Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Aheli Sen (Fashion & Beauty Expert)  on 05th Jan 2021

How to Exfoliate Oily Skin Properly

How to Exfoliate Oily Skin

It is often believed that people with dry, flaky skin are likely to consider exfoliation because of how their skin looks and feels; rough to touch and uneven to feel. However, oily skin needs exfoliation just as much! The whole point of exfoliation is to get rid of dead skin cells that everyone needs to get rid of.

Dead skin cells are the reason pores get clogged and need to be cleared out at the earliest to prevent the skin from breaking out; especially in the case of oily skin as it is oily skin that produces excess oil that helps bind the dead skin cells faster and thus clogs pores to break out sooner.

Exfoliation is a method that needs to be performed with the utmost care and precision. Overdoing the process will only mean the skin turns red and feels irritated. Underdoing will not help achieve the ultimate goal of getting rid of dead skin cells and help smooth new skin to the surface.

The same rules apply for oily skin too.
So the basic questions one would have would be the following:

1. What do we use (both chemical and natural) for exfoliating oily skin?
2. How long or how many times do we exfoliate oily skin? 

Let us first address the types of chemicals and natural homemade remedies that we can use to exfoliate oily skin: 

Chemicals For Exfoliation 

When we say chemical, we mean chemicals in products that help exfoliate the skin. These are either enzyme peels or chemical peels that involve no scrubbing of the skin and ensure smoothness and even removal of dead skin cells. However, one must be careful about using such peels or exfoliants as leaving them on the skin for longer than prescribed can seriously affect the skin. These can cause redness, irritation, and inflammation if left on the skin for longer than the required time. 

Here is a list of chemical exfoliants that are recommended for oily skin: 

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) – AHA enables cell turnover. What is that? It is the rate at which skin renews. As we grow older, this turnover slows down. Alpha Hydroxy Acid stimulates the same, helping the skin produce new skin faster than normal. It enables the skin to shed its old skin cells and bring out the new smooth skin. However, AHA is not an exfoliant. It helps achieve the results of an exfoliant, however, as has been discussed. 
  • Salicylic Acid – Salicylic Acid is love. Why? Well, no other ingredient beats this one at exfoliating. It is keratolytic. What is that? Well, it means that salicylic acid has the property to break or loosen bond found in hardened skin cells that makes getting rid of dead skin cells easier. However, salicylic acid is a gentle exfoliator that is not only antimicrobial but also anti-inflammatory in its properties. 
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Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum
Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum
Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum

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When to use: PM

Frequency: Alternate days

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  • Linoleic Acid – Linoleic acid is effective in regulating oil production, especially excess oil production. Studies reveal that topically-applied linoleic acid may treat oil over-production and acne. People who suffer from acne usually have lesser production of linoleic acid than people with normal skin. Through research, it has come to the limelight that a deficiency in the production of linoleic acid causes the ceramides on the skin dysfunctional. Over four weeks, when applied topically, linoleic acid reduces oil production by about 53%. It would thus help prevent clogging of pores and prevent pimples from surfacing in excess. 

Natural Remedies of Exfoliation 

1. Walnut Scrub –

What is needed: 

  • 2 or 3 walnut kernels 
  • 1 tablespoon of honey 
  • ½ teaspoon of lemon juice extract 

Production and application 

  • Grind the nut. 
  • To the ground walnut, mix honey and lemon juice. 
  • Apply and massage on the skin.
  • Keep it on the face for 10 minutes at max and use lukewarm water to wash off. 
  • Do this mask once a week. 


Walnuts must be granulated in the right size of granules. Make sure that the grains are not too big or too small. 

2. Lemon Juice, Egg, and Sea Salt Scrub 

What is needed: 

  • ½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 
  • one egg white 
  • two teaspoons sea salt 

Production and application: 

  • Mix all the ingredients. 
  • Apply a nice optimum layer on the skin. 
  • Keep it on for 6 to 7 minutes.
  • Use lukewarm water to wash the skin and then cold water to preserve the effects. 


Moisturize the skin after using this face mask. 

3. Cucumber – 

What is needed: 

  • 1 Cucumber. 

Production and application: 

  • Grate the peeled cucumber.
  • Apply it to the face and keep it on for 6 to 7 minutes. 
  • For two of these minutes, massage it onto the skin. 
  • Use it twice a week. 


A cleansed skin is a must before this mask.

4. Red Lentils Scrub – 

What is needed: 

  • 1 tablespoon of red lentil
  • 1 teaspoon honey or yogurt (whichever suits the skin) 
  • A pinch of turmeric juice or powder

Production and application: 

  • Mix the ingredients.
  • Apply and massage on the skin for 2 to 3 minutes. 
  • Wash off with lukewarm water. 
  • Keep it on for 8 to 10 minutes. 
  • Use once a week. 


Honey can be used as a substitute for yogurt if it does not suit your skin.

However, over-exfoliation is not good for the skin, and the points mentioned below will discuss the same. 

Possible Outcomes of Exfoliation & Some Tips 

Inflammation and irritation

This is the first, most obvious sign of the skin having been over exfoliated. It is not unusual for the skin to look red as blood flows to the skin when being massaged. This is good for the skin and the cell turnover ratio. It is also normal when the skin has just started exfoliating or just started using a new product to exfoliate the skin. It takes the skin a few weeks to settle. However, an excessive amount of redness accompanied by a lot of irritation would mean that either the product does not suit your skin, or you have used too much of the product or used the product for too long.  


It is thus recommended to do a patch test before usage of chemical peels, especially. 

Rough skin in excess

Over-exfoliation makes the skin rough, flaky, dehydrated, and dry. If you develop dry patches or flaky skin, there is a high chance that you have over exfoliated your oily skin to make it look and feel like overtly excessive dry skin.  


It is recommended to moisturize after exfoliation for all skin types, including oily skin. 

Excess of Oil Production 

Dehydration manifests itself in excess oil production in skin types that are oily, combination, or normal. Why does this happen? Well, because the skin then feels that it has to overcompensate the production of oil to replace the skin that has been dried out.  


To make 100% sure that this does not happen, first realize if you have over exfoliated and moisturize the skin well. 


What happens when oily skin has been dried out from over-exfoliation or not moisturizing the skin after exfoliation? We have already learned that the oil glands produce sebum in excess to compensate in both cases. What does this result in? Dead skin and dirt and bacteria binding to make the skin break out into acne. Thus, over-exfoliation results in acne. 


Not always is shiny skin good. It may mean that the skin has been stripped off of its natural texture. It means that the skin's main barrier has been weakened.  


Thus, make sure that your shine is from dew on the skin produced by hydration and the right amount of exfoliation.  

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Hyaluronic + PGA 2% Face Serum
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Hyaluronic + PGA 2% Face Serum

₹ 595

When to use: AM / PM

Frequency: Everyday

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The Last Word 

Exfoliation of oily skin is highly tricky. If done less than required, it would result in dead skin cells binding in the excess oil produced by the skin, and bacteria would infest on the binding that results in pimples. If done too frequently, it will leave even oily skin dry that will make the oil glands overwork to compensate, resulting in excess oil production.

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An exfoliating buff and exfoliating creams and chemicals and natural elements, as mentioned above, is key. Exfoliate twice to thrice (the optimum number of times to exfoliate the skin) to ensure that no negative effect is trickled down to the skin.