We’ve all heard of exfoliation, but you may not know exactly how or when you should be doing it. Here’s an explanation to help you get started. 

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. 

What’s the difference between chemical and physical exfoliants? 

Exfoliation can be chemical (using ingredients such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids to dissolve the bonds between dead skin cells, allowing them to be shed more quickly) or physical (using products such as scrubs or tools such as brushes to physically loosen and lift away dead skin cells). Chemical exfoliation tends to be more gentle, and is the preferred modality by most dermatologists. 

Why should I exfoliate?

As we get older, cell turnover slows down and dead cells can build up on the top of the skin, leading to a dull complexion. By helping to remove these cells, exfoliation reveals the newer cells underneath and a brighter, more even complexion. In addition, exfoliation can help to unclog pores and improve the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads, fade uneven pigmentation, and can help your other skincare products work more effectively. 

How should I exfoliate my skin?

A problem many people run into is over-exfoliating, which can impair the skin barrier and cause skin irritation and sensitivity. Most people don’t need to exfoliate every day – one to three times per week is plenty. In general, chemical exfoliation is more gentle, as physical exfoliation can disrupt the skin barrier. To learn more about the different types of exfoliants, see the posts chemical exfoliants and physical exfoliants.

Rodan K, Fields K, Majewski G, Falla T. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2016;4(12 Suppl Anatomy and Safety in Cosmetic Medicine: Cosmetic Bootcamp):e1152.


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Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…