How To Exfoliate Your Face

Nikki Butler

Nikki Butler

Exfoliate face: Yes or No?

Exfoliate face? It’s a yes from me! It’s really important to exfoliate your skin, but this is something I hear and see so much confusion about. 

If you’re of a certain age, you might remember the infamous face scrub, made up from ground fruit stones. Remember that? I don’t know if it’s still around, but if it is, and you’re using it – please throw it in the bin right now… yep, right now! 

The whole ‘exfoliate face’ topic is heavily researched on good old Google, and with good reason. We kinda know it’s important, but also most of us are VERY confused about how to do it, how often, and with what products. 

So, in this blog, we’ll look at all of those things, so you can make some informed choices about products that are right for you. Sound good? Great – let’s get started! 

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation is basically the removal of dead skin cells, from the surface of your skin.  You can do it on your face and your body, and it reveals healthy, glowing skin underneath. There are different ways to exfoliate face skin: 

Manual exfoliation: This is the most commonly known form and involves scrubbing away dead skin cells using a facial brush, sponge, or scrub. That also includes your flannel or face cloth (more on that, later!).

Chemical exfoliation: Products containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) to dissolve dead skin cells fall into this category. These typically contain ingredients like glycolic acid or lactic acid, as they are gentle and effective. These can take the form of serums, toners, or masks/peels. 

Enzyme exfoliation: Fruit enzymes, such as papaya or pineapple, can also help break down dead skin cells. They are a gentler alternative to AHAs and BHAs and are great for sensitive or ageing skin.

Benefits of exfoliation

There are lots of benefits to exfoliation, particularly as we mature.

Fresher skin: As we mature, our skin’s natural cell turnover slows down, which leads to a build-up of dead skin cells. Exfoliation removes the dead cells, promoting a fresher and more radiant complexion.

Smoother skin: Exfoliating is great for smoothing out the texture of your skin, and helps to reduce the appearance of lines & wrinkles too! 

Improved product absorption: When the dead skin cells are removed, it allows your products to work more effectively, as they are absorbed better, and easier, by your skin, letting those active ingredients work their magic!

Skin clarity: Exfoliating face skin can also help to prevent blocked pores and breakouts. 

Brighter, clearer, glowing skin: It’s great for evening out your skin tone, and can help to reduce pigmentation, sun damage, and discolouration. Skin goes from dull to glowing.

So, those are the benefits of exfoliating face skin, but we also need to look at what can happen if we’re a bit too overzealous on the exfoliation front! 

Over exfoliated?

Over-exfoliating is SO common. In fact, it’s one of the most common mistakes people make. You can find out about other common mistakes in my blog HERE

Here’s what can happen if you over-exfoliate face skin: 

Strips your skin of its natural oils: Leading to dryness, flakiness, and irritation. This imbalance can make your skin more susceptible to environmental stressors, allergens, and other irritants.

Weakens your skin’s natural barrier function: Your skin is the first line of defence for your body, and it protects it from harmful bacteria, pollutants, and other external factors. When you over-exfoliate, you can weaken this barrier, leaving your skin more vulnerable to infections and inflammation.

Sensitive, irritated skin: Your skin can become sensitive and reactive to skincare products, especially those containing active ingredients like retinol or vitamin C. 

Speeds up ageing: Because your natural barrier is compromised, it can exacerbate the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging. It also leaves your skin more vulnerable to damage from external factors.

Sun damage and hyperpigmentation: Again, the compromised barrier function leaves your skin vulnerable. This is especially so when it comes to UV damage. The skin may produce excess melanin as a protective response to irritation, leading to dark spots or uneven skin tone.

Using a cloth of flannel to exfoliate face skin?

Now, this might make you gasp in horror, if you’re using a flannel or cloth to exfoliate face skin – but it applies to all skin too!

Flannels and facecloths store SO much bacteria and dead skin cells. It’s important to use a clean one every day. I recommend using a clean one in the morning and using the same one in the evening. 

I prefer soft micro cloths to flannels, as they can be a bit rough. When your flannel or cloths become rough, then change them for new, soft ones. 

Remember that a flannel is a manual exfoliation, so be careful not to be too aggressive when using it. Likewise, if you’re drying your face with a towel, pat dry rather than rub (oh, and make sure that water is tepid and not hot!). 

How to exfoliate face skin

Here’s how to use exfoliate face skin safely, but please note this is GUIDELINE only! Everyone’s skin is different and you need to learn to listen and watch your skin, to see how it’s responding to the products you’re choosing and using. 

