Are You Using the Right Exfoliator for Your Skin Type?

Updated 04/05/19
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best exfoliators for every skin type
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Whether you’re an exfoliation junkie or consider double cleansing your form of exfoliation, you could be harming your skin if you’re not using the right type of skin-sloughing agent. We turned to the pros to give us all of the details on where most of us are going wrong. Thankfully, Vermén Verallo-Rowell, MD, dermatopathologist and founder of VMV Hypoallergenics, and Rianna Loving, esthetician and founder of Orgo, were more than happy give us a skin-type-by-skin-type breakdown.

Oily Skin

If you have oily skin, look for a physical exfoliator, like a scrub or a cleansing device. “You can control them by using lighter pressure, finer grains, or lower settings as needed,” Verallo-Rowell says. It’s easy to go overboard with physical exfoliators, which is why Loving also prefers scrubs that are not too abrasive. She recommends choosing light granules, like jojoba beads, to avoid damaging the skin.

No matter what your skin type, make sure you analyze the type of exfoliating beads that are in your product. Certain shapes can cause micro-tears in the skin and cause irritation.

Clarisonic Mia 2 $169
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The OG cleansing brush, this two-speed, deep-cleaning oscillating brush cleans six times better than hands alone. 

Dry Skin

“Dry skin types can benefit from exfoliators that remove dead, dull skin but also provide hydration,” Loving says. Try something with the finest grains in a creamy, lotion texture, one that contains moisturizing oils or one that’s honey-based. “Scrubs that contain honey are perfect not only to exfoliate but moisturize as well,” Loving says.

VMV Hypoallergenics Moisture Rich Mild-Mannered Cleansing Scrub $24
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In this cleansing scrub, finely milled pumice grains slough away dead skin while real coconut oil nourishes and acts as a lipid barrier on your skin to keep moisture locked in. 

Combination Skin (Normal to Dry)

If your combination skin is more on the normal-to-dry side, you also have options. Verallo-Rowell says, “You’re lucky enough to be able to use any exfoliator of your choice.” Since your skin type is less sensitive to exfoliation and you won’t be irritating any acne lesions, Verallo-Rowell recommends bumping up the exfoliating power with a medium-grade scrubbing particle.

Sugar Face Polish(R) 1 oz/ 30 g
Fresh Sugar Face Polish $25
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Good enough to eat, this scrub made with pure brown sugar and real strawberries (vitamin C) buffs and brightens within minutes.

Combination Skin (Normal to Oily)

Combination skin that’s normal to oily can stick with a physical exfoliator or try a light chemical exfoliator. If you prefer to a product that will treat the oil, use a cleanser with alpha hydroxy acid (or AHA). “Using cleansers with AHA will gently exfoliate, preventing pores from getting clogged with oil and dead skin cells,” Loving says.

Pixi Glow Peel Pads $22
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These 20% glycolic acid peel pads resurface the skin for a serious glow while rose water helps hydrate and soothe.

Acne-Prone Skin

“Acne lesions are inflamed, so they need extra care to minimize further irritation,” Verallo-Rowell says. Avoid abrasive physical exfoliators with harsh grains, sugar, or salt, and facial brushes as much as possible. “If you have breakouts, use a chemical exfoliator to fight oil and acne from a deeper level in the skin,” says Loving. “AHA and BHA acids (like salicylic, lactic, and glycolic) will be most effective. These will not only fight oil and remove pore-clogging dead skin cells but also improve skin's texture and repair acne scars.”

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Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser $16
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This acid-based cleanser is designed to dissolve dead skin cells while extracts of chamomile, yarrow, sage, and St.-John's-wort soothe and rejuvenate skin. It can be a bit drying, so only use up to three times a week.

Mature Skin

Older skin tends to be sensitive and dry, but Verallo-Rowell says it still should be exfoliated in order to increase cellular renewal and allow active ingredients to penetrate the skin. Try a physical exfoliator with super-fine particles, like a microdermabrasion scrub, and aim to work in chemical exfoliation as well, “Chemical exfoliators can penetrate skin deeper to improve the appearance of fine lines,” Loving says. Products that pack a combination of AHA and BHA acids will be your best bet.

Derma E Microdermabrasion Scrub $33
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Just add water to this scrub made with Dead Sea salt to reveal fresh skin cells and slough away dullness.

Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin types should avoid chemical exfoliation and most physical exfoliators too. Loving says that light powders, like rice and oatmeal, are the safest option. Verallo-Rowell also points out that if you have truly sensitive skin due to a medical condition, you should skip the scrubbing all together.

SW Basics Exfoliant $24
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This dry mix of gentle oat flour and almond flour works as a soft exfoliant, while a bit of sea salt does the heavy lifting. Mix with water to create a bespoke cleanser. If the salt gets to be too rough, consider grinding up your own oat flour mixture with steel cut oats at home.

This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

While we're on the topic, take a look at these tips for exfoliating your scalp.

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