Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation Products and Tools

Before you exfoliate, you must arm yourself with the necessary tools for the area of skin you want to treat. What you use to exfoliate your body or feet will not be what you would use to exfoliate the more delicate skin of your face. Before you can decide on a product or method, it's important to understand that there are two basic types of exfoliants: physical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants.

Physical exfoliants are likely most familiar to you -- such as a body wash infused with scrubbing beads, a washcloth or a loofah. Physical exfoliants work to remove dead skin cells via friction. So there's a combined effort between the product you choose and a little elbow grease -- your scrubbing action.

For the torso, arms and legs, a body scrub with synthetic beads or tiny grains of sugar provides the gentlest exfoliation, while a loofah, textured or mesh sponge, or washcloth can be used in tandem with one of these products to intensify the exfoliation process [source: Bruno]. Many skin experts suggest that it's best to use a circular motion when exfoliating [source: Mann]. Be sure to use a washcloth or just your hands in tandem with a mild exfoliating cleanser on sensitive areas, like your face, as this is the gentlest method.

Chemical exfoliants are different from physical exfoliants in that it is a chemical substance, not friction, that handles the job at hand. Most chemical exfoliants found in facial and body cleansers are mild acids, such as salicylic acid, that work to gently remove dead skin cells. They do this by essentially dissolving the "glue" that is binding the dead skin cells to the other skin cells. Glycolic acid and lactic acid scrubs and cleansers accomplish this while also moisturizing the skin. A salicylic acid scrub works in a similar way, though it more specifically targets skin with acne or other conditions. By removing dead skin cells, a salicylic acid scrub unclogs pores, thus treating and preventing breakouts [source: Patz].

You may need a combination of these products and styles of exfoliation to complete your skin care routine. See the links on the next page for further information.