Daily: You can use a gentle exfoliating toner with acids like glycolic, lactic, and salicylic on a daily basis. BUT – build up to this, especially if you have sensitive skin. Start with 2-3 evenings a week and see how your skin reacts. Slowing build-up to nightly use (if tolerated). You can then start to use in the morning, once your skin has got used to nightly use.  I rarely introduce acid toners into the first step of a medical-grade skincare routine, as it’s best not to overload the skin. If you need help with creating a skin care programme, then you can get in touch via the button below. 

If you’re using a flannel or face cloth, please see my previous advice on this – above.

Weekly: Masks and scrubs can be used once per week. If you’re starting to use a daily acid toner, then I would avoid scrubs and masks for 3-4 weeks, whilst your skin adjusts. Always read the instructions on how to use these products, to avoid over-exfoliation and damage to your skin. 

Somewhere in-between: You’ve also got exfoliating serums, such as Alumier’s AHA Serum. These are serums you apply and leave on your skin. I’d recommend starting to use these twice a week, on nights that you are NOT using retinol, to begin with.  How often you use these, will depend on the other forms of exfoliation you are using. Again, read the instructions on the products, and/or seek the advice of a professional. 

Some REALLY important things for you to consider

 

Pay attention to how your skin feels after exfoliating. If it feels tight, dry, or irritated, you may be exfoliating too often or using a product that’s too harsh for your skin type.

Less is more: Exfoliating once a week with a manual scrub or a mask is sufficient, for most people. Always follow the instructions on the product, or check with your skin care professional. More is rarely ‘better’ when it comes to exfoliating. Also be mindful of the other exfoliating products you’re using, such as toner-type products, face cloths and even the strength of your retinol can make a difference – as that speeds up cell turnover and can cause sensitivities. If you’re increasing retinol strength, then dialling back on exfoliating for 2-3 weeks can help minimise increased sensitivity. 

Choose a form of exfoliation to suit you: There are so many different products and methods, and they don’t all suit everyone. If you have sensitive or ageing skin, opt for gentler options like enzyme exfoliants, a gentler toner, or a soft facial brush. Introduce these products slowly, and see how your skin responds. It shouldn’t be stinging or burning, and it shouldn’t cause dryness, tightness, or irritation – if this is happen, you’re likely using products that are too strong/not suitable for you. Be especially careful if you have sensitive skin or inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea. 

Be gentle: If you’re using a manual form to exfoliate face skin, then be gentle. Don’t rub too hard, and make sure you use light, circular motions to gently slough away dead skin cells.

Give your skin time to recover: If you notice any signs of over-exfoliation, take a break and let your skin heal. Focus on hydration, repair, and barrier-strengthening ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and niacinamide.  If this happens, then check out my blog on Damaged Skin Barriers HERE

My favourite products to exfoliate face skin

There are a LOT of different products and ranges on the market – and I have not, and cannot try all of them!  That said, here are some of my favourites to exfoliate face skin: 

  • AlumierMD Bright & Clear Solution. 
  • PIXI Glow Tonic
  • AlumierMD MicroDerm Polish Scrub
  • Zo Skin Health Exfoliating Polish.
  •  AlumierMD AHA Renewal Serum
  • Paula’s Choice AHA Gel Exfoliant
  •  AlumierMD Enzyme Mask
  • Medik8 Sleep Glycolic 

These are just a handful of products that I love, it’s most certainly not exhaustive! I have used The Ordinary products in the past, with good results. One thing I would say is to start ‘low and slow’. If you’re adding exfoliation into an existing skincare routine, then do a little check of what forms of exfoliation you are already using.  Then, start to add products in gradually, and wait and see how your skin responds. This ‘low and slow’ approach means you’ll minimise the risk of over-exfoliating and damaging your natural barrier function, which can take a long time to recover! 

If you’re just starting out with a new skincare routine, then I typically recommend waiting 4 weeks, before bringing in exfoliating toners and serums, especially if you’re using medical-grade skincare, as too many actives at once can overwhelm your skin. 

And that's a wrap!

I really hope that you found my blog on how to exfoliate face skin helpful. If you would like some help with your skin, then please get in touch. I know it can be confusing, with all of the different advice available out there. The truth is, that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer, as so many factors affect your skin.  I always work with my clients from the inside out, and outside in – to ensure you get the best possible results. 

I offer remote services, as well as clinical treatments. My aesthetics clinic is based in Alton, Hampshire. I’m on the Hampshire/Surrey border, just 15 minutes from Basingstoke and Farnham, and I’m at the end of a direct train line from London Waterloo. 

If you have any questions, please let me know. 

And, if you haven’t taken my Skin Quiz yet, then please do.  It’s fun, takes less than 4 minutes, and you’ll get immediate access to personalised results. 

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