How Often Should You Exfoliate Your Face?
You absolutely love the smooth-as-a-baby’s-bottom feeling that exfoliating gives your skin. But the phrase “too much of a good thing” applies to skin exfoliation. So how often should you exfoliate your face?
The answer depends on your skin and how it reacts to exfoliation. The right frequency for you may be three times a week, once a week, every other week, or never. Read on to learn more.
What is exfoliation?
Exfoliating means removing dead skin cells from the top layer of skin. These cells slough off on their own eventually, but sometimes they need a little encouragement.
You can exfoliate in two ways. One is by using an exfoliating scrub, sponge, brush or glove or even just a washcloth to scrape away the dead cells. The other is by using an exfoliating product that contains a chemical that dissolves the cells, revealing the living cells underneath.
“Chemical exfoliants contain acids such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid and lactic acid,” said Annie Gonzalez, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology.
The best exfoliating method for your face depends on your skin type, Dr. Gonzalez noted.
“Mild chemical exfoliants are a better choice if you have dry, sensitive or acne-prone skin because they’re gentler than exfoliating scrubs,” she explained. Scrubs are easy to overuse and may damage your skin.” Mild chemical exfoliants are also the best bet for mature skin, which tends to be thinner and drier than younger skin.
Physical exfoliants and stronger chemical exfoliants are more suitable for oily, thicker skin. But if your skin is dark, or if it develops dark marks after skin injuries or breakouts, you may want to avoid them, since more aggressive exfoliants can cause dark spots.
The benefits and risks of exfoliating your face
By sloughing off dead skin cells and other debris that accumulates on your face, exfoliating makes your skin looks healthier, brighter and more youthful. Over time, it can also increase the production of collagen, which decreases as you get older. Collagen is a protein naturally found in the skin that keeps it looking firm.
If your skin has age spots from sun damage, exfoliating regularly can make them less noticeable. And if you have acne, skin exfoliation can help reduce breakouts. People with acne-prone skin don’t shed dead skin cells as effectively as those who aren’t prone to breakouts. When dead skin cells accumulate on the face, they can clog pores and lead to blemishes. Exfoliation helps keep pores clear.
Exfoliating your face too often, however, can dry out your skin and worsen your complexion, causing redness, irritation and breakouts.
How often to exfoliate your face: The best schedule for you
You may need to experiment to find the exfoliation frequency that gives you all of the perks of exfoliation and none of the downsides. Start with the general guidelines below. Cut back if you develop dryness, redness or irritation or you start to break out. Take a break from exfoliating your face if you have a sunburn, rash or open cut.
Keep in mind that if you use an exfoliating cleanser such as SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser every day, you may not need to do any additional exfoliation.
People with normal skin should start by exfoliating two to three times a week.
Dry, sensitive skin
For people with dry or sensitive skin, exfoliating twice a week is the maximum frequency dermatologists recommend. You may want to exfoliate only once a week or even every other week if you use products that can cause dryness and irritation, such as retinoids.
If you have rosacea, your dermatologist may recommend avoiding exfoliation so as not to cause further redness, irritation or stinging.
People with combination skin can typically exfoliate their face twice a week.
If you have oily skin, you can probably exfoliate two or three times a week, and possibly more often depending on what exfoliation method or product you use and how your skin reacts.
Medically reviewed by Annie Gonzalez, MD
Written by Jessica Brown, a health and science writer/editor based in Nanuet, New York. She has written for Water’s Edge Dermatology, Prevention magazine, jnj.com, BCRF.org, and many other outlets.