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How To Exfoliate Skin and Prevent Skin Damage

Expertly reviewed by Dexter Macalintal, MD · Internal or General Medicine

Written by China Logarta · Updated Aug 19, 2022

    How To Exfoliate Skin and Prevent Skin Damage

    Skincare is an integral part of overall health. Our skin protects the body and inner organs from environmental elements like the sun, wind, and dirt. It’s the first line of defense against germs. Naturally, we have to take care of our skin by practicing good skin care. One of the methods that people usually do as part of their skincare routine is exfoliation, which removes dead skin cells. But one of the things we have yet to learn is how to exfoliate skin in a safe way. This technique purportedly makes your skin look brighter and allows the skin to absorb products better. Yet, overdoing it or using the wrong products can leave your skin raw and more prone to skin damage or conditions like acne.

    What Is Exfoliation?

    Exfoliation refers to the process of removing dead skin cells from the outermost layer of the skin. Knowing your skin type helps you choose the correct exfoliation method for you. Your skin can be any of the following:

  • Sensitive (stings or burns after product use)
  • Normal (clear, not sensitive)
  • Dry (flaky, itchy, or rough)
  • Oily (shiny, greasy)
  • Combination (dry/oily)
  • The methods for how to exfoliate skin are mechanical, which uses tools like a washcloth, brush, sponge, or scrub; and chemical, which uses substances like alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids to dissolve dead skin cells.

    How To Exfoliate Skin


    In this method, with your tool, apply the product using small, circular motions for about 30 seconds. Take care to use only short, light strokes especially if you are using a brush or sponge. Finally, rinse off with lukewarm water.


    The chemical route usually involves using alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids, which work by dissolving dead skin cells. Alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) is normally used to peel all skin types with low risk. It’s also often used in treatments for acne, scars, roughness, age spots, and hyperpigmentation. Can also improve wrinkled skin.

    Some research suggests that it can prevent UV-induced skin tumors, and has antioxidant properties. Its ability to “reverse” aging lies in its ability to increase skin cell renewal. However, there are studies that say AHA can heighten skin sensitivity to UVB- irradiation, and uneven pigmentation due to sun exposure. Whether it helps or harms depends on the AHA concentration in the product.

    Another chemical for how to exfoliate skin is beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), another commonly used ingredient in skin products. BHA may help reduce wrinkles and fine lines, enhancing skin texture. Listed on skincare labels usually as salicylic acid, the Food and Drug Administration deemed it safe to use when formulated to avoid irritation and when formulated to avoid increased sun sensitivity”. 

    How To Exfoliate Skin Safely

    So you don’t end up damaging your skin when exfoliating, consider the following:

    What skin care products are you already using?

    Certain meds and OTC products cause the skin to be more sensitive or even peel. Retinoid creams or anything containing retinol or benzoyl peroxide could worsen dry skin or even cause acne breakouts.

    Which exfoliation method is best for your skin type?

    Dry, sensitive, or acne-prone skin may just need a mild exfoliator and washcloth. Mechanical exfoliation might abrade this type. Meanwhile, those with oily or thicker skin could opt for stronger chemical treatments or mechanical exfoliation. However, keep in mind that you should steer clear of chemical or mechanical exfoliation if you have a darker skin tone or if you observe dark spots on your skin after burns, bug bites, or acne breakouts. 

    How gentle are you being with your skin?

    One of the most important things about how to exfoliate skin safely is applying the exfoliator gently. From the tool you use to the temperature of the water, take great care of your skin.

    Don’t forget to moisturize

    Exfoliation tends to dry the skin. Always follow your exfoliation routine with moisturizer.  

    Some other tips to remember for how to exfoliate skin safely:

    • The more aggressive your method, the less it needs to be done.
    • Avoid over-exfoliating as it could lead to redness and irritation.

    Key Takeaways

    Taking care of your skin is important. Apart from the practical purpose it serves, skincare helps us feel better about ourselves and makes us feel confident about the face we show to the world. Learning how to exfoliate skin safely can help us do this.

    Learn more about Skin Health here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Expertly reviewed by

    Dexter Macalintal, MD

    Internal or General Medicine

    Written by China Logarta · Updated Aug 19, 2022

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