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How To Exfoliate Properly: A Beginner's Guide | Weirdskin

Updated: Jan 9

Exfoliation is an important step to include in your essential skincare routine for balanced and healthy skin. It helps get rid of acne, uneven skin tone, scars, and dark spots and equally helps boost the efficacy of the other products in your routine. Personally, it is one of my favorite steps in my routine because it leaves my skin soft, clean, and smooth. Did I mention the glow right after?


While this is great news, if you are new to skincare, knowing how to pick the right exfoliant for you can be tricky. With so many products on the market, it is easy to get overwhelmed.

Also, without the right guidance, you could end up hurting your skin. Luckily for you, here is a complete exfoliation guide.

In this post, I will walk you through everything you need to know about exfoliation. You will learn how exfoliation works, the different techniques available, how to pick the right exfoliant based on your skin type, and all the dos and don’ts of exfoliation.

What is Exfoliation?

Exfoliating is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin using a chemical, granular substance, or an exfoliation tool. Fun fact: your skin naturally sheds itself off every 28-30 days.

But the reason why there are products to speed up this process is that sometimes these dead skin cells may not fall off completely.

This results in flaky and rough patches of skin in certain areas of your face/body and clogged pores leading to acne breakouts. Because our skin is constantly exposed to free radicals, dust particles, and bacteria present in the environment, using exfoliants is a great way to maintain radiant and healthy skin.

How then do you exfoliate properly? Before I answer that, let's look at the benefits of this process to your skin.

Why You Need to Incorporate Exfoliation Into Your Skin Care Routine

If you ask me this is one of the steps you should not miss in your routine and that’s because it works. It is beneficial for removing dry or dull skin, increasing blood circulation, brightening, and improving the texture of the skin.

By speeding up the cell renewal process of the skin, exfoliation allows for a brighter and younger layer of skin to be visible. That’s how you get that glow! It helps reduce the appearance of sunburns, and hyperpigmentation and evens out your skin tone beautifully.

And the best part is that it unclogs and cleanses your pores. Offering a clean base that eases the penetration of serums and other products in your routine.

Exfoliating regularly helps boost the formation of collagen in the skin which keeps the skin plump and elastic. Think of this as a youth boost.

The choice of exfoliation method is determined by your skin type but before we get there let’s have a look at the different methods that exist.

Wondering what your skin type is? Here's how to know your skin type.

Exfoliation techniques

Physical/ Mechanical Exfoliation

Any product that requires manual scrubbing of your face or body is considered a physical exfoliant.

These work to shed off dead cells through the friction caused by the skin. This method requires you to move the exfoliant in gentle circular motions to get rid of dead cells found on the outer layer of your skin.

Products to use and exfoliate

The most common mechanical exfoliants include: exfoliating brushes, scrubs, exfoliating gloves/mitts, loofahs, pumice stone, derma rollers, etc

Scrubs usually contain abrasive particles like ground coffee, seed powders, and jojoba beads


  • What’s great with physical exfoliation, is that you can mix your DIY version and use it at home.

Check out these DIY recipes

  • There are a lot of over-the-counter (OTC) options you can choose from.

  • They are affordable and simple to use


  • Physical exfoliants can cause micro-tears on sensitive and inflamed skin because they are too abrasive. If you opt for this method avoid rubbing your skin too hard and go for products that contain finer particles.

How to Choose the Right Physical Exfoliant

Here are a few things to consider when choosing your next body or facial scrub:

  • Make sure you know the scope of application of the product before you purchase it. There is a reason why some scrubs are indicated for the face and others for the body. Stick to the instructions on the label. This is important because the skin on the face is more sensitive than the rest of the body. You do not want to use something overly harsh on it. Always go for the product with the finest particles for your face.

  • When starting your routine, stick to one exfoliant. I know the temptation to use various products from different brands can be high (trust me I struggle with this too) but you risk irritating your skin. One exfoliant at a time is enough. If you want to use scrubs from different brands, you can alternate them on different days. Or In your AM and PM routines.

  • Go for products that contain natural microbeads over plastic beads. They are safer for the environment and gentler on the skin. Some natural microbeads include jojoba, bamboo, apricot kernel powder, papaya seed powder, and rice powder.

