Scrubs, Exfoliants and Exfoliators in Skin Care Products

How to Exfoliate Skin with Scrubs, Exfoliants and Exfoliators

Exfoliating is the fastest way to get glowing skin. Scrubs, exfoliants and exfoliators take off the top dead layer of the skin, leaving it smooth and radiant with an increased ability to reflect light.

Do you really need to exfoliate? It depends upon your Baumann Skin Type. You do not want to over-exfoliate because that can lead to skin problems. Very sensitive skin types should not exfoliate, most skin types can exfoliate 2-3 times a week, and resistant skin types can exfoliate 2 times a day.

Many skin care ingredients exfoliate skin- but exfoliant is best for you depends on your skin type and other products in your skin care routine.

Some people call smooth, exfoliated skin “glass skin” because of the ability of the skin to reflect light and glow. The desire for glowing skin prompts many people to exfoliate too often, but over-exfoliating skin is not good.

This blog is a guide to how to safely exfoliate and which scrubs, exfoliants and exfoliators to choose and use.

How to use different exfoliators and scrubs

What happens if you over exfoliate?

Your skin naturally exfoliates in a process called desquamation.

Many skin care ingredients have ingredients that exfoliate skin. This is why it is very easy to over-exfoliate.

Over-exfoliating can damage your skin by:

Exfoliating can dry out your skin- so exfoliate less in the winter when the climate is dry and cold.

How To Know If You Are Over-Exfoliating Your Skin

Over exfoliation is bad for skin because it disrupts the keratinization process. Over exfoliated skin can have stinging, itching, skin bumps, and redness. Over exfoliating can cause breakouts and too much exfoliation can even lead to large pores.

Signs of over exfoliation are:

how to treat over exfoliated skin

How To Treat Over Exfoliated Skin?

If you have over exfoliation damage, there are several ways to treat and soothe the skin.

  1. The first step is to remove all exfoliants from your skin care routine until your skin returns to normal.  See below for a list of scrubs, exfoliants and exfoliators to avoid. There are product types that you may not realize are exfoliants and exfoliators such as Vitamin C. retinoids, enzymes and defensins as in the skin care brand Defenage.
  2. Apply a soothing barrier repair moisturizer such as Zerafite Soothing and Calming Face Cream.
  3. Apply a soothing oil such as Argan Oil overnight
  4. Use a gentle non-foaming cleanser and cleanse with cool or room temperature water- not hot.
  5. Avoid friction and extreme temperatures

How long to heal over exfoliated skin?

Over exfoliated skin will take 1- 5 days to heal depending on how severe it is.  Scabs, for example can take 5 days while shininess goes away in 1-2 days.

If your skin is stinging or itching, applying a soothing oil overnight can help.

If you stop all exfoliants, the skin should begin to feel better in 2 days.  It may take an entire week to heal. Give your skin 2 weeks before restarting any exfoliating skin care products.

Exfoliating too much or incorrectly can damage your skin.  This why you need to shop for skin care products using your Baumann Skin Type® .

This will keep you from wasting time and money on the wrong skin care products

Why do I itch and turn red after exfoliation

If you itch and turn red after exfoliation, this may not be over exfoliation. It might be a common skin condition called dermatographism. If you get dermatographism, it may be too uncomfortable for you to exfoliate.  Try switching to a more gentle exfoliant like an enzyme exfoliant rather than a scrub.

How to stop itching after exfoliation?

Take an oral antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin) to prevent redness, itching, wheals or hives. 

You can apply a soothing oil like Argan Oil to the itching skin.  The anti-inflammatory benefits of argan oil will calm the skin.

PAORR Argan Oil is a natural and clean Argan Oil that can soothe over exfoliated skin overnight.

What happens if you don't exfoliate?

When the skin’s surface is not smooth, dead skin cells heap upon the top layer of the skin.

This decreases light reflection.

Your skin will look dull, not glow and feel rough.

If you have black skin, you may get a grey ashy skin in dry areas that need exfoliation.

What happens when you don

Signs you need to exfoliate your skin:

When dead skin cells heap up on the skin's surface, your skin looks less radiant and stops glowing.

These are signs that you need to use exfoliants and exfoliators:

  • Ashy skin
  • Skin feels rough
  • Skin is dull
  • Skin does not reflect light
  • Skin is not radiant
  • Your skin looks old
  • Crepey skin with a rough texture

How To Exfoliate Skin At Home

It is easy to exfoliate your skin at home.  Many skin care products will do this.  The hard part is knowing which exfoliators are best for your Baumann Skin Type.

Sensitive skin types, dry types, resistant types and oily types all need different types of exfoliation.

It is best to choose how you exfoliate your skin type.

Know your Baumann Skin Type before buying any skin care products to exfoliate so you do not waste time and money.


How Often To Exfoliate

How many times a day or week you should exfoliate depends upon your Baumann Skin Type. If you have a Resistant Baumann Skin Type, you can exfoliate every day.

How often should you exfoliate sensitive skin?

Sensitive Baumann Skin Types should be careful and only exfoliate 2-3 times a week. Some subtypes of sensitive skin such as rosacea prone skin, may not be able to exfoliate at all.  Never exfoliate if your skin if it hurts, or is red or stinging.  

