Exfoliators take off the top dead layer of the skin, leaving it smoother with an increased ability to reflect light. This is the fastest way to get glowing skin. When the skin’s surface is not smooth, dead skin cells heap upon the top layer of the skin. Some people call smooth, exfoliated skin “glass skin” because of the ability of the skin to reflect light and glow.

How to Exfoliate the Skin

There are two main types of skincare products that exfoliate skin: 

  1. Mechanical exfoliators use a rough substance such as sugar, apricot seeds, jojoba beads, or aluminum crystals to scratch the surface of the skin removing dead skin cells. A face brush, face scrub, loofa, or microdermabrasion are examples of mechanical exfoliation.
  2. Chemical exfoliators that use low pH ingredients such as acids or enzymes help dissolve the attachments between cells. Hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, gluconolactone, azelaic acid and salicylic acid are examples of acid facial exfoliators, while papaya and pumpkin enzymes are natural ways to exfoliate the face.

Skincare products to exfoliate the skin may contain mechanical exfoliators, chemical exfoliators, or both.

Best Exfoliator for Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin is more prone to inflammation.  Too much inflammation can lead to uneven skin pigmentation and skin aging. Exfoliators can increase inflammation in sensitive skin types.  If you have sensitive skin, you should only use exfoliating ingredients that are right for your Baumann Skin Type®.  This is important because every day in our dermatology practices we see patients who have made their acne, rosacea, or irritated skin worse by using the wrong exfoliating ingredients.  Take the quiz to find out your skin type before you choose a face exfoliator.

How to Exfoliate Your Face

The skin naturally exfoliates itself in a process called desquamation. In some instances, the face needs to help exfoliating because it is not desquamating enough, resulting in retained skin cells on the surface of the skin that interfere with light reflection. When the surface of the skin is rough, the skin looks dull. To return the skin to a glowing state fast and renew skin, you can exfoliate the face using several different kinds of exfoliators. There are many methods to exfoliate the face at home.  

The key is to not over-exfoliate.  When you begin a new skincare routine,  do not use more than 1 or 2 types of exfoliators at once or you can over-exfoliate the skin.  The amount of exfoliators you use, the frequency that you exfoliate every day and which exfoliator is best depends upon your Baumann Skin Type®, but here is some advice from dermatologists to help you decide which exfoliators are best for the face.

  • Best Face Wash to Exfoliate the Face

The best face wash to exfoliate the face daily will have chemical exfoliators.  These can be natural skin exfoliators like papaya or pumpkin enzymes, but exfoliating ingredients that are hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and phytic acid, are stronger exfoliators. The best face washes to exfoliate oily skin types are salicylic acid face washes. The best face washes to exfoliate dry types are hydroxy acids face washes.

To give the skin a deep exfoliation once or twice a week, try an exfoliating face mask or a face scrub.


  • Best Essence or Toner to Exfoliate the Face

Essences, which are another name for facial toners, may contain exfoliating ingredients such as hydroxy acids and enzymes. The best exfoliating face toners for oily skin or combination skin have salicylic acid to clear pores. The best essences and face toners for dry skin should have hydroxy acids like glycolic acid.

  • Best Face Scrub to Exfoliate the Face

There are many face scrubs to exfoliate the face, however, many have come under scrutiny because they can hurt the environment. In fact, plastic microbeads have been banned from beauty products in the US because of plastic buildup in the waterways. 

Environmentally friendly, eco-friendly, sustainable face scrub ingredients include:

  • Coffee grounds- Can have sharp edges that are too rough for sensitive skin
  • Jojoba beads - Do not have rough edges that can damage the skin. Come in different sizes that can determine mild, moderate, or deep exfoliation.
  • Oatmeal- Best exfoliating ingredient for sensitive skin but not very exfoliating
  • Sugar- A very common DIY at home exfoliator, but very harsh and irritating due to small size and large surface area, causing increased amounts of friction.
  • Best Face Brush to Exfoliate the Face

There are many good face brushes to exfoliate the face.  This should be used with the best cleanser for your Baumann Skin Type. Face brushes are not advised for dry skin types because increased friction can impair the skin barrier.  Sensitive skin types should not use a face brush. (See discussion of exfoliation for sensitive skin above). If you choose to use a face brush, you should only use one other type of exfoliation in your skincare routine, and this includes the type of cleanser that you are using with the face brush. So- if you are using a retinoid and a face brush, do not use a hydroxy acid cleanser, toner, or face cream to exfoliate the skin.

