Much Ado About Exfoliation: What You Need to Know

Exfoliation is perhaps one of the oldest beauty tricks in the book. It is believed that even the great Egyptian queen Cleopatra once bathed in milk and honey and used sea salt scrubs to keep her skin smooth and soft.

However, there’s no mystical secret behind exfoliation. When it comes to treating most skin types and conditions, exfoliation is an important element in any comprehensive routine and critical to maintaining glowing skin. To better understand why, let’s take a closer look at the science behind exfoliation and the many benefits of incorporating it into your skincare.

Exfoliation: 101

According to the International Dermal Institute, our skin produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 million new skin cells every single day. With so many new layers of skin being produced daily, it’s easy to imagine that our skin would need to shed some of the older, dead skin cells to make room for the new. Enter: exfoliation.

Exfoliation helps the process along by removing the top layer of dead, dry or damaged skin cells, thus encouraging the skin to keep producing new healthy cells to replace them.

Skin experts note that while our skin does exfoliate itself somewhat naturally through a process called desquamation, our skin’s ability to keep up with the demand for cellular turnover declines with age. In order to maintain proper skin health and keep the skin performing at a youthful rate, most of us need a little help in the form of regular exfoliating treatments.

The Different Types: Two Ways to Exfoliate

Doctors at The American Academy of Dermatology explain that there are two types of exfoliation - manual and chemical - and explain that they are essentially two different methods for getting the same end result.

Manual exfoliation often refers to a scrub product but also includes tools like brushes, sponges and other mechanical devices that physically remove dead skin. Chemical exfoliation on the other hand, uses an enzyme or chemical substance - such as an alpha-hydroxy acid or beta-hydroxy acid - to break down and dissolve dead skin cells. Some product formulas even combine a physical and a chemical exfoliant for the best of both worlds.

The Benefits

Regardless of which option you choose, the results are hard to deny. Dermatologists at AAD say exfoliation brightens the skin by removing dead, dull surface skin. Exfoliating also helps prevent clogged pores, reducing acne breakouts over time. It even deep cleans the epidermis, allowing it to better absorb active ingredients and nourishment from other products.

Exfoliating properly helps smooth and soften the skin, evening out skin tone and reducing the appearance of large pores. Experts even believe that exfoliating consistently over time promotes collagen production, rejuvenating the skin and helping it to maintain a more plump and youthful appearance

Bottom Line: Almost everyone can benefit from exfoliation. And with so many options to choose from and so many potential benefits, we really have no excuse not to.


What Does It Mean to Exfoliate? Why You Should and How to Start by Adrienne Santos-Longhurst, Medically reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, FAANP

How to Safely Exfoliate a Home by The American Academy of Dermatologists Association

Exfoliants Get Down to Business by Whitney Johnson for The International Dermal Institute

Skin Exfoliation: 101 by Dr. Diana Howard for The International Dermal Institute

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