How Often Should You Exfoliate Your Face?

Your face is the first part of your body that most people notice when they meet you for the first time. And having pimples, wrinkles, zits, and other blemishes is enough to make anyone feel a bit self-conscious about putting themselves out there.

While cleansing and moisturizing might be enough for most people to keep an absolutely perfect complexion, some people need a little bit more heavy lifting. This is where exfoliation can come into play.

Even though exfoliating your skin can make you look and feel good as new, it’s an abrasive technique that works best in moderation. Here’s everything you need to know about how often to exfoliate, as well as its potential benefits for your overall skin health.

What Is Exfoliation?

Your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells every 30 days or so in order to allow young, fresh, and healthy skin to come up to the surface. But when your skin starts to lose its elasticity and vibrance, it can be challenging to want to wait that long. And sometimes, your skin cells might not shed completely, leading to flaky patches and clogged pores.

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. It’s a way to speed up your body’s natural exfoliation process to make your skin look lighter and brighter.

Physical vs. Chemical Exfoliants

The type of exfoliator you should use is largely dependent on personal preferences, but understanding the difference between the two is essential. Physical exfoliants utilize tools or abrasive substances to physically come into contact with the outer layer of skin.

This is often referred to as dermabrasion, and it can be accomplished with special sponges or brushes that work to remove the outer layer of skin. These are sometimes called mechanical exfoliants, and one of the major benefits is that they are beneficial for getting rid of blackheads in individuals with large pores.

On the other hand, chemical exfoliants are classified into two types: alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHA). Two of the most popular AHAs that are used in exfoliants are glycolic acid and lactic acid. And you’ve also probably heard of the most common BHA, known as salicylic acid.

How Often Should You Exfoliate?

Exfoliating is pretty effective at making your skin look younger and more healthy, but as with all good things, too much of it can do more harm than good.

While the number of times that you need to exfoliate largely depends on your skin type, as well as the type of exfoliant you’re using, a general rule of thumb is that you should exfoliate once or twice a week -- no more.

This is because exfoliation can be abrasive to the skin when completed too often. This is especially true for physical exfoliants, which can be especially harsh to sensitive skin types.

If you’re using a chemical peel or gel, on the other hand, you may be able to use them safely a bit more often throughout the week. It all comes down to how your own skin reacts to the products, as well as any recommendations from your dermatologist.

Additionally, knowing the right way to exfoliate can make the process more effective as well. In fact, if you do it properly, you may be able to get away with doing it a little more often if you choose.

What Happens If You Over-Exfoliate?

Over-exfoliating may occur if you exfoliate multiple times a week. Since it wipes away natural oils, the skin may start to look a little bit waxy and shiny. But the reality is that the skin is dry and damaged, going into overdrive to produce the lost oils.

This can lead to an excess of breakouts, cracking, and peeling, as well as irritation and tenderness. 

How to Exfoliate

The right way to exfoliate depends on the type you’re using. If you have a scrub or chemical exfoliator, be sure to apply it using small, gentle, circular motions on all areas of your face. Rub it in for about 30 seconds before rinsing it off with lukewarm water. 

If you exfoliate with mechanical tools like brushes or sponges, the key is to keep it gentle. It might feel natural to want to dig into your skin and scrape off the blemishes, but doing so can irritate your skin and lead to transepidermal water loss, which occurs when the skin’s protective barrier is damaged, and excess moisture evaporates from the surface.

Finally, if you’re using an exfoliating mask or peel, you’ll want to apply it to a clean face and let it sit for about ten to 15 minutes. After that, you’ll just gently wipe it off with a damp cloth. 

This is one of the easiest ways to exfoliate while still gaining all of its benefits.

Which Type of Exfoliant Is Best?

The type of exfoliant that’s best for you is primarily dependent on your skin type. If you have oily skin, it’s best to use an exfoliant made with salicylic acid or BHAs. This is because it can break down fatty compounds on the surface, like natural oil and sebum.

BHAs are also good for people with acne-prone skin.

If you have dry skin, you’ll want to use AHAs such as lactic acid or glycolic acid. That’s because they are made up of molecules that hold onto water, which can aid in moisture retention. These are typically preferred for combination skin as well.

Don’t know your skin type? No problem. There’s an easy way to find out.

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser, patting dry with a towel. After about thirty minutes, analyze your skin in the mirror. If it feels heavy and appears shiny all over, you likely have oily skin. If it feels tight and dull, or appears a bit flaky, you probably have dry skin. If you only see oils in your T-Zone (forehead and nose), you likely have combination skin.

Benefits of Exfoliation

Exfoliating has tons of benefits for your skin health, and after hearing what it can do for you, you’ll probably want to use it every single day.

Improve Skin Appearance

Exfoliation is one of the only ways to properly improve the appearance of fine lines and remove debris from the skin’s surface. By shedding the top layer of skin, it allows for newer, younger layers to shine through. This improves skin texture while also rejuvenating your look overall.

Fewer Breakouts

For most skin types, when the top layer naturally sheds for most skin types, it’s not much of a problem for the pores. However, dead skin can get trapped in the pores of individuals with oily skin types and lead to blackheads, whiteheads, and redness.

Exfoliation can strip away that skin through safe and effective measures, helping to unclog pores and reduce the risk of dead skin cells. Not to mention, it may even be able to remove small bumps on the surface, which helps to improve the overall texture of the skin, too.

Improved Skin Elasticity

When the outer layer of skin is suddenly removed through exfoliation, the skin is “shocked” into producing new cells as fast as possible. This stimulates cell turnover, which is the constant shedding of old skin cells with newer, younger ones.

It also helps accelerate collagen production, which can help improve the plumpness and elasticity of your skin overall. 

Never Too Late To Exfoliate

Exfoliating is the process of removing dead skin cells so that your body can produce new ones. It helps to reduce fine lines, blemishes, stimulate collagen production, improve skin texture, and accelerate cell turnover.

Even though the benefits of exfoliation are far-reaching, it’s not something that should be done daily. In fact, it can be damaging and irritating to the skin if done more than once or twice a week. 

With that said, some chemical exfoliants can be used a bit more often, as they aren’t as physically abrasive for the skin’s surface.

In addition to the frequency of exfoliation, it’s important to use the right exfoliant, given your skin type. Oily skin types should use BHA exfoliants such as salicylic acid, whereas dry and combination skin responds best to AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid.

If you’ve never exfoliated before, you’ll want to start with ingredients you can trust. 

One Ocean Beauty’s Blue Algae Exfoliating and Detox Mask that gently removes impurities while also helping to retain moisture. And since it’s made with sustainable marine organisms like coconut shell particles and blue spirulina, it’s the perfect place to start for all skin types.



​​Alpha Hydroxy Acids | FDA

Transepidermal Water Loss - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Sebum | DermNet NZ

Cell turnover and adult tissue homeostasis: from humans to planarians | NIH