Many skin care products promise to improve appearance by exfoliating — or removing dead cells — from the skin’s outer layer.
But sometimes, exfoliating can do more harm than good, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
“For some people, exfoliation can actually make their skin worse with increased redness or acne breakouts,” said Dr. Rebecca Tung, associate professor of dermatology at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill. “If you choose to exfoliate, it’s important to do so safely so that it does not damage your skin.”
Before exfoliating, consider your skin type, Tung advised in an AAD news release.
- Sensitive skin often burns or stings after use of skin care products.
- Normal skin is clear and not sensitive.
- Dry skin is flaky, itchy or rough.
- Oily skin is shiny and greasy.
- Combination skin is dry in some areas and oily in others.
“Understanding your skin type will help you choose an exfoliation method that best suits your skin,” Tung said.
There are two ways to exfoliate at home. Dead skin can be removed with a mechanical tool, such as a brush, scrub or sponge. It can also be removed gently with chemicals, such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids, Tung said.
These steps will help prevent damage:
- Consider any medicines and skin care products you already use. Some may make your skin more sensitive, such as prescription retinoid creams or products containing retinol or benzoyl peroxide. Exfoliating while using these products can trigger acne breakouts or excessive dryness.
- Choose a method suited to your skin type. People with dry, sensitive or acne-prone skin should consider using a washcloth and mild chemical exfoliator. Those with oily, thicker skin may prefer stronger chemical treatments or mechanical exfoliation. Those with darker skin may not respond well to harsh exfoliators.
- Be kind to your skin. Scrubs or chemical exfoliators should be applied gently in a small, circular motion for about 30 seconds. Rinse with lukewarm water. Never exfoliate if your skin is broken, cut or sunburned.
- Apply moisturizer immediately after exfoliating.
- Don’t overdo it. In most cases, the more aggressive the exfoliation, the less often it should be done. Exfoliating too often can leave skin red and irritated.
If you have questions, a dermatologist can evaluate your skin and help you decide if exfoliating will be beneficial for you, Tung said.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging provides more information on skin care and aging.