Anti-Aging Skin Care

What’s the Ideal Exfoliator for Your Skin Type and Why?

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: September 6, 2018
ideal exfoliator for your skin type

Exfoliation – Everything you want to know!

Exfoliation is grossly underrated. It’s the difference between looking “fine” and looking great. If you’re searching for the ideal exfoliator,  let’s make sure you know your skin type. In this article, I’ll reveal the different products I recommend for each skin type. That way, if you hit cold or hot/humid climates for a vacation or mature into another skin type, you’ll know what to do. I’ll also provide remedies for over-exfoliating. Why? Even if you use one of the best exfoliators for your skin type, you might have overdone it a bit. It happens to many of us. Let’s review what exfoliation is and what it does for your skin and overall appearance. ideal exfoliator for your skin type

What is exfoliation?

It is using something abrasive, chemical or enzymatic to get rid of the dead skin cells in your stratum corneum (very upper) layer of your epidermis.

Your skin has a natural physical way of losing dead skin cells from the top layers of the skin, and this process is called desquamation.

Exfoliation is the term used to accelerate this process by using facial exfoliating products. You can get exfoliation treatments done at home, or in the Salon, Spa, or Medi-spa. I’ll leave spa treatments for another article.

Many top spa and salon owners in the best cities around the world continuously seek the very latest developments in skin care therapies. Trends tend to be orchestrated by Plastic surgeons and Esthetic Dermatologists these days via Medi-spas. No matter who we’re talking about, though, there’s agreement we all will have healthier skin if we exfoliate on a regular basis.

Skin exfoliation can involve a kind of soft “scouring” of the skin using facial scrub sponges or exfoliating face wash products that have tiny but soft abrasive grains. These also include grainy but usually grainy-and-creamy facial cleansers. They also include home-made remedies such as salt, oatmeal, and even coarse sugar granules. Exfoliants are designed to gently scour off and eliminate dead skin cells that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Sometimes home remedies involve even citrus fruits; Be very careful not to burn your skin if you use them.

General Benefits of exfoliation:

Exfoliation allows new skin cells to be exposed, therefore improving the appearance of the skin. It removes dead skin cells, grease, and impurities from the surface of the skin. It increases blood circulation, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the skin cells, therefore improving skin color. Hyperpigmentation improves as the pigmented surface skin cells are removed. After exfoliating, nourishing skin care products such as moisturizers, or additional mask products penetrate easier into the skin.

Specific benefits of exfoliation:

best exfoliators for your skin type

It re-energizes the appearance of dull and lifeless skin.

For those over forty, it does effectively reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Exfoliation keeps the skin supple and healthy looking. It sloughs off flaky dead skin, and the motions massage the face at the same time, enabling increased and noticeable blood flow.

It takes off the undesirable dead outer layer of skin and promotes new and clearer skin to grow. Further, it helps fade many types of acne scars.

It will help sun damaged and discolored skin by giving it a more uniform and even tone. Finally, exfoliation is very effective to stop the growth of ingrown hairs, especially for men.

Best Exfoliator for your Skin Type:

A quick word about exactly why you should choose an exfoliator for your skin type. It’s more about damage-control than efficacy. For instance, perhaps you have older, thinner skin and start scrubbing with a grainy exfoliator meant for young, thick, oily skin. You’ll get that dead skin off, but you’ll look like you sand-papered your face for a week afterward. So, it’s best to continue reading!

Exfoliation for Oily Skin:

Exfoliation is just a magnificent tool. However, let me warn you those with oily skin are most prone to overdo. If you don’t, you’ll be super happy with exfoliation “done right.” People with oily skin have a thicker epidermis, which is prone to excessive sebum production, making “acne-prone skin.” Exfoliation, therefore, helps to act as “deep cleansing” for oily skin, removing dead skin cells, sebum and other impurities from deep inside the pores.

For those with oily skin, you can exfoliate 2x week. Depending on how thick your skin is, some may do 3x. If you have only blackheads, your best bets are grainy exfoliators which require circular scrubbing motions. It’s a bonus if the exfoliators contain salicylic acid but not needed if you already use it as a cleanser. You can couple a benzoyl peroxide exfoliating scrub with an alternating day salicylic cleanser to keep the zits at bay. Clay masks are fine as well. People don’t think of “slow exfoliation” as “exfoliators,” but a constant low level of exfoliation with a salicylic cleanser or gel and a glycolic lotion is an excellent way to keep oily skin at peak.

What’s the ideal exfoliator for your skin type if you have oily skin and acne?

A regular skin exfoliation is one of the best ways to deal with acne. It is a well-known fact that microscopic loose, old facial skin will trap toxins, dirt, and oils. These “deposits” will seep back into the skin, clog up the pores and cause blackheads, whiteheads, and acne. This is one reason why many people who don’t use an exfoliating face wash as a part of their skin care routine will constantly have breakouts and recurring facial skin problems.

If you have active breakouts, then heavy scrubs for oily skin are not for you. The salicylic/glycolic routine mentioned above is a very good idea. If you only have light break-outs, you can gently use a once daily natural bead cleanser as well. Your 2x weekly exfoliation should be an enzymatic mask that washes off without having to peel or “tug at” the skin. Our pumpkin peel is a good example of what you need.

