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How To Exfoliate Blemish-Prone Skin

If you have acne-prone skin, exfoliating is a must. Ahead, learn how to exfoliate acne-prone skin for a clearer, healthier-looking complexion.

Acne can be frustrating to deal with, especially if you’re still experiencing breakouts as an adult. If you have blemish-prone skin, you probably already know that acne cleansers and spot treatments can help reduce your breakouts. But there’s another treatment that can help promote clearer, more even-looking skin, and it’s one you may not have considered: exfoliation.

There are two different types of exfoliation—chemical and physical—and both can help treat blemishes and clear clogged pores. As with all things skincare, though, it’s important to know how to exfoliate your face properly to avoid irritation and see visible results. Whether you’re better off using a chemical exfoliant or a face scrub depends on several factors, including your skin type and what kind of blemishes you have. To help, we’ve put together a guide discussing the different types of exfoliants that are safe for blemish-prone skin and how best to use them. Read on to learn everything you need to know about safely exfoliating blemish-prone skin for a clearer appearance.

Tip #1:

Look For Gentle Exfoliating Cleansers For Mild Acne Blemishes

While many factors—including your hormones, lifestyle, and skin type—can influence acne, all blemishes have the same underlying cause: clogged pores. Pores can become clogged when dead skin cells, dirt, and excess oil build up and get stuck within the follicle. Exfoliating can help clear this debris and minimize the risk of developing blackheads, whiteheads, and more severe blemishes. Mild exfoliants are ideal for those with blemish-prone skin, as anything too harsh has the potential to worsen your breakouts.

Mild mechanical exfoliants, including fine-grit face scrubs, are ideal for those with oily skin. We recommend reaching for a gentle face scrub for acne, such as Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser. This detoxifying cleanser with Amazonian white clay and diatomaceous earth removes pore-clogging dirt and oil without stripping the skin. When used regularly, the effective formula helps minimize the appearance of enlarged pores for fresh, healthy-looking skin.

To use this cleanser, apply a nickel-sized amount to damp skin. Use your fingertips to lightly massage the foaming formula over your face in circular motions. Without applying too much pressure, continue rubbing the formula over your face and neck, focusing on problem areas, like the nose and chin. Once you’re finished, rinse with lukewarm water to remove all residue and pat (don’t rub) your face dry with a clean towel.

Tip #2:

Try a Mild Chemical Exfoliant For Active Breakouts or Sensitive Skin

If you have active breakouts or sensitive skin, avoid any manual exfoliation and reach for a gentle chemical exfoliant, such as salicylic acid, instead. Salicylic acid is a type of beta-hydroxy acid that dissolves the bonds that hold dead skin cells together to allow for gentle exfoliation. It’s unique in that it’s lipid-soluble, so it can penetrate deep into clogged pores to break up the sebum, dirt, and bacteria trapped within. Research also indicates that salicylic acid can reduce oil production, leading to more balanced and less blemish-prone skin over time.

Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment

Determining how often to exfoliate depends on your skin type and the formula. That said, it’s generally best to begin slowly and adjust usage depending on how your skin reacts, since over-exfoliating can worsen irritation. Start by swapping out your regular face wash for an acne cleanser. We recommend Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment, which contains salicylic acid and ginger root essential oil. The effective formula reduces the appearance of active blemishes and helps prevent new breakouts from forming for clearer-looking skin.

Morning and night, apply a dime-sized amount of this effective cleanser to damp skin. Use your fingertips to work the lightweight formula into a foamy lather. Massage it over your face to thoroughly cleanse your skin, then rinse with lukewarm water.

Tip #3:

Target and Treat Active Breakouts

If you have any active pimples, such as cysts or pustules, we recommend avoiding physical exfoliants until the blemish heals. This type of acne is commonly associated with scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH. Irritating the blemish, like with a face scrub, can worsen the breakout.

When you have an active breakout, it’s best to reach for a spot treatment to help shrink the pimple safely. Simply dab a small amount of your preferred spot treatment onto the affected area daily until the pimple heals. If you notice any dryness or irritation, reduce usage.

Tip #4:

Keep Your Skin Hydrated

When you have breakouts, it can be tempting to skip moisturizer in the hopes that drying out your skin will clear your breakouts. However, that’s not the case: Your skin actually produces more sebum when it’s dehydrated. This excess oil can clog your pores and lead to more breakouts. On the other hand, lightweight moisturizers formulated for acne-prone skin can help clear your skin over time. All skin types can use Ultra Facial Cream, which provides lasting hydration for healthy-looking skin.

During active breakouts, adjust your routine as follows: Immediately after cleansing, replenish your skin with a gentle toner, such as Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion. This iconic formula (a Kiehl’s essential since 1964) with cooling menthol helps balance and soothe oily skin after cleansing. Then, restore hydration with a non-comedogenic moisturizer, like Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion. This lightweight formula with salicylic acid and vitamin B3 (also known as niacinamide) helps diminish acne blemishes and prevents new ones from forming. It also helps minimize roughness and dullness over time. Apply liberally to clean, dry skin to promote a clearer, more even appearance.

Tip #5:

Address Scarring With a Treatment Once Your Skin Is Clear

If you’ve dealt with frequent breakouts in the past, there’s a good chance you’ll experience some degree of scarring, especially if you have a darker skin tone. Thankfully, there are treatments that can help minimize the appearance of scars and post-blemish marks. Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution helps correct a variety of discolorations, including dark spots and post-blemish marks. Over time, it helps visibly brighten dull-looking skin.

Another effective treatment for scarring is microdermabrasion, a process designed to thoroughly exfoliate skin and stimulate the growth of new, healthy skin cells. Note that this treatment should only be used once the skin is clear of active pimples.

Professional microdermabrasion is typically done in a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon’s office, but you can reap some of the same benefits using a targeted scrub at home. Try Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion, which instantly smooths the skin and minimizes the appearance of dark marks and discolorations over time.

We recommend using this effective scrub no more than three times per week. When you do, apply a nickel-sized amount to damp skin and massage lightly over your face for about a minute, then rinse thoroughly. We also recommend avoiding other blemish exfoliators when using this to help minimize the chance of irritation. Instead, after rinsing, apply a gentle, soothing moisturizer to calm your skin and restore hydration.

Tip #6:

Keep Pores Clean With a Clay Mask

Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask

While not strictly an acne face scrub, a clay mask, such as Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask, can be a great addition to your weekly skincare routine. This purifying face mask (an Allure Best of Beauty 2020 winner) is formulated with Amazonian white clay, aloe vera, and vitamin E. It helps to draw out impurities from within pores to detoxify congested skin.

To use it, apply a thin layer to damp skin after cleansing, focusing specifically on problem areas like the T-zone. Allow the mask to dry for approximately 10 minutes, then gently remove it with a warm, wet towel. The act of removing the mask provides gentle exfoliation, while the mask itself minimizes surface oil production by 46.7% and reduces the appearance of large pores.* Use it once a week or as needed to refine and detoxify skin.

Based on results two hours after use vs. untreated skin.

I. Arif, Tasleem. “Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology vol. 8 455-61. 26 Aug. 2015, doi:10.2147/CCID.S84765

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