How often should you exfoliate dry skin?

Exfoliate dry skin one to two times a week.  Only exfoliate if your skin is dull or is flaking. Exfoliate in the day time or before an event.  There is no need to exfoliate your skin before bedtime because the dead skin cells will build up on the top layer of your skin again overnight.

Is it good to exfoliate dry skin?

It is not good to exfoliate dry skin with exfoliants and exfoliators unless you too often.  Only use them when you need a quick fix to look more radiant or allow makeup to go on smoother. Exfoliating can injure your skin barrier and make dry skin worse.

Can exfoliating too much cause dry skin?

Yes!  Exfoliating skin injures the skin barrier.  If you want to exfoliate your dry skin, use a barrier repair moisturizer afterwards.

dry skin types need a barrier repair moisturizer

Barrier repair moisturizers to use after exfoliating dry skin:

How to Exfoliate the Skin

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

  1. Mechanical exfoliators 
  2. Chemical Exfoliators

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

Choose exfoliators by your Baumann Skin Type for best results. You can shop and read reviews by your skin type- just look for your skin type octagon with your skin type number and color. This will guide you to the best exfoliants and exfoliators for your skin type.

Mechanical Exfoliators

Mechanical exfoliators use a rough substance s to scratch the surface of the skin removing dead skin cells.

Types of mechanical exfoliators are:

  • sugar
  • apricot seeds
  • jojoba beads
  • aluminum crystals
  • face brush
  • face scrub
  • loofa
  • microdermabrasion 
  • dermaplaning
azelaic acid

Chemical Exfoliators

Chemical exfoliators that use low pH ingredients such as acids or enzymes help dissolve the attachments between cells.

Types of chemicals exfoliators are:

Why Exfoliating Is so Important

The skin naturally exfoliates itself in a process called desquamation.

In some instances, the face needs help exfoliating because it is not desquamating enough, resulting in retained skin cells on the surface of the skin.

These dead skin cells on the surface of skin make the skin feel rough.

When the surface of the skin is not smooth, the skin looks dull because light is not reflected well.

To renew skin and return it to a radiant and  glowing state, choose an exfoliation method right for your Baumann Skin Type.


How Many Exfoliators To Use In Your Skin Care Routine

You probably do not realize how many exfoliators are in your skin care routine. Many ingredients such as Vitamin C exfoliate but you do not realize it.

When starting a new skin care routine, most Baumann Skin Types should only use 1 type of exfoliation per day.  However, some skin types can use 2-3 types per day.

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®.  

What skin treatments exfoliate?

Many medical spas offer skin treatments to exfoliate. These are the types of exfoliating treatments to ask your doctor or medical provider about:

  • Body Scrubs
  • Dermaplaning
  • Exfoliating Masks
  • Face brushes
  • Facial scrubs
  • HydraFacial
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Chemical Peels
  • Laser


What skin care ingredients exfoliate?

List of exfoliating ingredients found in skincare products:

List of exfoliants and exfoliators in skin care products:

Natural and Clean Exfoliating Ingredients:

There are many natural exfoliants and exfoliators that meet clean ingredient standards.  Some examples are:

  • Apricot Pits- finely ground
  • Almonds- finely ground
  • Oatmeal- ground
  • Papaya enzymes
  • Pumpkin enzymes
  • Sugar

Sea salt is very rough on the skin so if you choose to exfoliate with kosher salt or sea salt- be very gentle.  Sugar is a better natural option to exfoliate skin.

Do not use baking soda to exfoliate your face! Baking soda has a pH of 8 and is very alkaline and irritating to your skin.  You can cause a chemical burn.

Vitamin C

Is Vitamin C an Exfoliant?

Ascorbic acid is an exfoliant. Vitamin C is an acid called ascorbic acid. 

Most vitamin C serums are at a low acidic pH.  The Vitamin C serums that are pH 3 or lower are exfoliants.  For example, SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic is an exfoliant.

Vitamin C creams are not a low pH in most cases- so Vitamin C creams do not exfoliate skin like serums do.

However, Vitamin C serums are strong exfoliants.  They are also antioxidants and tyrosinase inhibitors

Hyaluronic acid

Is Hyaluronic acid an exfoliant?

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is not an exfoliant.  It is a glycosaminoglycan and a humectant.  It helps skin hold onto water but HA does not exfoliate skin.

It increases penetration of other ingredients and can increase effectiveness of exfoliants and exfoliators.


Is Niacinamide an exfoliant?


Is retinol an exfoliant?

Retinol and other retinoids are one of the best exfoliants which is why you peel when you first begin a retinoid.

The exfoliant properties of retinoids is part of the cause of side effects seen with retinol.

Be careful when beginning retinoids. You can easily over exfoliate.  I recommend using no more than one other exfoliant when beginning retinoids.

Best Scrubs, Exfoliants and Exfoliators

The best exfoliant for your face is one that will make your skin glow but will not over exfoliate. Which is best for your face depends upon your Baumann Skin type and what other products are in your skin care regimen.

