how to choose the best exfoliator for your skin type

“I have sensitive skin. Can I exfoliate?”

“Last time I tried an exfoliator, my skin got so red and sore. Should I really give it another go?”

“Exfoliation’s not working for me. I’ve tried every scrub under the sun to get rid of my pimples, but those nasty buggers are still there. What else can I do?”

Don’t give up on exfoliation. No matter your skin type or what woes you’re dealing with, exfoliation IS the key to the brighter, smoother and pimple-free skin you crave.

But then… why does exfoliation often backfire? The problem is not exfoliation itself. It’s what you use to exfoliate.

That’s right. Different skin types have different needs. They need different exfoliators to fulfil them. Question now is, how do the heck do you know which one is right for YOU?

I’ve got your back. Here’s how to choose the best exfoliator for your skin type:

Why Should You Exfoliate?

First thing first: what the heck is the point of exfoliation?

Exfoliation  does wonders for your skin. It removes the dead cells that accumulate on the surface of the skin.

You see, those dead cells have been there for a while. They’ve been attacked by UV rays, pollution, germs and all other sorts of skin enemies. Day after day, they’ve suffered so much damage, they’ve become rough to the touch, developed a darker colour here and there, and lost all their glow.

Get rid of them and you expose the newer skin underneath. These new cells didn’t suffer much damage yet, so they’re softer to the touch, even in colour and have a glow of their own.

Exfoliation doesn’t just make you look younger overnight. Now those dead cells are out of the way, your skincare products can penetrate skin better and faster.

One more thing: some exfoliators can get inside the pores, unclogging them from within. Bye bye breakouts!

Related: 10 Reasons Why You Should Exfoliate Your Skin

goldfaden md doctor's scrub

How Do You Exfoliate Skin?

Did you know your skin can exfoliate on its own?

Problem is, as you get older, this natural exfoliation process breaks down. Your skin can’t exfoliate as well as it used to on its own.

You can tell when this is happening. You skin becomes rough. It loses its glow. You may get more pimples than before.

That’s your cue to give your skin a helping hand. You can do this in two ways:

1. Physical exfoliation

Physical exfoliation means you’re manually scrubbing dead cells off your skin. You can do this with:

  • Apricot kernels
  • Clarisonic
  • Foreo Luna
  • Microbeads
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Washcloth

Basically, if you’re using a scrub or a “cleansing device” (they’re exfoliators in disguise!), you belong to Team Physical Exfoliation.

Physical exfoliation is the most popular type of exfoliation. Heck, for years, those harsh apricot scrubs were all you could find at the drugstore!

I’m not a fan of physical exfoliation. Let me count the reasons why:

  • Natural particles like apricot kernels have rough, jagged edges that scratch and irritate skin
  • Plastic microbeads are polluting
  • Cleansing devices are too harsh to be used everyday as advertised
  • Massage them a little too long and you irritate skin
  • Massage them longer on the cheeks than the forehead and you get uneven exfoliation
  • They’re one-trick ponies that only exfoliate skin

Related: Is The Clarisonic Good Or Bad For Skin?

nip + fab glycolic fix liquid glow extreme 6% review

2. Chemical exfoliation

Don’t let the name scare you. Chemical exfoliation is a gamechanger.

Chemical exfoliation uses acids to dissolve the “glue” that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off.

I know it sounds painful but it’s not. Not unless you abuse it. Exfoliating too much or too often always leads to irritation. In small doses, chemical exfoliators are way gentler than scrubs, exfoliate skin evenly and go the extra mile.

I’ll go into the benefits of each exfoliant in a minute. For now, all you need to know is that chemical exfoliants belong to two different families:

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids: they’re suitable for dry and sun-damaged skin. The most famous members are glycolic acid and lactic acid.
  • Beta Hydroxy Acids: they’re suitable for oily and acne-prone skin. Its most famous remember is salicylic acid.

Related: Why I Prefer Chemical Exfoliants

Why Exfoliation Can Screw Up Skin (And How To Avoid It)

Exfoliation is like magic for your skin. But even good magic can terribly backfire if you do it wrong.

You see, those dead cells are there for a reason. Their job is to protect the living cells underneathIf you remove too many layers of dead cells, you expose the rawer cells that weren’t ready to come to the surface yet.

That’ll turn your face red (and hurt like hell). So how do you avoid it? Easy. To find the best exfoliator for you, you need to know two things:

  1. Your skin type (if you don’t know it already, check out this post to find yours)
  2. How often you can exfoliate your skin type before it starts to complain

Related: How To Determine Your Skin Type (Plus, Free Test!)

benton aloe bha skin toner

What’s The Best Exfoliator For Each Skin Type?

If you’ve read this far, you know your skin type. So what’s the best exfoliator for it and how often should you use it? Let’s find out:

Best Exfoliator For Oily And Acne-Prone Skin

What to use:

Salicylic acid. This beta hydroxy acid is the best exfoliator for oily skin – bar none. It exfoliates skin in two ways. It removes dead cells from the surface of the skin, and then penetrates inside the pores, getting rid of all the crap that’s clogging them up. Bye bye blackheads & breakouts.

How often?

This is the skin type that better tolerates exfoliation. I recommend you start exfoliating three times a week. But, if your skin can take it, you can gradually increase frequency.

Best picks:

SHOP THE BEST EXFOLIATORS FOR OILY SKIN

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot Free Skin

Best Exfoliators For Dry Skin

What to use?

Glycolic acid. This alpha hydroxy acid doesn’t just get rid of dead skin cells. It also boosts the production of collagen and hydrates skin. That’s something your skin badly needs!

How often?

Glycolic acid is awesome, but don’t overdo it. Two or three times a week is enough.

Best picks:

SHOP BEST EXFOLIATORS FOR DRY SKIN

Related:The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid

Best Exfoliator For Combination Skin

What to use?

Salicylic acid to unclogs your pores and glycolic acid to hydrate skin. You can use different exfoliants on different areas of your face or opt for exfoliators who have both.

How often?

Two or three times a week. If your oily areas are very oily, you can slowly increase frequency there.

Best Picks

  • Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($68.40): available at Sephora
  • Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Overnight Purifying Gel ($14.99): available at Feel Unique and Ulta

SHOP THE BEST EXFOLIATORS FOR COMBINATION SKIN

Related: How To Care For Combination Skin

the ordinary lactic acid 10 + ha 2 01

Best Exfoliator For Normal Skin

What to use?

Your skin is able to exfoliate on its own. If it’s soft and glowy, leave it be. But if, as you get older, you notice it starts lose its luster and become a little rough, go for a glycolic acid exfoliant. It’s the best exfoliator for your skin type because it boosts the production of collagen, helping to keep wrinkles at bay.

How often?

Go easy on exfoliation. Your won the skincare lottery so don’t mess it up now! Once or twice a week is more than enough.

Best picks:

SHOP BEST EXFOLIATORS FOR NORMAL SKIN

Related: How To Care For Normal Skin

Best Exfoliator For Sensitive skin

What to use?

Your skin is very delicate so you need to use the gentlest thing you can find. That’s either a washcloth or lactic acid. Lactic acid goes the extra mile: it hydrates skin too.

How often?

Once a week. For your skin type, it’s more than enough.

Best picks:

SHOP BEST EXFOLIATORS FOR SENSITIVE SKIN

Related: Glycolic Acid VS Lactic Acid: Which One Is Right For You?

The Bottom Line

Exfoliation is for everyone. The key is to find the best exfoliator for your skin type and needs so you can get brighter, smoother skin without any side effects.

Do you know what the best exfoliator for your own skin type is? Share your picks in the comments below.