How To Exfoliate Your Face And Body: A Handy Guide

Written by Arshiya Syeda

Exfoliation is an often ignored yet crucial skin care ritual. It can make your skin look more radiant, healthier, and younger. However, there is an exacting art to it. In other words, exfoliating your skin the wrong way can leave it damaged and broken.

If you are new to this skin care procedure, do not worry. This comprehensive guide will explain what exfoliation is and how to exfoliate your skin the right way. Scroll down to get started.

What Is Exfoliation?

Our skin keeps on rejuvenating and repairing itself. Unfortunately, this can lead to the buildup of dead skin cells over time. This is why exfoliation is essential.

Exfoliation is the process of removing old, dead skin cells and excess corneocyte buildup that cling to the skin’s outermost layer. It improves the overall quality and tone of the skin and stimulates cell turnover, resulting in a more polished, smoother, translucent surface.

You can use a chemical or physical exfoliant on your skin. Here is a quick run-through of the types of exfoliation you can go for.

Types Of Exfoliation

1. Physical Exfoliation

This involves using skin care tools, such as a sponge, cotton towel, or brush, to eliminate the dead skin cells. You can also apply gels or scrubs with microbeads or sugar granules to even out the skin texture.

A few products for physical exfoliation include topical cleansing scrubs containing abrasive solid particulates, mechanical facial brushes, sonicating devices, and mildly abrasive cosmetic tools, such as micro-exfoliating rollers.

Physical exfoliation causes immediate skin peeling and can help maintain a visible radiance.

2. Chemical Exfoliation

This process involves the use of chemicals, such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), or enzymes that help loosen the glue-like substance that holds the dead skin cells together.

Mandelic acid is a good choice for gentle exfoliation if you have sensitive skin. It helps reduce oiliness, shine, and hyperpigmentation (1), (2). This ingredient is also beneficial for photodamaged and aging skin.

Glycolic acid peels can minimize acne scars, melasma, and photoaging (3). Salicylic acid can help eliminate dead cells, unclog pores, and treat acne (4).

Note: More than 10% to 15% concentrations in AHAs and 2% in BHAs require professional administration. However, concentrations below this can be safely used at home.

The skin’s ability to constantly repair itself can cause the buildup of dead skin cells. This can lead to dull and damaged skin. Moreover, if the dead skin layer is not removed properly, your skin care products will not sink deep to make any visible difference.

Why Should You Exfoliate Your Skin?

  • Helps brighten and smoothen your skin by removing the dead, dull skin cells.
  • Improves the appearance of your skin and makes it healthy from the inside out.
  • Prevents pore-clogging, acne spots, blackheads, and whiteheads.
  • Fades acne scars, hyperpigmentation, blemishes, and signs of aging.
  • Plays a central role in waxing and shaving. The dead skin cells are responsible for ingrown hairs and acne breakouts during the hair removal process. Exfoliating before waxing can leave your skin smooth and soft.

The next section explains the different tools you can use to exfoliate your skin.

Best Tools For Exfoliation

  • Natural Exfoliants

You can prepare an exfoliant at home with two tablespoons of pure virgin coconut oil and half a teaspoon of coffee grounds or granulated sugar. Mix all the ingredients to form a smooth paste. Massage your skin with the paste in small, gentle, circular movements. Rinse with lukewarm water and apply a moisturizer. You can also make an oatmeal and baking powder natural scrub for your body.

  • Washcloth

Always use a washcloth to exfoliate your face and body instead of a sponge or towel, as they can be rough on the skin.

  • Dry Brush

You can also use a high-quality dry brush and exfoliating gloves for scrubbing your skin in gentle circular movements. Choose a dry brush that features soft, boar bristles, a firm handle, and an ergonomic design.

  • Bath Brushes

Invest in a good bath brush to exfoliate your body. If your bath brush is made of a wooden handle, keep it outside the shower when not in use to prevent the formation of mildew.

Let’s dive deep to understand how you can exfoliate your face and body the right way.

How To Exfoliate Your Skin


Follow these steps while using a physical exfoliant:

Step 1: Washing your face with a cleanser.

Step 2: Apply a quarter-sized amount of the physical exfoliant to your face.

Step 3: Gently massage your face in circular motions for 30-60 seconds. Make sure to avoid the eye area.

Step 4: Rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry with a clean, soft towel.

Step 5: Follow up with a hydrating mask, serum, or cream.

Here are the steps to follow while using a chemical exfoliant:

Step 1: Wash your face with a cleanser.