Here is some general advice and tips from dermatologists to help you decide which dermatologist recommended scrubs, exfoliants and exfoliators exfoliators are best for your face or body.

Our top recommendation is to take the quiz and shop for scrubs, exfoliants, and exfoliators by your Baumann Skin Type.

Best Scrubs, Exfoliants and Exfoliators 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 and hurt your skin! They can also cause hyperpigmentation if you get inflamed from overuse.

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.

Salicylic acid cleansers might be right for you if you have oily sensitive skin and hydroxyacid cleansers might be right for you if you have dry sensitive skin, but please take the quiz and get our recommendations before using any type of scrubs, exfoliants and exfoliators.

Misuse of exfoliators is one of the biggest mistake that I see my sensitive skin patients make!

Best Exfoliators for Dry Skin: 

The best exfoliators for dry skin are hydroxyacid cleansers or creams that contain hydroxyacids.

Here are some low strength hydroxyacid creams that can be used to exfoliate dry skin:

Best Exfoliators for Normal, and Combination Skin

We like these facial scrubs for normal and combination skin:

Best Exfoliators for Oily Skin

For oily skin, we prefer salicylic acid cleansers or toners.

Here are some exfoliating salicylic acid toners for oily skin. Toners should be applied after cleansing the face.

Best Face Wash to Exfoliate the Face

Our dermatologists recommend exfoliating the face with a low pH cleanser.

If you are dry, chose a hydoxyacid cleanser.  If you are oily, choose a salicylic acid cleanser.

You can learn more about shopping for cleansers by your skin type here.

In some cases you made need two different cleansers.

The best face wash to exfoliate the face daily will have chemical exfoliators.  These can be natural skin exfoliators like papaya or pumpkin enzymes that are gentle or strong exfoliators like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and phytic acid.

The best face washes to exfoliate oily skin types are salicylic acid face washes.

The best face washes to exfoliate dry types are hydroxyacid face washes.

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.

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. Face brushes 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.

Exfoliating Masks-

More recommendations are coming soon.  Our doctors are still in process of evaluating all the masks.

For now- we like these mask 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

Exfoliation treatments make the skin glow immediately. If you want to have a professional exfoliation treatment with a dermatologist or aesthetician, consider the following exfoliation treatments:

natural exfoliation

How to Exfoliate Skin Naturally

Wash your face twice a day

Use warm water to wash face and body

Stay in bath or shower for at least 7 minutes once a day

Wipe skin gently with a cloth or loofa in a circular motion

Drink more water

Use a sugar or oatmeal scrub

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 exfoliants and exfoliators are hydroxy acids, microdermabrasion, retinoids, chemical peels, and face brushes.

Which exfoliants and exfoliators are best?

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 the skin.

The best exfoliator depends on:

  •  what your skin type is
  • what body area you want to exfoliate
  • other products in your regimen
  • are you on retinoids
  •  if you want a natural exfoliator
  •  if you want a DIY exfoliator to use at home
  •  if you want to go to your aesthetician or dermatologist

All of these treatments with exfoliants and exfoliators 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.

To find the scrub or exfoliant right for you, shop by your Baumann Skin Type.

Does Exfoliating Help Acne?

Although many people believe that exfoliating is good for acne, exfoliating the skin can make acne worse.

If you have acne, you should avoid mechanical exfoliation such as scrubs which tend to cause breakouts and make it more likely that you will become irritated from your acne medications 

If you have acne, exfoliate with hydroxy acids and salicylic acids instead of facial brushes and scrubs.

Over-exfoliated skin in acne patients is very common because patients often feel that acne is caused by unclean skin and they think exfoliating will help acne. 

Over exfoliating disturbs the skin's natural desquamation process and can lead to clogged pores and acne.

salicyilic acid

The best exfoliator for acne is salicylic acid.

Salicylic acid is the preferred exfoliator for acne because:

Be careful when using salicylic acid with acne medications such as retinoids and benzoyl peroxides.  This can lead to too much exfoliation.

These are the best salicylic acid skin care products to exfoliate when you have acne:

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, let us guide you towards the best exfoliants for your skin type.

Low pH cleansers for exfoliating the skin

What ingredients can you use after exfoliating skin?

Can you exfoliate and use Vitamin C?

You can exfoliate before using Vitamin C.  It is best to use a low pH cleanser like a AHA or BHA to lower the pH before applying Vitamin C serum.  This helps the Vitamin C penetrate better. 

Vitamin C serums are expensive so you want as much absorption as possible because ascorbic acid does not absorb very well.

Can you exfoliate and use retinol?

Retinoids are strong exfoliating ingredients.  It is best not to use another exfoliant while using retinol until you are using the retinol every night with no side effects.

Your skin can become dry and sensitive and develop an acne breakout.

Shop for Scrubs, Exfoliants and Exfoliators

Exfoliation is a normal skin process that sometimes needs a boost from exfoliants and exfoliators. Choosing the best exfoliants and exfoliators and using them properly is the key to good skin exfoliation.

Look for your skin type octagon when shopping for scrubs, exfoliants, and exfoliators so you know you are buying the best ones for your skin type.

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