  • Finally, make sure to pick your exfoliant based on your skin needs. It is quite common that a change in climate or hormonal imbalances modifies the nature of the skin. As such be ready to change your exfoliant consequently. For example: if your skin becomes more sensitive during the summer and dry during winter; you can mix an oatmeal scrub in the summer, and then a sugar & honey scrub during the winter.

Chemical Exfoliation

The term chemical exfoliation’ may sound scary to you but rest assured that no one is asking you to pour dangerous chemicals on your face.

This method of exfoliation refers to the use of certain active compounds to remove dead skin by breaking down the bond that holds dirt and oil together. By doing so they help speed up the skin renewal process. They include Alpha Hydroxy acids (AHAs), Beta-hydroxy acids, retinoids, and enzymes.

Chemical exfoliants have become much more popular over the years as the skincare industry is shifting towards formulating products with high-performance ingredients.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids - AHAs

Sugary fruits to exfoliate the skin

These are water-soluble acids derived mainly from sugary fruits that help peel off the outermost layer of the for a more even skin tone. They include:

  • Lactic acid (milk)

  • Glycolic acid (sugar cane)

  • Malic acid (apples)

  • Tartaric acid ( grapes)

  • Mandelic acid (almond)

  • Citric acid (citrus fruits)

These acids help deal with enlarged pores, aging spots, acne scars, melasma, uneven skin tone, wrinkles, and signs of aging.

Beta Hydroxy Acids - BHAs

These are oil-soluble acids that penetrate the skin through the hair follicles and dry out excess sebum and dead skin cells to unclog your pores. These are great to use when battling acne, and sun damage. They include:

  • Salicylic acid

  • Tropic acid

  • Trethocanic acid

  • Beta-hydroxybutyric acid

Currently salicylic is the most used of these acids and is recommended for the treatment of inflammatory acne. This BHA is highly recommended for oily skin.

Polyhydroxy Acids - PHAs

This set of acids is like a middle ground between the first. They considered second-generation AHAs because just like the latter they get rid of dead cells on the surface layer of the skin to improve even skin tone and texture.

But unlike other acids, PHAs do not penetrate deeper levels of the skin. Their molecular structure is larger than acids in the AHA and BHA categories, meaning they are the most gentle chemical exfoliants of all three. This also means that they will not cause the skin to be photosensitive but will do a great job at facilitating the penetration of other products in your routine, making them more effective. This is the major reason why PHAs are usually formulated in combination with other AHAs and BHAs.The most common PHAs are :

  • Gluconolactone acid

  • Galactose acid

  • Lactobionic acid

Advantages of Chemical Acids

  • AHAs are effective in helping clear mild hyperpigmentation issues and reduce signs of skin aging.

  • BHAs are effective at clearing acne, and sun damage and help calm down skin inflammations.

Disadvantages of Chemical acids

  • While these acids are highly acclaimed for their ability to keep the skin clear and get rid of imperfections, they should be used with care as they can sometimes have side effects when wrongly used.

  • When used too often or in high concentrations they can cause irritations on the skin (burns, itching, redness, bumps).

  • You equally have to be careful about how often to use them as over-exfoliation may weaken your skin’s moisture barrier.

Enzyme Exfoliants

Enzyme peels are used to break down keratin and eat up dead skin cells in the top layer of the skin.

Enzymes are protein substances that enhance the skin’s renewal process by digesting dead skin cells. When applied to the skin, they serve as catalysts to unglue the bond between dead skin cells, and cause exfoliation.

These enzymes are derived from plants, fruits, or through fermentation and exfoliate the skin without offsetting the skin’s pH balance.

Unlike chemical acids, this technique does not cause any irritation on the skin. They offer a gentle way of getting brighter skin without tripping off naturally- occurring oils and bacteria necessary to maintain healthy skin.

Enzyme exfoliants help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines on the skin and help improve skin texture, firmness, and thickness. They equally help with acne, clogged pores, dull skin, and hyperpigmentation.

What Exfoliating Products Works Best for My Skin Type?

