage cell turnover. Sugar can also add moisture to the skin without causing irritation.

Salt scrubs

Salt scrubs use grainy particles that remove dead cells and stimulate circulation to give your skin a glow. Many salt scrubs also contain detoxifying minerals and are generally best suited for use on your body.

Choosing the Right Exfoliants for Your Face and Body

The type of exfoliant you use on your face or body depends on the type, thickness and sensitivity of your skin. Understanding your skin type and paying careful attention to product ingredients and textures can help you choose suitable exfoliants and apply them safely. Always read labels and follow instructions to ensure that you apply your treatment properly.

How to exfoliate your face

To safely exfoliate your face, start by choosing the right product concentration or texture for your skin. You can apply liquid chemical exfoliants with a cotton pad or use your fingers to gently rub an exfoliating scrub into your skin using small, circular motions. Let the product absorb or rinse it off with lukewarm water as directed.

How to exfoliate your body

To exfoliate your body effectively, target each area of your skin with the right product or tool. Try using an acid-based exfoliating body wash as directed as a complement to physical exfoliants that scrub away dead skin cells and stimulate circulation.

Using a salt or scrub all over your body once or twice a week can help brighten your skin and improve its tone and texture.

Massage the scrub onto damp skin, starting at your shoulders, and then, continue applying the treatment until you reach your feet. Pay special attention to your elbows, knees and ankles; then, rinse it off in the shower.

Alternatively, you can dry brush your skin daily before you shower. Brush your torso in a clockwise motion, and brush from your feet and hands toward your heart. When you get in the shower, you can use a loofah to exfoliate your bikini line and exfoliate your feet with a peel or a pumice stone.

The Best Products for Exfoliation

When you exfoliate, it’s important to find and use the right products for your skin type. Below are different skin types and the best exfoliation product options for each.  When trying new products, it’s important to always first  patch test  on a small area of skin before applying to larger areas.

Normal skin

Normal skin can tolerate physical exfoliants like brushes and gentle scrubs as well as chemical exfoliants like glycolic and salicylic acids.

Dry skin

Dry skin needs exfoliators like glycolic acid that can penetrate deeply to hydrate the skin and remove flaky, dull cells. Other exfoliators for dry skin may contain fine particles that are suspended in cream-, oil- or honey-based treatments.

Oily skin

Oily skin can benefit from chemical exfoliators like salicylic acid that clear away dead cells. Scrubs and brushes can be good exfoliators for oily skin. To avoid damage and irritation, start by using a low concentration of acid, or err on the side of safety by applying a fine-textured physical exfoliant with gentle pressure.

Combination skin

Combination skin can benefit from both physical and chemical exfoliators, including scrubs and facial acids. Normal-to-dry skin may benefit most from a moderately abrasive scrub while a light AHA exfoliator may work well for normal-to-oily skin. If you have an especially oily T-zone, you can use a stronger product in those areas.

Acne-prone skin

Acne-prone skin can benefit from glycolic, lactic or salicylic chemical exfoliators that unclog pores and clear away dead cells. Abrasive physical exfoliators are too harsh for actinic skin.  These products should not be applied to open wounds, broken skin or acne lesions.

Mature skin

Gentle exfoliators can provide anti-aging benefits while enhancing the vibrance of mature skin. Since aging skin can be thin, sensitive and dry, acidic exfoliants that encourage cellular renewal and physical exfoliators with super-fine particles will be the best at making skin look radiant.

The Best Products for Skin Exfoliation

When you want your skin to look youthful and lovely, using the right exfoliators can make all the difference.

Enhancements Micro-Dermabrasion Paste

Our popular micro-dermabrasion paste reveals smoother, more radiant skin after just one use. This moisturizing sugar- and salt-based face and body scrub for dry, oily and combination skin buffs away dull, flaky cells and evens out your skin tone.

Reverse Deep Exfoliating Cleanser

Wash away sun-damaged, blotchy skin with a daily face exfoliator that’s suitable for all skin types. Our exfoliating glycolic acid and lactic acid cleanser refines your skin texture to reveal a clearer, smoother, more healthy-looking complexion. These AHAs promote cell turnover and remove over-pigmented surface cells for a more vibrant look without irritation.

Should You Exfoliate Every Day?

Ideally, you should exfoliate your skin in the morning, two to three times per week. Exfoliate sensitive skin once a week. Start slowly with gentle products. After you exfoliate, moisturize your skin to prevent dryness and irritation, and be sure to apply SPF.

If your skin becomes red or irritated, consider changing your products and exfoliating less often. Be aware that exfoliating while you are using medications or treatments like retinol and benzoyl peroxide can irritate your skin or cause breakouts.

Trust Rodan + Fields Exfoliators for Beautiful, Glowing Skin

No matter what your skin type is, there’s an exfoliation product out there for you! Rodan + Fields exfoliators are trusted and beloved by our customers. Stop by our site and find a scrub, cleanser or mask that will keep your skin looking fresh and rejuvenated.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use the same exfoliant for my face and body?

While some dual-purpose exfoliants are specially formulated for use on the face and body, using body products on your face can cause breakouts, dryness and irritation. You should always carefully review the product’s use instructions.

Is it possible to over-exfoliate my skin?

Exfoliating more than three times a week can cause peeling, breakouts and red blotches. If you notice tightness, small pimples or increased sensitivity, you should exfoliate less frequently.

Should I exfoliate before or after shaving?

Exfoliating before you shave can help remove dead skin cells, prevent razor bumps and ingrown hairs, and leave you with smoother skin.

Can I exfoliate if I have a sunburn?

Exfoliating sunburns may irritate skin and delay healing. Instead, apply a soothing serum, gel or moisturizer that will minimize peeling.