You cleanse, you hydrate, you protect. These three steps address core skincare needs, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all. If your skin looks dull or its texture leaves something to be desired despite your efforts, you may have come to this realization on your own. In order to have skin that appears healthy and strong, exfoliation is also essential. You may already reach for a face scrub from time to time, but it’s important to learn how to exfoliate your face correctly, including finding the right frequency. Here, we’re teaching you about exfoliation benefits and sharing how to slough your skin for a radiant appearance.
What Is Exfoliation?
To help understand why exfoliating is necessary, first, you’ll need a quick biology lesson. Your skin is made up of cells, all of which have a set lifespan. The length of that cycle can differ based on your specific situation (where you live, what you put on your skin, genetics, etc.). On average, that lifespan is about four to six weeks. When skin cells die, they are shed from the surface of the skin, revealing the healthy new ones underneath.
In theory, this would all work seamlessly without you having to do anything. Unfortunately, sometimes those skin cells hang around too long or can build up in your pores, leading to dullness, blackheads, and even pimples. Exfoliation picks up the slack and aids the shedding process when it doesn’t happen naturally. It involves removing dead cells from skin’s surface either with a physical exfoliant (like a face scrub or exfoliating brush) or a chemical exfoliant (like a face peel or AHA serum).
5 Face Exfoliation Benefits
There are numerous exfoliation benefits for your face, in case you need more convincing to update your routine. The following five benefits will surely set you off on a search for the best face exfoliator.
1. Skincare products absorb better.
When you apply products on top of a layer of dead skin, they aren’t able to penetrate—at least not as well as they should. By exfoliating your skin, you remove the blockage and allow your products to absorb better and, thus, work better.
2. Skin feels smoother.
If your skin doesn’t feel smooth to the touch, it may be a sign that you need to exfoliate. Skin cell buildup tends to be uneven and gives skin a rough texture. That’s why you slough it away.
For smoother skin, we recommend using Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser. This gentle product softens, smooths, and refines skin without irritating its natural moisture barrier. It’s formulated with pearlstone, an exfoliant derived from volcanic ash.
3. Clogged pores are reduced.
As we mentioned, skin cell buildup is one of the (many) causes of breakouts and blemishes. You can exfoliate to help unclog those pores and prevent buildup in the first place.
4. Dull skin looks brighter.
Clearly Corrective Accelerated Clarity Renewing Ampoules
Glowing, radiant skin is the picture of health. Dead skin cells, on the other hand, have lost their glow. You can see how there could be an issue. When you don’t exfoliate, skin can look dull and become dry. What you need to do is exfoliate to reveal the brighter skin below. For this skin concern, turn to Clearly Corrective Accelerated Clarity Renewing Ampoules. The two-week brightening treatment features ampoules formulated with a blend of glycolic, lactic, and phytic acids (three alpha-hydroxy acids) to rejuvenate and renew skin. It brightens the appearance of dull skin for enhanced radiance and visibly evens skin tone.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: Pair the ampoules with Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution to take your bright skin routine to the next level. The serum helps visibly reduce dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and post-acne marks.
5. Makeup applies more evenly.
Makeup is often unforgiving in that if you have even a small patch of dry skin, your products will cling to that spot, acting like a beacon that draws everyone’s attention right there. Foundation, especially, tends to not pair well with dead skin cell buildup. The fix is to exfoliate it away so that your makeup is being applied to a smooth canvas.
How To Exfoliate Your Face
When it comes to how to safely exfoliate your face, there are a few different options. Whether you choose a scrub or an exfoliating face mask is up to you—and your skin type. Below, we’re breaking down how to exfoliate four different ways.
With an exfoliating cleanser:
Why not learn how to clean your face and exfoliate at the same time? That’s what exfoliating cleansers, face washes that offer either a chemical or physical exfoliating action, are for. They can be formulated with acids or manual exfoliants like seeds, nuts, or minerals. Either way, the cleanser will slough away dead skin cells in addition to washing off impurities, dirt, and oil.
An exfoliating face wash is a good option for all skin types, including sensitive skin . These formulas are typically very gentle and meant to be used daily. They easily slot into your skincare routine in place of any non-exfoliating cleanser.
Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser
Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser is one of our top recommendations. It’s formulated with Amazonian white clay and aloe to gently remove oil, dirt, and toxins while also exfoliating and softening skin. Apply the formula to damp skin using clean fingertips, then gently massage it over your face and neck in upward and outward circular motions before rinsing off.
With a chemical exfoliant:
How to exfoliate with a chemical exfoliator will vary quite a bit depending on the product you use. There are cleansers, moisturizers, serums, peels, and more, all formulated with chemical exfoliants. One option is Nightly Refining Micro-Peel Concentrate. It’s a concentrated peel that helps exfoliate skin overnight to reveal visibly refreshed and radiant skin—most of the work is done for you while you sleep. To use it, simply press several drops of the peel onto clean skin until absorbed. Follow with your serum and night cream.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: Much like cleansing, moisturizing after exfoliating is key. Make sure to smooth something nourishing onto your skin to replenish moisture.
With a face scrub:
Face scrubs are the classic when it comes to exfoliating. Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion, however, brings something new to the table. The scrub, which is inspired by professional micro-dermabrasion treatments, exfoliates for instantly smoother skin. With time, it also helps reduce the appearance of facial lines and pores. To use a scrub, take a nickel-sized amount and apply it to clean, damp skin in upward and outward motions for about 30 seconds. Rinse any residue off with cool water, then pat skin dry.
Facial Fuel Energizing Scrub
For men, who tend to have thicker, oilier skin, we recommend Facial Fuel Energizing Scrub. It contains apricot kernels to exfoliate skin and cleanse away impurities, plus it softens tough facial hair for a closer shave.
With a face mask:
If you can add a pampering element to any step in your skincare routine, we approve. That’s why exfoliating face masks are so great; you can show your skin (and yourself) a little TLC while also getting rid of those dead skin cells. Turmeric & Cranberry Seed Energizing Radiance Mask uses crushed cranberry seeds to gently exfoliate and visibly brighten dull, fatigued skin. It provides skin with an “instant facial” to leave it looking renewed and radiant. Apply the mask to clean skin and let it dry for 10 minutes. Relax while you wait; once time is up, rinse with warm water and massage skin using gentle circular motions—this is what helps the seeds exfoliate your face.
How Often Should You Exfoliate Your Face?
Skincare is rarely one-size-fits-all. There’s no guarantee that following the exact routine that keeps your best friend’s skin looking flawless will do the same for you. This is especially true of face exfoliation. Not everyone’s skin will agree with the same routine. It’s true that we all can benefit from regular exfoliating, but the right frequency for you is impacted by your skin type. The rules of exfoliation for every skin type tend to be as follows: Sensitive and dry skin types can handle it less frequently while normal and oily skin may be able to exfoliate more often.
Regardless of your skin type, however, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Start slow, exfoliating just once a week, and build up frequency if your skin responds well. Paying attention to your skin and its reaction is the best way to really care for it.
Keep in mind, the product you’re using will also play a role in how often you should exfoliate. We’re often asked, “Can you exfoliate your face daily?” The answer is, with certain products, you can. While an exfoliating mask may only be meant to be used three times per week, an exfoliating cleanser can complement your daily skin routine. Follow the instructions that coordinate with the product you’re using, and still, watch how your skin responds and adjust if needed.
Next: How to exfoliate your face is one topic, but how to use a body scrub is another. To make sure you know how to do both, read our article, How To Exfoliate Your Body.