An Exfoliation Guide For Sensitive Skin

Sable Yong
Getty / GretaMarie

Getty / GretaMarie

Skin is a fickle thing, especially the skin on your face. It’s flaky but can’t take a good scrubbing without revolting in redness and blemishes. What’s a girl to do? Basically you have to sneak up on exfoliation. Give your skin a sneaky scrub so the flake fly free but your skin doesn’t get upset at all with any harsh scrubbing. What we mean it, alternate methods of exfoliation—chemical exfolation—is probably the best way to go. Yeah, you may miss the satisfying feeling of a good scrub-down, but your skin will thank you for it when it gets glowing with nary a grain of sugar or shell particle in sight.

MORE: How to Avoid Over-exfoliating Your Skin

Get friendly with acids. Sounds scary, but totally isn’t. Glycolic acid, or AHAs and BHAs, are your friend. These are chemical exfoliants that remove dead cells from your skin gently and gradually reveal fresh baby skin underneath. They also help with blackhead prevention, since it eliminates the debris on the surface of your skin, thus there’s no gunk to fill your pores, turning into blackheads. You can find glycolic acid in cleansers, toners, serums, and chemical peels. We recommend starting out slow and seeing where that takes you. Don’t want to overshoot it with a chemical peel, lest you end up red in the face.

Rub, don’t scrub. If you’ve ever felt a dampened konjac sponge, you’re probably wondering how in the heck such a soft thing can properly exfoliate. Well, believe it or not, it does. A classic washcloth works in the same manner. With gentle scrubbing on a regular basis, you’ll be flake-free without even realizing it.

Erase your flakes. There are some very new and exciting exfoliators out there that look just like any old clear gel cleanser. When you rub it on your face and let sit for a couple seconds, it’ll turn a milky color, emulsifying and bonding to your loose keratin cells which then pill up and rub away when you rub said exfoliator gel around your face. The resulting bits look like eraser dust that you can then just rinse off with lukewarm water, and feel how soft your skin has become—no granules of anything required.

Or try peeling them off. There’s something very satisfying about a peel-off mask, especially when you can get the whole thing in one piece. They’re great for sucking the gunk out of your pores and tightening them as well. But a beneficial side effect of using a peel-off mask is that it also sticks to your loose dead skin cells and peels those off too. Blemishes AND dry skin in one go—it’s a win-win!

Add fruit to your routine. Sounds weird and potentially messy but fruits have lots of natural acids that are great for gentle (and natural) exfoliation. Papaya is a great one as well as strawberry (lemons are a bit too acidic). Fruits are also full of antioxidants and vitamins that your skin will drink right up. Whether you’re choosing an exfoliator with botanical/fruit actives to do the job or going the DIY route by making your own exfoliant with fruit—be careful when using straight-up fruit since the undiluted acids can be stronger than you think. Always mix with a base (water, yogurt, oils) and don’t leave on for longer than 10 minutes; and If it’s starts to sting, rinse—whichever comes first.

MORE: 10 Things No One Tells You About Exfoliation