Exfoliating away dead skin cells is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your skin - but it can also be one of the most confusing.
Get it right and you’ll have glowing, healthy looking skin. But get it wrong and your face will look like you’ve attacked it with sandpaper!
For men, exfoliation gets even more complicated because you have to factor shaving into the equation as well!
Below we set out the benefits of exfoliation, and which exfoliator is the best one to use. We look at how to exfoliate for your skin type, and how often you should exfoliate your face.
Then we answer questions about shaving - whether it’s better to exfoliate before or after you shave. And finally, we show you the best way to exfoliate your face when you have a beard, and how to exfoliate if you want to encourage beard growth.
We want to make sure you get exfoliation right!
What are the benefits of exfoliation?
Exfoliation is the one step in your skincare routine that will really make your skin glow.
It eliminates dead skin cells, accelerates cell renewal and stimulates your skin’s natural repair mechanism. This leads to an instant improvement in the appearance of your skin
- the texture of your face looks smoother
- there’s an improvement in overall skin tone, and your pores appear smaller
- it helps get rid of blackheads
- there’s less chance of ingrown hairs
- it allows for better absorption of your moisturizer, keeping your skin well hydrated
It also increases blood circulation to your face, bringing nutrients to the skin’s surface. This in turn leads to a healthy, vibrant and glowing complexion.
Why is it so important for men to exfoliate?
It’s the build-up of dead skin cells that can lead to annoying razor bumps and ingrown hairs when you shave. Exfoliating them away stops these from forming and goes a long way to improving the overall texture of your face.
And if you have a beard, exfoliation will keep beard dandruff at bay, improve the texture of your skin and keep your hair follicles clear and healthy, encouraging strong beard growth.
What can I use to exfoliate my face?
Exfoliation isn’t only limited to the usual grainy facial scrubs, which can be too harsh for your face, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Essentially there are two different types of exfoliant you can use – physical and chemical.
- Facial Scrubs
- Facial brushes and electronic cleaning devices
- Sponges or wash cloths
- Natural substances such as Alpha Hydroxy Acids, either included in your face wash or as a separate exfoliating lotion
- Professional chemical peel
What is the best way to exfoliate my face?
A lot depends on personal preference and your skin type, but we would always recommend a gentle, natural chemical exfoliant as the best way to go.
And here’s why…
Exfoliating Scrubs - the mechanical action of the exfoliating beads against the epidermis can cause micro-tears, making your face and body more susceptible to environmental aggressors and irritation.
But if you prefer the satisfying process of manually sloughing off dead skin cells try to choose one that is cream-based and suitable for sensitive skins too. Avoid fruit pits and nut shell in scrubs. The jagged particles can damage your skin’s natural barrier. Instead choose a scrub based on smooth, round granules.
Facial brushes and electronic cleaning devices, sponges, wash cloths – whilst these tools can be quite effective, there’s always the risk of spreading bacteria unless you keep them scrupulously clean.
Professional chemical peel – not for the faint hearted! Whilst a professional peel is undoubtedly the most effective exfoliator, it is also the harshest. Always go to a trusted and certified practitioner and take extra care of your face in the sun afterwards. The risk of developing sun spots and sun damage are greatly increased after a chemical peel.
Natural chemical exfoliants - (less scary than they sound!)
A natural chemical exfoliant, and a policy of ‘little and often’ is a much kinder way to go.
Gently exfoliating everyday using a mild Alpha-Hydroxy Acid, like Glycolic Acid or Lactic Acid, is the best option for your face. These can be found incorporated in a face wash, or as a separate exfoliating lotion.
Natural chemicals tend to exfoliate in a much more uniform way. On top of that, Alpha Hydroxy Acids also act as antioxidants, which stimulate the skin’s natural repair mechanisms and collagen production, as well as gently removing dead skin cells.
So we advocate gently exfoliating everyday using our Daily Face Wash which contains a mild AHA, Lactic Acid. Leaving it on your skin for an additional two minutes will increase the exfoliating effect.
Customer tip: Apply a pea-sized amount of Daily Face Wash to your dry face just before stepping into the shower. Leave it to work for a few minutes, then lather and rinse.
And what works best for your face applies in the same way to the rest of your body. Whether your exfoliating your chest, your legs or your back it’s always best to use a gentle natural chemical exfoliant.
How often should I exfoliate my face?
This depends on the method you are using and also the sensitivity of your face.
As a general rule the following schedule should apply:
Is it better to exfoliate in the morning or in the evening?
There isn’t an exact answer to this question. Again it depends on the exfoliant you’re using and how your skin normally behaves.
If you’re using our exfoliating Daily Face Wash, then it’s perfectly safe to use both am and pm. In the morning it will clear away any excess oil that has appeared during the night and brighten your face to start your day. At night, as well as washing away the debris and sweat of the day, it will eliminate any dead skin cells that have built up.
However, if you’re using a facial scrub exfoliator in the morning then it’s important not to be too rough or you’ll walk around with bright red skin all day! So night time use would be safer.
If you’re planning on using a stronger chemical exfoliating lotion, a night time application would be safer as some could irritate your face in sunlight. Erring on the side of caution would be our way to go.
Should I exfoliate or wash my face first?
Our recommendation would be to use an exfoliating face wash like our Daily Face Wash so that you can do both at the same time.
But if you are using an exfoliating scrub it’s better to use that first, and then when you wash your face afterwards you can get rid of any annoying particles that have remained on your skin.
For more on how exfoliation fits into your daily skincare routine see our article: "The BEST SKINCARE ROUTINE for MEN: why less is more".
Is it possible to exfoliate too much?
