How to Properly Exfoliate Your Legs, According to Dermatologists

exfoliate legs skin shower care

If you don’t have plans to wear a skirt anytime soon, there's a chance you’re neglecting a very important body care step: exfoliation. While it often goes overlooked, exfoliating can completely transform your legs—just like it does for your face. According to board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, proper exfoliation is a great way to "boost circulation and reduce the appearance of cellulite in the legs by removing dead, flaky skin cells resting on the surface of the skin.” While Engelman encourages exfoliating regularly, she warns of over-exfoliation, which happens when skin is less hydrated. So, dry-skinned folks, if you plan to exfoliate, remember also to hydrate! 

Bottom line: If you want truly gorgeous gams, it’s important that you regularly exfoliate them. To learn all about leg exfoliators (and how to remove dead skin from legs), we reached out to Engelman as well as board-certified dermatologist Tina Alster for tips on how to achieve silky, smooth skin.

Keep scrolling to learn how to exfoliate your legs.

Meet the Expert

  • Dendy Engelman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologic surgeon focusing on cosmetic enhancement procedures for both the face and body.
  • Tina Alster, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founding director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.

The Benefits of Exfoliating Your Legs

Exfoliating can give you the silky legs of your dreams. Our skin cells naturally replenish monthly, but sometimes dead skin cells can collect and dry, flaky patches of skin occur. In these cases, Alster says a little help becomes necessary. "While dry skin may simply need moisture, flaky surface skin cells can be removed with gentle exfoliation to provide a smoother skin surface and improve circulation." What's more, if you're looking to improve the look of cellulite on your legs, exfoliation may help. "By removing dead skin from cellulite-prone areas, skin will appear more toned," notes Alster.

Leg exfoliation can also help ward off shaving-related ingrown hairs. According to Alster, when dead skin cells remain on the skin, hair follicles can become blocked and lead to the development of ingrown hairs and inflammation (folliculitis). "Gentle leg exfoliation can reduce the risk of ingrown hairs and make shaving easier and less traumatic," she says.

Finally, combine your exfoliation with a massage to help boost circulation and reduce leg swelling. Alster says that, in general, good circulation improves skin surface color, texture, and function. "The more dependent areas (such as the ankles and feet) are prone to excessive dryness and swelling due to less effective circulation," she says. "Healthy circulation, however, promotes a healthy glow and gives legs a more youthful appearance."

How to Exfoliate Your Legs

  • Dry brush: Engelman says dry brushing is beneficial as it “increases circulation, which helps with cellulite, aids in lymphatics drainage, and exfoliates the skin.” To properly brush your body, Engelman recommends applying gentle pressure while brushing upward toward the heart. (For more detailed instructions on how to dry brush, check out our comprehensive guide to dry brushing).
  • Body polish: Follow up your dry-brushing routine with a multi-tasking body polish that works to cleanse, exfoliate, and smooth flaky and or bumpy skin. While this is a great treatment for all skin types, it works especially well for those with keratosis pilaris.
  • Apply oil: Immediately after polishing your legs, “hydrate with an oil to restore the skin’s moisture and build back the barrier,” Engelman says. Her go-to product is Bio-Oil ($13), a great option for those looking for a heavy dose of hydration.
  • Moisturize: Once the oil has been absorbed into your skin, Engelman recommends applying moisturizer to “reinforce the integrity of the skin’s moisture barrier.” Try Lather's Cooling Leg Lotion ($24), which offers a cooling sensation that we think is rather important considering the mini abrasions that are often a result of over-exfoliation or shaving.

Store-Bought Leg Exfoliators

Buff & Brighten Body Exfoliating Pads
SweetSpot Labs Buff & Brighten Body Exfoliating Pads $30.00

Use these exfoliating pads for silky legs on the go. Made with an AHA/BHA complex, it'll help keep ingrown hairs at bay if you're prone to them.

Be Luminous Exfoliator
Keys Soulcare Be Luminous Exfoliator $22.00

This powder to foam exfoliator gets activated by water and uses microgranules to gently slough away dead skin cells that are sitting on the skin's surface. The result? Skin that's polished and brightened.

Sustainable Exfoliating Bath Pouf
Cleanlogic Sustainable Exfoliating Bath Pouf $7.00

Give yourself a hefty dose of exfoliation from head to toe with this bath pouf from Cleanlogic. It's made with organic cotton and eco-friendly materials that'll leave your legs looking as good as new.

DIY Leg Exfoliators 

Looking to up your exfoliation game with ingredients you already own? Try a brown sugar and olive oil mix. "Brown sugar is a source of glycolic acid that's helpful in loosening dead skin cells while olive oil contains natural antioxidants that may help to protect the skin from environmental damage," explains Alster, who recommends this combo as a safe DIY option for exfoliating your legs.

How Often Should You Exfoliate?

Just like your face, there's a limit as to how much you should be exfoliating your gams, as excessive scrubbing can yield inflammation and trauma to the skin’s surface. While the frequency for skin exfoliation depends on your skin condition and individual sensitivity, Alster says that you can exfoliate one to times weekly if you're not a shaver. "It’s best to exfoliate in the bath or shower on wet skin, and don't forget to apply moisturizer after exfoliation to prevent dryness or irritation," she says.

Shaving exfoliates the skin, so if you shave every day, avoid exfoliating as frequently, as it can cause irritation.

Have dry, sensitive skin? Alster says to exfoliate legs every other week with a fine, gentle product like an AHA (think: glycolic or lactic acid). "Those with oily skin can more safely use a product with a BHA (such as salicylic acid) on a weekly basis," she explains. If you're concerned you over-exfoliated, look for skin that's tender to the touch and appears red and inflamed—that's a dead giveaway you've gone overboard. If this is the case, use a calming, gentle moisturizer and give it time to heal.

Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Keratosis pilaris: diagnosis and treatment.

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