How to Exfoliate Skin

Woman applying exfoliant.
Exfoliating can soften and brighten your skin.
Š Snowden

Healthy skin doesn't have to come from an expensive medical process. In fact, simply adding an exfoliating product to your skin care routine can bring an end to dull, flaky skin and help you put your best face forward.

Exfoliating removes dead cells from the uppermost layer of skin to reveal the fresher, younger skin underneath. Sloughing off these dead cells can even skin tone, remove pore-clogging dirt and oil and help prevent acne [source: Bruno]. There are two types of exfoliants:


  • Physical scrubs such as sugar, oatmeal and salt
  • Chemical scrubs such as alpha-hydroxy acids and salicylic acid.

Soaps and cleansers remove dirt and oil from the skin, but soap can't remove all of the skin's dead cells on its own -- that's where exfoliation comes in. Exfoliating tools, like gloves and loofahs, are one option for physical exfoliation. However, loofahs should be used only on the body -- they're too harsh to use on delicate facial skin [source: Geria].

Exfoliating soaps allow you to both cleanse and exfoliate your skin at the same time. Many soaps are made with natural ingredients such as oatmeal, salt, sugar or finely ground seeds. Both these natural ingredients and synthetic exfoliating beads -- which are found in many facial cleansers and body washes -- work as physical exfoliants to gently remove dead cells from the skin's surface [source: The Skin Sciences Institute]. Products that contain chemical exfoliants, such as alpha-hydroxy acids or salicylic acid, should be used less frequently. Although they effectively exfoliate skin, they can also cause dryness and irritation.

Exfoliation can help your skin appear younger and brighter -- as long as you don't overdo it. Read on to learn about exfoliation methods.


Exfoliation Methods

Your skin sheds 30,000 to 40,000 dead cells per minute, but sometimes this natural shedding isn't enough. If you don't remove dead skin cells, dirt and debris can become trapped in your pores, causing acne [source: WebMD]. Dead cells that have been on the surface of your skin are also duller and dryer than the newer cells underneath.

Whether you're using an exfoliating soap or a tool, to get the most out physical exfoliation, you should follow a few basic steps:


  1. Use warm water -- not hot -- to dampen your skin. Hot water can be irritating and overdrying.
  2. Apply your cleanser or scrub, and use your fingers or your exfoliating tool to rub gently in a circular motion. This circular motion will cause the soap to lather and will work the particles or acids in exfoliating soaps deeper into your skin.
  3. When you're done scrubbing, rinse your skin thoroughly and apply a moisturizer.

Don't scrub on a daily basis unless you have extremely oily skin. People with normal or dry skin need to exfoliate only once or twice a week [source: Bruno]. Also, take care to not exfoliate too hard or too often. Skin can become irritated if you choose products with ingredients that are too harsh for your skin type or if you scrub too hard when you're exfoliating [source: Wyar].

For more information on exfoliating, visit the Web sites on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Almasi, Mary Rose. "Look Younger, Longer." Natural Health. (Accessed 9/3/09)
  • Bruno, Karen. "Women's Skin Care for Your Face." (Accessed 10/1/09).
  • Geria, Navin M. "Exfoliants Play Key Role in Achieving Healthy Skin." Household & Personal
  • Products Industry. February 2008. (Accessed 9/2/09)
  • The Skin Sciences Institute. "Skin Care: A Practical Guide to Skin Care Products and Ingredients." 1999. (Accessed 9/3/09)
  • WebMD. "Acne Causes." (Accessed 10/1/09)
  • Wyar, Leah. "Do You Have Type E Skin?" (Accessed 9/3/09)