Oily Skin

Oily skin tends to be greasy and prone to break out more than any other skin type. If you fall under this category, you should use stronger physical exfoliants like motorized brushes (use only on clear skin) or chemical exfoliants. Try Glycolic acid which is the strongest of the AHAs or Salicylic acid. A lot of products for acne-prone skin combine AHAs and BHAs for a more effective result.

Dry Skin

Dry skin usually tends to be flaky and rough with microcracks which allow moisture to escape easily and irritants to get in. AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid will do a great job of breaking down the surface layer of the skin and will improve the penetration of your moisturizing products that should follow exfoliation. PHAs will also be suitable for people with dry and sensitive skin prone to redness and inflammation.

Sensitive Skin

For sensitive, mature, or aging skin, I recommend using gentle exfoliants to minimize the risk of irritations. Go for mild AHAs like malic or mandelic acid. Alternatively, you can opt for stronger AHAs but at lower concentrations (2%). An AHA and PHA combo will also 0 be ideal for acne-prone and sensitive skin.

Combination Skin

For combination skin with both oily and dry sections, alternate exfoliants for each part of your face.

You could use a strong chemical exfoliator or scrub for the oily areas of your skin on one day, and gentle AHAs for the dry parts on another.

Although it is possible to find balanced exfoliants specifically formulated for your skin type.

If you prefer a physical exfoliant make sure you look for a product with gentle microbeads. The formulation should equally contain ingredients that will both get balanced excess oil and keep the dry areas of your face properly moisturized.

Here are a few :

Normal Skin

People in this category mostly have clear and not easily irritated skin. Although there is nothing wrong with wanting some extra glow right? Luckily for you, all the above exfoliation techniques will work.

FAQs about Exfoliation

How Often Should I Exfoliate?

This is a part of exfoliation a lot of people struggle with. Dermatologists and aestheticians recommend exfoliating 2-3 times a week to avoid irritating your skin unnecessarily.

But it equally boils down to how congested your skin gets. For people with very oily skin, it may be necessary to exfoliate every day or every other day. For other skin types stick to the 2-3 times a week rule.

Should I Exfoliate in the Morning or Night?

Exfoliation can be done in the morning or evening, based on personal preference and skin condition. If your skin feels congested in the morning, consider morning exfoliation. However, night exfoliation removes daily dirt. Chemical exfoliants like mandelic and glycolic acid can increase sun sensitivity; use at night and always apply sunscreen if using AHAs in the morning. Physical exfoliants, unless combined with AHAs, can be used anytime.

How Can I Avoid Over-exfoliating?

Avoid using multiple products with chemical exfoliants simultaneously. Many skincare products contain exfoliants without clear labeling. Always ensure you're not layering multiple exfoliant-containing products. Stick to one exfoliant product, and alternate if needed. For example, if using an AHA cleanser, ensure your toner or serum is exfoliant-free.

What Should I Do in Case of Irritation?

If experiencing burning, itching, or sudden rashes, rinse off the product and stop its use. Avoid other active skincare ingredients until the irritation subsides. For intense itching, consider antihistamines, but seek medical attention for severe reactions like facial swelling or breathing difficulties. Always patch-test new products 24 hours before the face application.

How Do I Choose Between a Physical and Chemical Exfoliant?

The choice between these two methods will solely depend on how fat you want to start seeing results. Chemical exfoliants are stronger than physical exfoliants.

You will also want to make a choice based on your skin's tolerance to either method. But for optimal results, you can use products that contain both types.

At What Moment Does Exfoliation Come Into My Routine?

Experts recommend exfoliating after cleansing your face and before applying any serums. But there is more to it than just that. Remember I highlighted that all products containing chemical exfoliants although not marketed as such should be considered as exfoliants. This implies that if your cleanser contains an AHA/BHA/PHA, you do not need to exfoliate again after cleansing.

If your toner has an exfoliating acid, you should use a gentle cleanser and no other exfoliating product in your routine.

Why Do I Need Sunscreen After Using an Exfoliating Acid?

Because exfoliation breaks down the outermost layer of the skin, it is important to wear sunscreen to avoid sunburns and other irritation on the freshly revealed skin.


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