Exfoliation for Normal Skin

Glycolic lotion as a nightly layer of “product,” after your anti-aging serum, to brighten and hydrate the skin is great for normal skin to keep it clear and to minimize the appearance of facial pores. You have the option of a scrub-exfoliator and enzymes and masks. You can rotate products 1-2x weekly according to your schedule. Perhaps, use both a scrub and a mask once weekly. You’ll also enjoy clay and other organic masks such as kelzyme.

Exfoliation for Combination Skin

Exfoliate the oily areas prone to acne and blackheads (usually the T zone) with the daily scrubs and then use a normal skin routine 1-2x weekly.

Exfoliation for Dry Skin

You may think you don’t need exfoliation since your skin is dry. However, dry skin may have a very low turnover rate, giving your complexion a dull appearance. Exfoliate once weekly with an enzymatic or gentle scrub product. Unless masks are labeled “for dry skin,” they will have a drying effect.

Exfoliation for Mature Skin (40yrs+)

As we age, our skin cell regeneration deteriorates—the rate of skin cells renewing and growing weakens. This means more and more dead skin cells are unable to slough off. Therefore, exfoliation is strongly recommended for people with mature skin as removing dead cells on the surface has a noticeable rejuvenating effect on the skin’s appearance. You go from “dull” to “bright” after a good exfoliation.

When you hit 40-45ish, you will have a “dull look” unless you exfoliate regularly and gently. It is rough on older, thinning skin to use products which have pumice-like activity. It’s much better to use a nourishing mask-type exfoliant with enzymes to gently strip off the dead cells. Our MoorSpa Vitamin C mask has been my favorite facial exfoliation for many years—long before I hit 40!

General do’s and don’ts even while using the best exfoliators for your skin type:

When exfoliating twice a week, which is my recommendation, do not choose two days in a row. Your skin cells need time to regenerate. If you’re a  teenager, skin cells regenerate new skin cells every 14 days. For adults (until the forties), skin regenerates every 30-40 days.  If you exfoliate every day, your skin will eventually become thinner, and it will also become easily sensitive, highly irritated and more prone to sun damage and premature aging.

Avoid exfoliating products that contain sharp grains of nut shells, as these can scrape, split and damage your skin. Test the product on the back of your hand before using unless you are sure it is a skindeep approved product such as anything in the Moorspa line.

Avoid scrubs with beads which are not bio-degradable if you love the planet.

Do not apply makeup immediately after exfoliating.

Do not exfoliate after shaving, plucking or chemically or electrically removing facial hair.

Always work with warm water when exfoliating.

Never use body exfoliators on your face.

What if you over-exfoliate?

Exfoliation side effects can be mild to severe.

Products like chemical peels are actually a form of heavy exfoliation that can be very damaging and irritating. Exfoliating is a critical part of a good skin care routine but needs to be done carefully. Most exfoliation side effects are mild and temporary.

Over-exfoliation occurs when you scrub too vigorously and irritate the skin, or if you’ve used concentrations of alpha or beta hydroxy acids products that are too strong. Dryness, redness, flaking, and itchy skin are common complications. These side effects aren’t likely to leave any lasting damage. Don’t use any other form of exfoliation until your skin has completely healed. This includes all facial and body scrubs, microdermabrasion, and any products that contain alpha or beta hydroxy acids like lactic, salicylic or glycolic acid.

You should also avoid retinoids.

Very low concentrations of Vitamin C and other antioxidants can be helpful. In addition, moisturizing over-exfoliated skin is essential. Look for all natural formulations that don’t contain irritating or artificial ingredients. Pure products such as liquid coconut oil and even vaseline will help the healing process.

To help heal your skin, use products with absolutely no additives or preservatives and pat—don’t rub. Don’t use toners or abrasives. Do use gentle oil-free cleansers and moisturizers.

Final thoughts

You can avoid most exfoliation side effects by learning how to exfoliate properly. Don’t use too much pressure. Think “polish”; not “scrub.” It can take a few hours or until the next day before you realize that, “OOPS, I over-exfoliated.” Never exfoliate twice for a “better result.”



  1. I’m right there with you Zack, man. I’m also going to try the pumpkin peel. Great review article here.

    • Thanks and enjoy!

  2. Thanks for finally writing about exfoliation-something I can’t get my own Dermatologist to discuss! I have oily skin with pustular acne. Is there ANY exfoliation I can use?

    • Hi Zack and thank for visiting the site! You can use an enzymatic exfoliation that doesn’t dry as a hard mask. Our pumpkin peel,kept nice and moist with a spritz of herbal toner would be ideal. When you remove the pumpkin mask, do it super carefully so as not to remove the heads of any pustules. If you DO – don’t squeeze anything-apply a big “blop” of glycolic lotion to dry those spots up. If you are very careful about areas of pustule formation, you should be able to avoid breaking the pustules. I’m sure this is why the Dermatologist has shied away from this discussion. Email me if you have any further questions on this. Best, Dr.Kim

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