The Best Exfoliation Method For Each Skin Type

Written by DiAnne Davis, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on January 29, 2020 No Comments

exfoliation for each skin type

As previously discussed in this blog post, regular exfoliation is a powerful way to maintain healthy looking and feeling skin. Patients regularly ask what the best exfoliation method is for their skin type, which is a great question Like all things skin care, what works for someone with an oily skin type can be ineffective or even detrimental for someone with a dry or sensitive skin type.

While we always recommend that patients speak directly to a dermatologist about their specific needs, there are some general guidelines when it comes to exfoliation different skin types. Here’s a brief overview of the best exfoliation methods for each skin type:

First: Know Your Skin Type

Understanding the basic traits and needs of your skin is the first step in properly caring for it. The 5 basic skin types are Normal, Oily, Dry, Combination, and Sensitive. Not sure what your skin type is? We wrote a great post to help people determine their skin type here.

Second: Understand Chemical vs. Mechanical Exfoliation

There are two primary ways to undertake at-home exfoliation: chemical exfoliation and mechanical exfoliation.

Chemical exfoliation uses topical formulations containing ingredients and enzymes like beta hydroxy acid (BHA) or alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) to remove the outer layer of the skin. The strength (or depth of skin removed) can range from mild to aggressive based on the concentration level of exfoliators found in the product.

Mechanical exfoliation (sometimes called manual or physical exfoliation) removes outer skin layers through abrasive friction. This means the old, dead skin is scrubbed or scraped off in a controlled manor. Mechanical exfoliation can be performed using an exfoliating brush, sponge, or a topical scrub containing some form of exfoliation granules.

Best Exfoliation Method By Skin Type

Normal Skin

Individuals with normal skin types who are not dealing with any chronic skin conditions can typically choose either method of exfoliation, both chemical and mechanical exfoliation will be safe and effective. Often the choice will come down to preference in terms of convenience. We often recommend normal skin patients to try a variety of different methods and settle on the one that works best for them.

Oily Skin

Oily skin types will benefit most from mechanical exfoliation using a brush or scrub as chemical exfoliators are less effective in removing built up oil. If using a scrub, make sure to apply using the fingertips in a small (light) circular motion. Brush users should stick to shorter or lighter strokes. Exfoliate for about 30 seconds before rinsing the skin with lukewarm (not hot) water.

Dry Skin

Exfoliation is important for dry or flaky skin. Avoid mechanical exfoliation on dry skin, because the process is drying and it can lead to micro-tears. AHAs are effective for dry skin.

Glycolic acid will help remove dead cells sitting on the surface of the skin and encourage healthy skin turnover. Follow up with an SPF and moisturizer after using glycolic acid. It can make the skin more prone to sun damage.

Combination Skin

Individuals with combination skin often benefit from doing both mechanical and chemical exfoliation. Combination skin types should never mix both exfoliation types in the same day. Instead specific days of the week should be designated as mechanical or chemical, often with a rest day between. Make sure to use a high-quality moisturizer if the skin feels dry after exfoliating.

Sensitive skin

Sensitive skin types should stick to chemical exfoliation as most mechanical methods will cause irritation or redness. There are many great mild chemical exfoliating products in lower concentrations that will exfoliate the skin without damaging or drying out the skin. Make sure to apply lightly with a gentle washcloth. Exfoliating once a week will often provide the most benefit to sensitive skin types.


DiAnne Davis, MD

DiAnne S. Davis, MD, FAAD is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist specializing in noninvasive facial rejuvenation, skin of color, hair loss, and cosmetic dermatologic surgery. Dr. Davis is fellowship-trained in cosmetic dermatology and laser surgery and is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), American Society for Dermatologic Surgeons (ASDS), the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS), the Women’s Dermatologic Society (WDS), Skin of Color Society, and the Texas Medical Association. She believes in a collaborative approach when it comes to helping her patients look and feel their best.


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