How often should you exfoliate your face? Plus the best face scrubs to try for your skin

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Chloe Burcham
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We all know that a good exfoliation works wonders at sloughing away dull skin cells and revealing the brighter skin beneath. But how often should you really exfoliate your face?

Exfoliation is an important part of any skincare routine. Why? It works to cleanse and purify clogged pores, slough away dead skin cells, boost circulation and even help your skincare products penetrate deeper into the skin. 

But how often should you exfoliate your face and which are the best products to use? Here Dr Howard Murad, board certified dermatologist and founder of Murad Skincare and Dr Emma Wedgeworth, consultant dermatologist and Clinique UK ambassador reveal all you need to know about exfoliation…    

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Chemical vs. physical exfoliators 

Exfoliating techniques and formulas have come a long way since the days of St Ives Apricot Scrub. 

“Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin” explains Dr Emma Wedgeworth. “This can either be done by physically rubbing them off (just like removing peeling paint from a wall with sandpaper). Alternatively, chemical exfoliation dissolves away the outer layer, by targeting the glue between structures”.

Physical exfoliators include scrubs, grains and powders that help to polish and resurface the top layer of skin. While these are the more traditional methods of exfoliation, they can divide opinion with some experts believing they are in fact too harsh on the skin.

“Avoid harsh scrubs with irregular shaped granules such as apricot kernels as they can scratch skin and even spread infection” says Murad. “Polished jojoba beads are ideal for a physical exfoliator as they are smooth and gently roll across the skin, without causing irritation. What’s better is that they’re kind to the environment and bio-degradable.” 

On the other hand, chemical exfoliators and exfoliating acids work to dissolve dull and dead skin cells, without the need for overzealous scrubbing. “Alpha hydroxy acids help to smooth the skin, unclog blocked pores and encourage skin cell turnover while beta hydroxy acids help reduce breakouts and inflammation, control bacteria and keep pores clear,” says Murad. “If you have a skin type that tends to be prone to redness or have open visible capillaries or thread veins, a chemical exfoliant is just as effective but less stimulating and irritating.”

“Blemish prone skin and oilier skin types benefit from exfoliation, because dead skin cells and excess oil can block pores which contributes to break outs,” says Dr Wedgeworth. “Salicylic acid is best, because it can penetrate down into the pore. AHAs are often used to help tackle signs of ageing and give a brighter, more even complexion”.  

What about sensitive skin types? Look for plant enzymes containing fruit extracts like papaya, pineapple and pumpkin. These clever ingredients work like pac-men, breaking the bonds that hold together dull and dead cells, allowing them to break up and be washed away – without causing irritation or sensitivity. 

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How often should you exfoliate your face?

It’s the age-old question – and one that still causes confusion. The general consensus leads us to believe that we should exfoliate one to two times a week, to encourage the removal of dead skin cells and reveal the brighter skin beneath. However many cleansers now include a small amount of AHAs and BHAs within their formula, helping to provide a gentle exfoliation with every wash. As these are wash-off products (and therefore more gentle on the skin) they are fine to be used every day.

“Exfoliating acids, peels and masks (containing ingredients such as lactic, glycolic and salicylic acids) are great chemical exfoliators and are designed to be used once or twice a week,” suggests Murad.

Over-using physical exfoliators can lead to creating micro-tears in the skin barrier, leading to loss of hydration and inflammation. While chemical exfoliation can cause redness, irritation and skin sensitivity if you become overzealous with your routine. 

It comes down to listening to your skin and adjusting your routine accordingly. If you experience redness or sensitivity, give your skin a break or switch to a more gentle formula. 

Shop the best exfoliators 

  • Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

    Murad AHA BHA Cleanser

    Containing a trio of glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids to thoroughly exfoliate, smooth and polish skin, this hardworking cleanser leaves skin clear, smooth and bright.

    Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser, £38

  • Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant

    PAULA'S CHOICE Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant

    Perfect for acne or blemish-prone skin, this efficacious exfoliator contains a super-strength of salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells both on the skin’s surface and within the pore. 

    Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant, £28

  • The Inkey List PHA Toner

    The Inkey List PHA Toner

    A great option for more sensitive skin types, poly-hydroxy acids work to gently exfoliate the upper layer of your skin whilst hydrating skin from within. Plus, it’s super affordable – win. 

    The Inkey List PHA Toner, £9.99

  • Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

    Kate Somerville ExfoliKate

    Combining papaya, pineapple and pumpkin enzymes together with lactic acid, this packs a punch in counteracting dullness, dryness and uneven skin tone by loosening and sloughing away dead, dulling cells to reveal the brighter skin beneath. 

    Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment, £21

  • Fresh Sugar Face Polish

    Fresh Sugar Face Polish

    If you’re a fan of a grainy texture then this iconic facial polish is perfect. The nourishing oils from the brown sugar and strawberry seeds also leave skin feeling velvety soft, smooth and hydrated.

    Fresh Sugar Face Polish, £21

  • Clinique Clarifying Lotion 3 for Oily Skin

    Clinique Clarifying Lotion

    Clinique’s clarifying lotions contain salicylic acid and come in different strengths so that you can tailor your formula to your individual skin type. 

    Clinique Clarifying Lotion, £18

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