If you are using an exfoliating scrub it should only be used once or twice a week maximum. Over-exfoliating will dry out and irritate the surface of your face, ultimately causing it to produce more oil to compensate.
But if you are using a more gentle exfoliator then it’s safe to use twice every day.
Exfoliation and your skin type
I have sensitive skin. How often should I exfoliate, and what should I use?
You may need to experiment to see what your skin will tolerate without it becoming too dry. But it’s best to steer clear of any rough grainy scrubs, or strong chemical exfoliants.
If you'd like more advice on taking care of sensitive skin check out our "Life Enhancing Guide to Calming Your Sensitive Skin".
What about other skin types?
Dry skin - You need to avoid any strong exfoliants that will irritate your face and cause it to dry out even more.
So, as with sensitive skins, a gentle exfoliating face wash is your best answer.
Oily skin - Exfoliating every day can be very beneficial to an oily skin. It will effectively unclog pores, reduce blackheads and decrease the chance of breakouts.
However, one of the most common errors in those with oily skin is over-exfoliation using harsh agents. This will dry out and irritate the surface of your skin, ultimately causing it to produce more oil to compensate. And a vicious circle will be created.
Again, this can be avoided by using a gentle exfoliating face wash.
How often should I exfoliate if I have oily skin?
Try to adopt a policy of ‘little and often’, exfoliating very gently every day using an exfoliating face wash. Your face will get all of the immediate benefits of exfoliation, but without prompting any irritation or unwanted increase in oiliness.
Can I exfoliate if I have acne?
If you have acne you may think that exfoliation isn't a good idea, and it's true that scrubbing away at skin that’s already red and inflamed is not wise.
However, exfoliating away dead skin cells is extremely important in the treatment of acne. This is because acne-causing bacteria actually thrive on dead skin cells.
Exfoliation not only limits the number of cells that remain on your face but also reduces the amount of time they remain. Both of these benefits help to remove a key factor in the cause of acne.
But if you have acne-prone skin, you should avoid grainy scrubs at all costs! They can inflame your skin through excessive scrubbing action - and irritating an already inflamed skin is not a good idea.
Whilst facial brushes and sponges can be a breeding ground for more bacteria.
Acne-prone skin types should stick to gentle chemical exfoliants, which dissolve the glue that holds dead skin cells together – without any irritating scrub action.
While all chemical exfoliants are excellent at this, one is perfectly formulated to help in the treatment of acne: Salicylic Acid.
Most people who suffer from acne also have an increased rate of sebum or oil production. Salicylic acid is most soluble in oil, and so this ingredient can easily travel deep into pores.
In addition, Salicylic Acid is:
Salicylic Acid tackles the acne cycle from multiple sides, which is why this ingredient is so effective.
How often should I exfoliate my face if I have acne?
As with other skin types, we recommend exfoliating very gently every day.
However, you know your skin better than anybody. Start using a lotion, or gentle face wash, containing Salicylic Acid twice a week, and if you have no adverse reactions you can build up the number of days from there.
Exfoliation and shaving
Should I exfoliate before or after shaving my face?
You should definitely exfoliate before you shave. Removing the dead skin cells beforehand means you can shave with less pressure, and so less chance of irritation – and you can avoid ingrown hairs. But again, gentleness is the key!
We've listed 9 tips on how to help you achieve a pain-free shave in our article here, and gentle exfoliation is definitely one of them.
What’s the best way to exfoliate my face if I shave?
Shaving already provides quite a rigorous mechanical exfoliation of your face in the beard area, so using a rough, harsh exfoliant before you shave will cause more irritation than is necessary.
The best option is to use a gentle exfoliating face wash all over your face. This will give your entire face the benefit of exfoliation but without over-sensitising the beard area prior to shaving.
Our Daily Face Wash will do an excellent job of removing the dead skin cells, but without making the area dry or sensitised.
Exfoliation and your beard
How do I exfoliate my face when I have a beard?
Beard dandruff can ruin even the sharpest look! It appears because the facial hair creates a barrier to any skincare that you use. While the rest of your face is smooth, nourished and hydrated by your skincare, the skin under your beard becomes dry and flaky, and extremely itchy!
So bearded guys need to make some adjustments.
The following two steps, done daily, will banish any existing dandruff, while strengthening your skin to prevent further flaking.
Firstly, exfoliate with a beard exfoliator brush. The brush will lift all the ready-to-flake skin from your face.
Secondly, clean with an exfoliating lactic-acid facial wash – like our Daily Face Wash - which will naturally dissolve the dead skin that the brush has lifted up.
The combination of the two is the best way to exfoliate under a beard. Try to avoid exfoliating scrubs as the particles can become trapped in your beard, and very difficult to remove!
How do I exfoliate my face for beard growth?
Regular exfoliation will not only make the skin under your beard feel more comfortable and less itchy it will also encourage the hair to grow. Getting rid of dead skin cells will keep your hair follicles clear and healthy, encouraging strong beard growth.
If you already have a beard then simply follow the two steps above every day to invigorate your existing facial hair.
And check out our guide "How To Trim Your Beard Like A Pro" so that you always look sharp whatever stage of growth you're at.
And if you’re just starting out, then exfoliate daily with a gentle exfoliating face wash to stimulate the hair follicles and encourage a full and healthy beard to grow.
The Takeaway on Exfoliation
GENTLY DOES IT
The more aggressive the method, the less it should be done – and the more care you need to take. Aggressive methods are not our preferred way to exfoliate, but if you go for it, make sure that you space treatments out to avoid harming your skins natural barrier. And always be scrupulous about applying sunscreen afterwards.
Ultimately though we would always recommend a policy of ‘little and often’ to get the maximum benefits of exfoliation, with no downside.