A Comprehensive Guide to Exfoliating

Aly Walansky


It’s safe to say that the majority of us are skin care-conscious enough to have already made a habit of regular exfoliation. Of course we have: The right exfoliation routine results in the kind of smooth, glowing skin that we just couldn’t achieve otherwise. However, the inevitable downside is that once we get hooked on exfoliating, it can be hard to stop ourselves from getting overzealous. In an effort to slough away dead skin cells and reveal a brighter complexion underneath, it’s easy to find yourself exfoliating way more frequently than recommended—which, of course, can do far more harm than good. Learning to exfoliate correctly can mean the difference between soft, gorgeous skin and a red, irritated mess. Here’s how to do it right.

Easy does it.
“Often we think that exfoliators that contain dry, tiny particles in them will exfoliate our skin better,” says dermatologist Dr. David Bank, author of “Beautiful Skin: Every Woman’s Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age” and Founder & Director of The Center For Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Mt. Kisco, NY. We can go ahead and place that myth definitively in the “false” category: Super scratchy exfoliants can actually do just that, scratching and abrading the surface of the skin. Surface abrasions can not only result in larger pores, but even invite debris and bacteria into the skin. No, thanks.

Stick to gentle ingredients.
Make it a general rule to avoid products containing sharp, hard particles, especially natural ingredients, such as ground walnut shells, apricot seeds, and oatmeal. These particles can all cause microscopic tears in the skin that can’t be seen with the naked eye, but result in unpleasant damage just the same. The best way to exfoliate for maximum benefit, Dr. Bank says, is not by scrubbing our faces at length with a rough touch, but rather to gently massage a soft exfoliating scrub into your already cleansed, damp face. Lightly rub the mixture around your nose, cheeks and chin—these are areas that tend to become irritated when pores are clogged, says Dr. Bank. Rub skin (again, gently!) for no longer than to three minutes to avoid irritation. Rinse with warm, tepid water until you don’t feel any more grains from the scrub, then gently pat your face dry.

Avoid loofahs at all costs.
Dr. Bank tells his patients that using traditional loofah scrubbers can prove to be irritating, especially to sensitive skin. Worse, they also become a fertile ground for bacterial growth. “The bacteria grows in these and then you put them on your face—this is just a recipe for disaster!,” Dr. Bank says. “Applying growing bacteria to your face can lead to irritation, a rash, or even an infection.” The perfect gentle alternative? Try a konjac sponge, like Boscia Konjac Cleansing Sponge. The natural (and naturally antibacterial) sponge, derived from konjac root, is so soft it can be used daily, even on the delicate undereye area.

Read more: 5 Better Tools for Cleaning Your Face (and How to Use Them)