Everything You Need To Know About Exfoliating

Exfoliation. Some love it, some hate it and some avoid it like a pair of socks and crocs.

I’m in the first camp: I LOVE it (although to be clear, I do avoid socks and crocs). It feels amazing – as does anything where you’re getting rid of dead, dry stuff you don’t need. And as a dry skin bandit, exfoliating is key to my face not resembling snake skin boots (which I love on my feet, but not so much on my face). My skin is at its absolute prime the day after an exfo-sesh. I’m talking prime time TV – the very best. But the key, as with all skincare, is using the right exfoliation ingredients and products for you and your skin type.

So, for those of you that aren’t in the ‘love it’ camp (yet), I’m here to break it down like Eminem at the rap battle at the end of 8 Mile.

What is exfoliating?

Exfoliating removes dead skin cells. Yep, that’s it.

Why should you exfoliate?

Because you don’t need dead skin cells in your life! All they do is sit on your face, clog your pores, ruin your makeup, and make your skin look crusty and dry. By removing dead skin cells, you promote skin cell growth and rejuvenation. Plump, lush, fresh skin cells! YAS!

How often should you exfoliate?

Anywhere from 1-3 times per week. No more than 3 times per week. You hear me? NO more. You most certainly should NOT be doing it daily, so if you have any kind of daily face wash or cleanser that says ‘exfoliating’ or has ‘beads’ throw that in the trash like the trash-can emoji.

I can not stress enough that over-exfoliating is a thing. It’s practically a medical condition (well, it is in my book – which is a cute leather notebook with absolutely no medical training and a lot of skincare notes). It can be tempting to do because your skin feels AHA-MAZING (bit of exfoliation humour there for you) but resist! Have more self control than Seth Cohen waiting for Summer Roberts to fall in love with him (sorry, currently binging The O.C. – SO good).

I personally recommend exfoliating once a week, especially if you’re a first timer. As someone with dry, sensitive skin and an oily forehead, I do it once a week. Twice if I’m feeling cray-cray. (I live a wild life, I know.)

When should you exfoliate?

At night! As you’re removing a layer of skin, you can be a bit red and raw afterwards. Always schedule it as a PM activity. Trust me – you’ll be glowy and fresh in the morning.

How do you exfoliate?

That, my love, is the beauty of it. There are SO many ways to exfoliate. Below I’ve covered the 5 different ways-slash-ingredients you can use to exfoliate. Don’t be overwhelmed – I’ve broken it down so that you can find the product that’s going to work best for you, and given you my overall top 5 products if you end up feeling completely lost.

The Rules of Exfoliating

Before we get into it, let’s just cover a coupla ground rules. Remember: Rules Make Games Fun! (5 points for anyone who knows where that quote is from.)

Rule one: Always cleanse beforehand – You don’t exfoliate to remove your makeup and sunscreen, you exfoliate to remove old, dead skin cells, clear out your pores and promote skin cell growth (and not like a promoter that just hands out flyers at the train station – proper Kardashian-style promoting). Capiche?

Rule two: What you take out, you must put back in – Especially if you use a scrub or clay, make sure you hydrate afterwards ASAP

Rule three: Do it at night, 1-3 times per week – I know I already said that, but I really want to bang that message into your cute little head.

OK, ready? Let’s go! (FYI – I said that in a super fun, preppy cheerleader voice.)

1. AHAs: Lactic & Glycolic Acid (Chemical Exfoliant)

Remember our skincare ingredients lesson last year? No? Me neither – here’s the link for a full refresher. But in short, we talked about how alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as lactic and glycolic acid exfoliate the skin (well, I talked – you listened politely). Both acids are usually derived from natural substances, and they’re both super effective at deeply exfoliating, which in turn cleans pores, restores skin tone and gets those skin cells regenerating.

How do they do it? Essentially they penetrate the layers of your skin, then once they’re in, they separate, and break down dead skin cells. It’s a very thorough and science-y approach.

There is a difference between the two, the main being that lactic acid is generally softer than glycolic acid. In my humble-but-loud opinion, AHAs are the most effective exfoliation ingredient on the market. Both Go-To’s Exfoliating Swipeys (one of my all time favourite exfoliants) and Sunday Riley’s Good Genes use lactic acid, while Alpha’H’s Liquid Gold is a glycolic acid treatment. Personally, I agree that Glycolic Acid is an intense ingredient and while I’m a big fan of Liquid Gold glycolic acid treatment, I limit use to once a week max. You’ll find you don’t need it any more than that.

