Best used: AM Or PMCaution: Rosacea,

Sensitive skin

Best for: Improve skin quality, enhanced ‘actives’
Comments: Get you skin care fundamentals right 

before exfoliation 

Mode of action: Physical or chemical removal of

old skin cells

Science Score:



What is the science behind exfoliation?

Exfoliation speeds up the life cycle of skin cells. The outermost layer of skin, called the stratum corneum is made up of dead compaced skin cells with a natural turnover of around 3 weeks. As we age, this ‘turnover’ of new cells slows down to four weeks. With exfoliation (much like microdermabrasion), you can remove the outermost layer of skin, improving skin texture & luminosity, as well as allowing various skin care products to better penetrate the skin. 

Who should exfoliate?

Exfoliation is for those who have sorted their foundation of their skin care routine, namely the correct use of cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen & skin care ‘actives’ including retinol, niacinamide, ascorbic acid, antioxidants & pigment correctors. Why is it essential to have this foundation down pat? Because exfoliation can often enhance the effects, & potential side effects of skin care ingredients. 

Exfoliation is for everyone who would like to ‘step up’ their skin care routine, with the exception of those who suffer from rosacea – sensitive skin. See below as a guide for safe exfoliation if you fall into this category. 

What are the quick tips for exfoliation?

Let’s get started with some quick tips for PHYSICAL exfoliation 

  • Start by exfoliating once a week. Better to under rather than over exfoliate. 
  • Best time to exfoliate is in the morning as cells regenerate best at night.
  • A simple & gentle exfoliator is an electric exfoliating brush like Clarisonic
  • Start with simple cleansers applied on the brush
  • Exfoliate for 30 seconds a side. Wash off with warm/tepid water
  • You can slowly increase your exfoliation time & pressure 
  • You can slowly increase your exfoliation frequency to twice a week

If you would like to try CHEMICAL exfoliation, consider the following; 

  • Start with salicylic acid 2%. Neutrogena makes a good one!
  • Start once a week, in the morning
  • Apply to face with gentle pressure for 60 seconds
  • Wash off with tepid water
  • Pat not rub dry
  • Increase application frequency by one day per week

*If you plan to incorporate AHAs such as glycolic or lactic acid, or retinol exfoliation, these should be done as part of your evening routine as these ingredients can cause photosensitivity. 

Davin’s Viewpoint on exfoliators

Exfoliating is one of the most rewarding DIY tips & tricks endorsed by dermatologists. This simple act can improve acne, reduce blackheads, as well boost your skin care routine without increasing the percentage of ‘actives’. The biggest mistake people make is to go too fast too soon. Start off once a week, increase as tolerated. If your skin can not tolerate it (think rosacea), don’t force it. I prefer physical exfoliators over chemicals for starters as you can control the amount of exfoliation based upon contact time & force applied. This is especially easy with a good quality electric brush exfoliator such as the Clarisonic. Imitations can work nearly as well, exfoliation mits if you must.  

The choice of chems will depend on your initial problem. Salicylic acid is great for acne, glycolic acid for anti-aging, lactic acid for dry skin, & retinoic acid for general exfoliation. For experts, one can combine multiple chemical exfoliants to give the ultimate experience, an example is to use glycolic acid as a skin prep for several days before say a retinoic acid 2% infusion. The power of exfoliation can not be underestimated. 

*Disclaimer: I am a procedural dermatologist. I do not usually give skin care advice unless it is pertaining to a procedure. My exfoliation of choice for patients is an aggressive acetone scrub with gauze squares just before I conduct medium to deep chemical peels. 

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