  • Exfoliate Face DIY - Do it Yourself Face Exfoliation at Home

Don’t want to spend a lot of money on a face exfoliator? You can exfoliate the face naturally at home.  Most people use sugar mixed with a lotion of milk or honey on the face, however, sugar is too rough on the skin and leads to over-exfoliation. Sugar is a good exfoliator for the lips when mixed with a little honey or oil, but it is too irritating to the face.  The best natural way to exfoliate the face at home is with a washcloth. Use the cloth in circular movements gently around the face to loosen the attachments between cells using mechanical exfoliation.

  • Best Dermatologist Treatments to Exfoliate the Face

If you want to have a professional exfoliation treatment with a dermatologist or aesthetician, consider the following exfoliation treatments:

Chemical Peels




How to Exfoliate Skin Naturally

The skin naturally exfoliates itself in a process called desquamation. A rough towel, loofa or a facial brush can function as a face exfoliator and speed exfoliation of the face naturally. Ways to exfoliate skin naturally are:

  • Drink more water-

Hydrated skin exfoliates better than dry skin.  This is because the enzymes that dissolve the attachments between cells require water to function properly.  Dehydrated skin does not desquamate/ exfoliate properly.

  • Moisturize- 

Moisturizers help keep skin hydrated.  They do this by binding water to the skin with humectants. Apply moisturizer over damp skin for best results.

  1. Wash your face twice a day
  2. Use warm water to help increase exfoliation

Body Exfoliators

Exfoliators can be used to exfoliate the body, arms, shoulders, legs and feet.  The same skin exfoliating products discussed above can be used on the body.  Lip exfoliators often contain sugar because sugar makes the lip smoothing product taste great.  Sugar can be used to exfoliate the body and lips, but sugar is too harsh to use as a face exfoliator.

Scrub Versus Exfoliator- What is the Difference?

A scrub is a type of exfoliator.  Other examples of exfoliators are hydroxy acids, microdermabrasion, retinoids, chemical peels, and face brushes.  Which exfoliator is best?  Well- it depends on where you want to use the exfoliator.  There are face exfoliators, feet exfoliators, hand exfoliators, leg exfoliators and even lip exfoliators.  These all use similar technologies to exfoliate which are discussed below. The best exfoliator depends on what your skin type is if you want a natural exfoliator, if you want a DIY exfoliator to use at home, or if you want to go to your aesthetician or dermatologist and have a chemical peel or microdermabrasion treatment.  All of these exfoliating treatments do the same thing- they remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, helping the skin to reflect light and increase glow.  The nice thing about exfoliators is that they work fast.

Does Exfoliating Make Psoriasis Worse?

There are some instances when exfoliators should not be used.  For example, exfoliation can worsen psoriasis and eczema.  Patients are often tempted to use exfoliators to remove psoriasis scales and improve skin roughness from eczema.  However, friction and injury can lead to the Koebner phenomenon (skin injury) which worsens psoriasis. Eczema gets worse with friction, which is why it is often found in areas of the skin that rub against clothing. For this reason, if you have psoriasis or eczema, avoid scrubs and exfoliators and instead use an eczema cream or a psoriasis cream.

Best Exfoliator for Black Skin?

If you have black skin, you may notice that the skin gets an ashy tone when dry.  The best way to exfoliate black skin is by using one of the exfoliators discussed above, followed by a moisturizer.  Using the best skincare routine for black skin that considers your Baumann Skin Type® will help prevent ashy skin. Before you buy any skincare products for black skin, make sure you know your Baumann Skin Type.  Using the wrong skincare products and too many skin exfoliators can dry the skin and lead to ashy skin- or worse- an uneven skin tone caused by inflammation.

There is a lot to consider when choosing an exfoliator. Instead of guessing which exfoliator is best, take our free quiz and let us guide you towards the best exfoliants for your skin type.

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