Alpha-H Liquid Gold  – Glycolic Acid

Alpha-H Liquid Gold – Glycolic Acid

Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys  – Lactic Acid
Sunday Riley Good Genes  – Lactic Acid Treatment

Sunday Riley Good Genes – Lactic Acid Treatment


2. BHAs: Salicylic acid (Chemical Exfoliant)

Your other option for a chemical exfoliant is BHAs, beta hydroxy acids. BHAs are said to be better suited to acne-prone skin. While AHAs love water, BHAs love oil, meaning they effectively bypass skin oils and dissolve the sebum and dead skin that can cause acne. Plus they have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties – ideal for acne-prone skin.

I sit in the AHA camp, as I have dry, sensitive skin. However if you do have acne-prone skin, a BHA product (like Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid) might be ideal for you. You can always try a product with a mix of AHA and BHAs, if you’re not sure.


3. Clay

First things first, it’s all fun and clay, until you dry your skin out. You have to be careful with clay and follow two strict rules:

  1. Do not clay before you go out to play

  2. What you take out, you must put back in

Anything clay-based is used to pull out all the gunk, dead skin, grime, grit, dirt, anything really that's chilling in your pores. Meaning: your skin often breaks out afterwards, is red and a bit tender, etc as the clay has just brought everything out/to the surface. And when I say everything, I mean the good stuff too (it basically just gets everything) so you must hydrate your skin IMMEDIATELY after with something soothing and hydrating, and then it’s time for bed and Netflix, not a party, due to mentioned redness etc.

My favourite (night) routine is Dr Jart Dermaclear Trans-foam Clay, followed by Summer Fridays Jet Lag. But an oil (like Face Hero) is another great hydrating option.

Origins Original Skin  – Retexturising Mask with Rose Clay

Origins Original Skin – Retexturising Mask with Rose Clay

Herbivore Pink Clay  – Exfoliating Floral Mask

Herbivore Pink Clay – Exfoliating Floral Mask

Dr Jart Dermaclear  – Trans-foam Clay

Dr Jart Dermaclear – Trans-foam Clay


4. Scrubs (Physical Exfoliant)

No, I don’t want no scrubs – unless they’re exfoliating scrubs.

I love a good physical exfoliant once a fortnight or so. Particularly as when using some chemical exfoliants, you might feel like it’s not actually removing the dead skin, and you might want to give your face a good scrub. Go for it! But PLEASE, I beg you, use a gentle scrub. You don’t want a scrub that tears your skin. Many a scrub is too harsh on the old skin cells, but I highly recommend the Frank Body Creamy Face Scrub and the Summer Fridays Overtime. They are both gentle and natural, and won’t micro-tear. The L’Oreal sugar scrubs are another good option – I’m a fan of the Glow and Nourishing scrub as the beads are granular (they’re sugar!), making them gentle on the skin.

(P.S. Fun fact: No Scrubs by TLC is my ringtone – has been for approximately 8 years.)


5. Microdermabrasion

Now, disclaimer: I haven’t tried microdermabrasion but I wanted to include it to put it on your radar, if that’s more your thing. I want you to have all the options, ya know?

Microdermabrasion is a procedure that uses tiny crystals, a diamond tip or another fancy-pants exfoliating surface to help remove the top layer of dead skin cells. The machine blasts the skin, buffing and polishing it as it goes. Some treatments also vacuum up the loose skin cells. Those skin cells are then replaced with new, fresh cells that make your skin look plump and lush! It takes 30-60 minutes, depending on where you go and which treatment you get. (If you’d like to know more, let me know!)


MY OVERALL TOP 5 EXfoliating Products:

  1. Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys

  2. Alpha-H Glycolic Acid

  3. Dr Jart Dermaclear Trans-foam Clay

  4. Sunday Riley Good Genes

  5. Summer Fridays Overtime Mask

And that’s it – exfoliation explained. If you have any Q’s, I’ll have A’s (or I’ll quickly Google it). As always, let me know if there are any products you think I should try!