By Skincare Junkie Inc

Derm’s Guide to Face Skin Exfoliation

Exfoliation is an essential step in a skincare junkie’s arsenal—it can transform dull, tired skin into a radiant, youthful complexion. With so many products and methods out there, what is the latest dermatological advice? We've asked Skincare Junkie® founder and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Murphy-Rose to share the latest advice on facial skin exfoliation.  

What Is Exfoliation? 

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. This can be done mechanically (e.g., by using a scrub) or chemically (e.g., by applying acids). Our skin naturally sheds dead cells, but this process slows down as we age, leading to a build-up that can result in dullness, clogged pores, and an uneven texture. Exfoliation helps to reveal fresher, more vibrant, glowing skin underneath. 

Exfoliation helps to break up the connections between keratinocytes, the cells that make up most of the epidermis. Keratinocytes are bound together by desmosomes, which are adhesive proteins that keep the cells attached. Through mechanical or chemical exfoliation, these desmosomes are disrupted, facilitating the shedding of dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) work by dissolving the bonds between cells, while physical exfoliants manually slough off the cells.

Exfoliation stimulates cell turnover, promotes the production of new skin cells and enhances the skin's natural renewal process. This increased cell turnover can help to improve skin texture, reduce the appearance of fine lines, and even out skin tone. By removing dead skin cells, exfoliation also allows skincare products to penetrate more deeply and work more effectively.

a smiling woman with exfoliating face mask

Do I Really Need to Exfoliate?

Dermatologists advise to exfoliate regularly if you want to achieve a glowing complexion and healthy skin. Regular exfoliation helps prevent or reduce: 

  1. Dullness: Dead skin cells can build up on the skin surface, leading to a dull complexion. 
  2. Clogged pores: Accumulated dead skin can block pores, potentially causing blackheads, whiteheads, and acne plus making pores more visible. 
  3. Uneven texture: Skin may feel rough and uneven due to the layer of dead cells.
  4. Fine lines and wrinkles: Without regular exfoliation, dead skin build-up can make fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable.
  5. Hyperpigmentation: Dark spots and uneven skin tone may become more prominent.

Different Types of Face Exfoliation

There are two main types of exfoliation: physical and chemical. 

Physical exfoliation involves using a tool or substance to manually remove dead skin cells. This can be a scrub, a brush, a sponge, or dermaplaning. Physical exfoliation produces immediate results, can be satisfying to use, and is often inexpensive. However, it can also be harsh on sensitive skin, resulting in damage to skin such as micro-tears, and causing inflammation and compromising the skin barrier. 

Chemical exfoliation uses acids or enzymes to dissolve dead skin cells. Common ingredients include:

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): Such as glycolic or lactic acid.
  • Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs): Such as salicylic acid.
  • Poly Hydroxy Acids (PHAs): Gentle exfoliators that hydrate while exfoliating such as Gluconolactone. 
  • Enzymes: Proteins that induce exfoliation.

Chemical exfoliation is often gentler than physical exfoliation and can penetrate deeper into the skin, effectively addressing specific concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines. Unlike physical exfoliants, which provide immediate results, chemical exfoliants require consistent use over 4-6 weeks to see visible improvements. Also, while effective, chemical exfoliants can sometimes cause skin irritation or sensitivity, which is why they require careful use and proper sun protection. 

Chemical exfoliants come in a variety of forms, some of the more common ones are:

  1. Peels: Contain high concentrations of acids (AHAs, BHAs) to deeply exfoliate the skin. They can be professional treatments or at-home kits.
  2. Masks: Enzyme or acid-based masks that exfoliate while they sit on the skin for a specified time. 
  3. Exfoliating toners: Liquid toners with exfoliating ingredients, applied with a cotton pad or hands. 
a man with an exfoliating face mask on

Dermatologist Recommended Exfoliation Methods

Dermatologists often recommend a combination of both physical and chemical exfoliation depending on the individual skin type and concerns. 

  • For oily and acne-prone skin: BHAs like salicylic acid are excellent for penetrating and cleaning out pores. Pair this with a gentle scrub once a week.
  • For dry and mature skin: AHAs like glycolic acid help to remove the outer layer of dead skin cells and promote collagen production. A mild enzyme exfoliator can also be beneficial.
  • For sensitive skin: Enzyme exfoliators and very mild AHAs (like mandelic acid) or PHAs are usually well-tolerated. Avoid physical exfoliation that can cause irritation. 

Are Toner Pads a Good Way to Exfoliate?

Yes. Dermatologists generally approve of exfoliating toner pads because they are easy to use and ensure consistent application, they provide the right amount of exfoliating solution, reducing the risk of over-exfoliation, and many pads contain additional beneficial ingredients like hydrating agents and antioxidants. 

Skincare Junkie® Pore Therapy Daily Toner Pads 

If you are struggling with acne, pore congestion, or visible pores, try Skincare Junkie® Pore Therapy Daily Toner Pads. These biodegradable pads soaked in a proprietary blend of acids and antioxidant-rich fruit enzymes that gently exfoliate pore-clogging dead skin cells, remove dullness, improve texture, and bring out radiance. 

Achieve a peeling effect while avoiding skin flaking or irritation. Our toner pads exfoliate slowly and gently. Salicylic acid (BHA) dissolves oil and debris inside your pores while treating and preventing acne, and a combination of multiple molecular weight hyaluronic acids and gluconolactone (PHA) exfoliates and hydrates. Aloe leaf extract soothes the skin and reduces redness. 

Dermatologist Tips for Safe and Effective Exfoliation

Exfoliation is an important step in any skincare routine, offering numerous benefits from break out prevention to clearer pores. The key to successful exfoliation is to be gentle, consistent, and always prioritize your skin’s health. To get the most out of exfoliation, keep these dermatologist tips in mind: 

  1. Start slow: Begin with once a week and gradually increase frequency based on your skin's tolerance. If you notice redness, irritation, or increased sensitivity, reduce the frequency or switch to a gentler product. 
  2. Hydrate and protect: Always follow exfoliation with a good moisturizer and never skip sunscreen, as exfoliated skin is more susceptible to sun damage.
  3. Avoid over-exfoliating: Less is more. Over-exfoliating can damage your skin barrier and lead to dryness and irritation. 
a woman in a hat enjoying the sun 

Exfoliation, while beneficial, can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. When you exfoliate, you remove the outer layer of dead skin cells which offer some protection against the sun's UV rays. Without this protective barrier, your skin becomes more susceptible to UV damage. 

Sun protection should already be a part of any skincare junkie’s routine, but it is especially important after exfoliating. Dermatologists recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 daily, as well as avoiding direct sun exposure during peak hours and wearing protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses when spending time outdoors.