Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Akruti Khandkar (Journalist)  on 20th Nov 2020

Guide to exfoliation according to skin type

Guide to exfoliation

The tricky thing about exfoliating is that it can either do outstanding work or crush your skin barrier. Confused?

If you've utilized an exfoliator— some grainy, harsh recipe that you used on your face until it felt raw and tingly, you start thinking that the exfoliator is working its magic, correct? Not exactly. Your exfoliator may be harming your skin or not working in the right direction.

When you utilize the correct product as per your skin type, exfoliation can treat acne scars, blur dark spots, and smooth rough patches. It can likewise diminish redness and light up your general composition.

Let's learn how to pick the right exfoliator for your skin. 

What is exfoliation? 

Exfoliation is a procedure of eliminating dead skin cells covering your skin's outer layer utilizing a formula or an exfoliating device.

As you know, your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells to prepare for new cells at regular intervals. In some cases, dead cells don't shed properly. This can cause clogged pores and flaky, dry skin. Exfoliation can help forestall this.  

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Why do dermatologists recommend exfoliation for your skin?  

Exfoliation can improve the condition of your skin in a few different ways. As indicated by the American Academy of Dermatology, exfoliation can leave your skin looking brighter and improve other effective skincare products' viability by upgrading retention.

Exfoliation can likewise help forestall breakouts and clogged pores.

Long haul exfoliating can expand collagen creation.

Collagen is critical for youthful skin. The protein likewise advances skin flexibility, limiting the presence of saggy skin and fine lines. Normally our skin can deal with this alone, but advanced ways of life, dietary changes, and contamination levels hamper our skin's capacity to work independently. Here is where external exfoliants step in. 

Types of exfoliation  

Exfoliation can be done in two ways- physical and chemical. Physical exfoliators include- scrubs, brushes, and sponges. You may choose either, but physical exfoliators can sometimes be harsh on your skin. This is where chemical exfoliators can help you.

Dr. Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist, says 

her favorite physical exfoliator is a simple cotton washcloth and her least favorite way is the scrub with harsh, gritty substance.  

There are two sorts of chemical exfoliants: alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), the two of which provide various benefits depending upon your skin type.

As per Dr. Mona Gohara, chemical exfoliation is as effective as physical exfoliating skincare items as chemical exfoliants. Retinols, a vitamin A derivative, helps to regulate the skin exfoliating process and skin cell turnover. It also helps with collagen production and decreases collagen breakdown. She adds.

How about we separate them:  

AHA for normal, dry, sensitive, and redness-prone skin

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are water solvent, which means they shed the outside of your skin, attracting moisture while they work to keep your face hydrated. They can weaken dead cells to make skin smoother and brighter with regular use.

AHAs arrive in a couple of formals, like lactic, glycolic, mandelic, and tartaric acid. If you have delicate skin or are new to chemical exfoliants, start with lactic acid, which will, in general, be the gentlest of the AHAs. Apply it consecutively for three nights on dry skin.

Take hold for up to 10 minutes before incorporating other skincare products. If you have any hypersensitivity issues, you can apply glycolic acid since the formulas are stronger and act quicker.  

BHA for oily or acne-prone skin 

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are oil-soluble, which means they separate oil-obstructed pores to treat clogged pores and whiteheads. However, they're calming, which means they'll help alleviate a portion of the aggravating impacts BHAs can cause.

There's only just a single regular BHA: salicylic acid, a most-loved long-term acne spot treatment.

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Stay with just one chemical exfoliant to start with, and utilize your BHA regularly on dry skin. Hold up for 10 minutes before applying any other skincare product.

Some other chemical exfoliants include:  

  • Topical retinoids, for example, retinol and Retin-A (tretinoin) and Differin (adapalene).
  • Chemical peels, to more profound trichloroacetic acid (TCA), phenol peels, and carbolic.
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Confused about what exfoliant to pick?  

With physical exfoliating, it's essential to be delicate on your skin. You can make little, round movements utilizing your finger to apply a scrub or use your exfoliation tool. Be careful with exfoliation if you have any open injuries, cuts, or are burned from the sun. Apply sunscreen after exfoliating.  

Dry skin

Exfoliating is essential for dry skin. Stay away from physical exfoliators on dry skin, as the process can be drying, and it can prompt microtears. Individuals with dry skin can truly profit from a chemical exfoliator that can give hydration and take-off dead skin and flakiness from the surface. AHAs are successful for dry skin.
Individuals with dry skin can use either glycolic acid or lactic acid.

They're both great exfoliants that separate dead skin cells and lessen pigmentation.

Try to apply sunscreen liberally and dodge the sun, as AHAs make your skin more vulnerable to the sun.  

Sensitive skin  

Physical exfoliators can cause redness and bother sensitive skin. Utilize a low formulated chemical exfoliator and apply it with a delicate cotton pad. For acne, you can likewise attempt a salicylic acid at your dermatologist's office.

Delicate skin experiences difficulty in finding the ideal chemical exfoliator that won't disturb their skin. In case you're one of them, search for mandelic acid or PHA (Polyhydroxy acid) as they have bigger atoms that don't infiltrate excessively inside. These are found to cause insignificant to no skin bothering. You can always consult a dermatologist for surety.

You can also try Azelaic acid, which has numerous skincare benefits like quieting down irritated skin alongside exceptionally mild exfoliation.  

Oily skin  

Oily or thicker skin can profit by physical and chemical exfoliation. Oily skin may have an additional layer of development on a superficial level that the physical layer can eliminate. Tenderly utilize an exfoliator or clean in round movements for best outcomes. You need to be careful with a physical exfoliator because if you exfoliate too much, it will tend to suck out natural oils and your skin will produce more oil.

Individuals with oily skin ceaselessly battle with the overproduction of oil, which prompts clogged pores. This causes clogged pores, whiteheads, and acne. Salicylic acid must be the best chemical exfoliator for oily skin types.

You can either select a salicylic acid face wash for everyday mild exfoliation or leave-on salicylic acid serum or toner.  

Normal skin  

If your skin isn't facing any issues, you can pick any technique for exfoliation. Physical and chemical exfoliants are both safe for this skin type.

You can switch back and forth between glycolic acid and salicylic acid or pick others relying upon how your skin is feeling. You may need to analyze to discover which technique turns out best for your skin. 

Combination skin

Combination skin may require a blend of chemical and physical exfoliants. Never utilize both around the same time as it can bother the skin. If your skin feels dry after exfoliation, use a moisturizer to follow it up.


Exfoliation is a valuable part of any skincare schedule. With regular exfoliation, your skin will look more brilliant and feel smoother. It can likewise help get out your pores and diminish breakouts.

Some exfoliating items can help improve indications of aging as well. According to Dr. Lim,  

physical exfoliators' biggest disadvantage is that they only work on the skin's outermost layer and can sometimes be harsh. Instead, go for natural exfoliators, he adds.

If you are at present using any acne prevention drugs, particularly skin retinoids or isotretinoin, consult your dermatologist before starting any exfoliating treatment.