Step 2: Apply a small amount of the chemical exfoliant all over your face and neck.

Step 3: Let it get completely absorbed into the skin. Use your fingers to gently massage your face in circular movements.

Step 4: Rinse your face with lukewarm water.

Step 5: Follow up with a serum or cream.

Note:  Some chemical exfoliants or peels work similar to masks. Make sure to read the product label and rinse off the product within the stipulated time.


Follow these steps for exfoliating your body:

Step 1: Clean your body with a mild soap or shower gel.

Step 2: Exfoliate your body under a warm, steamy shower. The warm water can help soften the skin, open up the pores, and remove the dead skin cells easily.

Step 3: Scrub your arms, legs, thighs, tummy, chest, and hips and slough off any dead skin. Do not forget the elbows, armpits, ankles, knees, and heels. These regions tend to accumulate dirt and impurities and appear dark and rough.

Step 4: Wash your body with lukewarm water and pat dry with a towel.

Step 5: Apply body lotion or oil to keep your skin moisturized.

Here are a few situations when you must avoid exfoliating your skin.

When Should You Not Exfoliate?

  • Ask your dermatologist which exfoliant to use if you have inflammatory acne, rosacea, or hypersensitive skin. Exfoliation is not recommended for dry, flaky, and sensitive skin types.
  • Do not exfoliate in the evening as the skin repairs itself at night, leaving a layer of dead skin cells that you will want to remove again in the morning.
  • Never exfoliate your skin after waxing, laser, bleach, or peeling treatments.
  • Do not over-exfoliate your skin. This can cause damage and make your skin dry and flaky. Exfoliating your skin twice or thrice a week is enough. Always follow up with a moisturizer after the scrubbing procedure to prevent dryness.
  • Stop exfoliating if you experience redness, rashes, irritations, or allergic reactions.

Here are some preventive measures to keep in mind while exfoliating your face and body.

What Precautions Should Be Followed When Exfoliating?

  • Do a patch test before using any exfoliating products, especially chemical exfoliants, to prevent any adverse effects, such as burning and irritation. Make sure your chemical exfoliant has AHA concentration of 10% or lesser and a pH above 3.5 (5). Also, a salicylic acid-based product must contain sunscreen (6). Otherwise, do not forget to apply a sunscreen after using BHAs, as they make your skin sensitive to the sun.
  • Choose the right product that is suitable for your skin type. Otherwise, you might develop micro-tears on the skin surface, which can help the bacteria enter and cause inflammation, clogged pores, and scarring.
  • Remember that your face and neck skin are more fragile than the skin on the rest of your body. Hence, in most cases, you might need different exfoliants.
  • Do not leave the exfoliant on your skin for too long or too short a time. Stick to the package instructions and consult your dermatologist for the recommended course of action, irrespective of the exfoliation method.
  • Do not forget to apply a hydrating product and let your skin soak the much-needed moisture.
  • Ensure to apply the right amount of pressure to eliminate the dead skin cells. Use gentle strokes on your face for about 30 seconds with your fingertips or exfoliating tool. Make short, light strokes if you are using a brush.
  • Scrub your lips while exfoliating your face. You do not want scaly lips and glowing skin!
  • Avoid exfoliating if you have wounds, cuts, or sunburns.

The Takeaway

A dedicated skin exfoliation regimen can help you achieve soft, youthful, and glowing skin. Cell turnover diminishes with age, making your skin look damaged and worn out. Exfoliation helps revive your mature, dull skin and imparts radiance. It also facilitates better penetration of the skin care products such as moisturizers and serums.

Scrubbing off the dead skin also prevents acne breakouts, oiliness, and other skin issues. Consult your dermatologist to understand the right kind of exfoliating products that suit your skin type.


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Mandelic acid a lipophilic alpha hydroxy acid reduces lipid production enhances exfoliation and provides clinical and patient perceivable benefits to oily and photodamaged skin
  2. Effects of Topical Mandelic Acid Treatment on Facial Skin Viscoelasticity
  3. Glycolic acid peel therapy – a current review
  4. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review
  5. Alpha Hydroxy Acids
  6. Beta Hydroxy Acids

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Arshiya Syeda is an editor and certified counselor. Ever the lover of the written word, she served on the editorial boards of her school and college newsletters. Writing articles on hairstyles, hair care, and nutrition helped her combine her love for reading, writing, and research. As an editor, she helps her team members deliver polished and meticulously researched content. Arshiya is fluent in English, Urdu, and Hindi and aims to become a multilinguist by learning German and teaching herself American Sign Language (ASL).