Top 5 Exfoliants for the Face

By: Victoria Vogt

Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery A gentle facial exfoliant reveals new, dewy skin. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
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With hundreds of lotions, potions, creams and scrubs on the market today, you may wonder whidch facial exfoliants are best for you. From the home remedies in your favorite magazines to late-night infomercials, you've probably heard more skin cleansing tips than you can remember. Dermatologists and other skin care professionals agree on one thing: Exfoliating is an important part of any skin cleansing regimen, despite some skin care myths that you may have heard. Exfoliants for the face slough away dead cells and outer layers of the skin and even help keep your pores clean to prevent acne. Some people say that beauty has a high price, but keep in mind that exfoliating shouldn't hurt. So let's find out which exfoliants are suitable for the face.


5: Facial Scrubs

One of the most misunderstood skin care tips has to do with facial scrubs. Here's the rule of thumb: Your skin type determines which scrub will work best for you. Browsing the beauty section of your local grocery or department store and even the displays at the spa is enough to make your head spin. You'll see scrubs containing everything from ground apricot seeds to seaweed. (Note that body scrubs don't necessarily make proper facial scrubs because they can be relatively rough, so you'll want to stick to those designed for your face.)

Scrubs designed to be used on a weekly basis tend to be pretty harsh and can even damage the skin if you're not careful; daily scrubs contain milder abrasives. Those with microbeads (tiny plastic beads) are gentler on the skin than facial scrubs made from ingredients such as sugar, salt and seeds. Some people even make their own facial scrubs using baking soda, olive oil, milk or oatmeal.


4: Facial Brush

It may sound like a skin cleansing myth, but the facial brush is a very real -- and very effective -- exfoliant for the face. This special brush is designed to gently remove sweat, dirt, oils and even dead skin cells without damaging the necessary layers of fat in your skin.

So what does this miracle exfoliant look like? It's pretty similar to the round brush that barbers use to apply shaving cream. However, a facial brush has much shorter fibers than these brushes. Some facial brushes are manual and others are battery-powered. After wetting your face with lukewarm water, apply facial cleanser and give your face a once-over with this special brush and rinse. An alternative to facial scrub formulas in tubes, pots and bottles, you can use this tool for a deep exfoliation once a week or as part of your daily skin cleansing ritual.


3: Chemical Peels

This cosmetic procedure was once associated with people seeking to recapture a youthful appearance. Now, chemical peels are now a common part of facial exfoliating regimen for many adults. You can purchase some chemical peel lotions without a prescription, but you'll need to consult with a doctor to buy others. Certain chemical peel treatments are so powerful that only dermatologists or skin care professionals can administer them in their offices.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) are contained in the gentlest types of chemical peels. AHAs help treat mild wrinkling, pigmentation or acne issues. Your doctor or aesthetician may advise you to mix AHA with your daily facial cleanser and apply it once a week.


Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is the main ingredient in medium-strength chemical peels, and it helps reduce fine surface wrinkles and some blemishes. A TCA treatment takes about 15 minutes, after which most people can immediately resume normal activities. For deep, dramatic results, some people get phenol treatments. Phenol removes freckles, deep wrinkles and precancerous growths. But once you get this type of chemical peel, you'll have to take special precautions, such as limiting the time you spend in the sun. Furthermore, it may take months for your skin to heal and for you to get back to your typical daily schedule -- and skin care regimen [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons].

2: Washcloth

With so many exotic skin care tips out there, this one may sound the least sexy. However, it's a dermatologist-recommend, tried-and-true tip: Use a washcloth. The fibers in standard cotton washcloths can remove dead skin cells, oils, dirt and sweat without damaging your facial skin, which is more delicate than the skin on the rest of your body.

Although celebrity spokespeople and glitzy advertorial campaigns may tempt you to stock your medicine cabinet with all sorts of tubes and jars, you'll get great returns with something you probably have folded in your linen closet. Most skin care professionals advise using a freshly laundered washcloth for your face -- and be sure to reserve it for your face. Washing your back and chest with the same washcloth you use for your sensitive facial tissue only encourages the spread of oil and other bacteria.


1: Moisturizer

When you think about exfoliants for the face, images of grainy scrubs and abrasive chemical peels may come to mind. These products definitely have a place in the pantheon of facial exfoliators; however, exfoliants are only one part of the puzzle. After you slough away the oil, dirt and dead, dull skin cells, your skin needs a little encouragement to replenish them with healthy new cells. That's where moisturizer comes in. Think of it as the yin to facial exfoliants' yang.

Moisturizer is a must -- even for the oiliest skin types. Need convincing? If your facial cleansing regimen consisted of just washing and scrubbing your face, your complexion would be a red, raw, flaky mess. When you wash your face, you're essentially drawing moisture out of your skin. Your skin depends on that moisture to stay plump and hydrated. Applying a moisturizer guards against the loss of moisture in two ways: by sealing water into the skin before it evaporates, or by drawing it upward from the inner dermis to the top layer of skin [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. So before you apply that facial scrub or slough away at your dermis with a facial brush or washcloth, make sure you've got moisturizer on hand to (literally) seal the deal.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffworks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Cosmeceutical Facts & Your Skin." (August 28, 2009).
  • Granger, Kelly. "Spa & Salon Secrets for the Home." Chronogram. July 30, 2009. (August 15, 2009).
  • Hertzing, Alyssa Kolsky. "Summer Beauty Tips." Seattle Post Intelligencer. August 3, 2009. (August 15, 2009).
  • American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "Chemical Peel." (August 15, 2009).