The Dos and Don'ts of Facial Exfoliation

From scrubs and sponges to brushes and acids, exfoliation has become a serious business in the beauty world. While highly beneficial for skin health, there’s no denying that exfoliation is a sensitive game. When done correctly, it’s the key to smooth, soft, glowing, and undeniably younger-looking skin. Yet, when done too frequently, harshly, or using the wrong tools, it can lead to aggravated skin and the potential for long-term damage. 

With hundreds of scrubs, devices, and exfoliating protocols being adopted across the industry, it can be challenging to know what options are most beneficial for optimal radiance and skin health. If you’ve found yourself questioning how to get the most out of your exfoliating ritual — and if you’re doing it safely — here are our top six dos and don’ts to create a sustainable at-home facial exfoliation ritual. 

First things first, what is exfoliation, and how is it done?

Exfoliation refers to the process of removing dead skin cells from your skin’s outer layer, which subsequently speeds up skin cell turnover. Each day, your skin cells go through a renewal process whereby the outer layers of your skin die and are replaced by new cells. Without adequate exfoliation, you’re more likely to experience a build-up of dead skin cells, resulting in clogged pores, textured skin, or a dull-looking appearance. 

At-home exfoliation can be done through two primary methods:

  • Physical exfoliation: Treatments and products such as scrubs, cleansing brushes, sponges, gloves (i.e., the Dr Tanya NuSonic Facial Exfoliator), microdermabrasion, and dermaplaning, which help to remove dead skin cells through physical motion. 
  • Chemical exfoliation: Treatments and products like face peels, cleansers, toners, masks, serums, and moisturisers that contain acids and enzymes that help to loosen the bonds between dead skin cells to remove them. 

How can exfoliation improve your skin?

In addition to removing dead skin sitting on the skin’s surface, a consistent exfoliation ritual offers various benefits to your skin’s appearance and texture — including improved radiance, smoothness, and youthfulness. Here are just a few of the reasons we love exfoliating:

  • It unclogs your pores
  • It reduces your chances of an acne breakout 
  • It improves the efficacy of other skincare products, allowing them to penetrate your skin deeper
  • It helps even out your skin tone
  • It supports circulation and lymphatic drainage 
  • It stimulates collagen production 

While exfoliating boasts an impressive list of benefits, it’s important to recognise that it isn’t without risk. Unfortunately, when done incorrectly, exfoliating can have serious long-term implications for the health of your skin, particularly your skin’s barrier. 

Before you jump straight into it, it’s essential to know what to focus on and what to avoid when adding a safe exfoliating ritual to your skincare regime. Here are our top six dos and don’ts for a safe and effective exfoliation ritual. 

Dr Tanya’s Top 3 Exfoliation ‘dos’

Do #1: Exfoliate according to your skin type

All skin is unique, which means so too should each person’s exfoliation ritual. Why exactly? What benefits a person with oily skin will be completely different to what is most advantageous to someone with dry skin. For example, those with dry skin will want a gentle solution, whereas those with oily skin will want to find an option that won’t strip too much oil. 

Before choosing the exfoliator with the most convincing marketing, consider the following skin type guidelines:

Skin Type

Suggested Exfoliation Ritual

Oily skin type

Aim for 1-2 times per week using chemical and/or physical exfoliants, such as salicylic acid or BHA. 

Some people with oily skin may prefer physical exfoliants as this skin type often has an additional layer of build-up that may be more successfully targeted with a more manual (yet gentle) approach. 

Dry skin type

Aim for once per week using a chemical exfoliant, such as glycolic acid. Be sure to apply SPF30+ after as glycolic acid can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage. 

Avoid physical exfoliation for this skin type, as the process is particularly drying and can lead to damage (i.e., microtears). 

Blemish-prone skin type

Aim for 1-2 times per week using chemical and/or physical exfoliants, such as salicylic acid or BHA.  

As always, with acne-prone skin, we always recommend consulting your skincare professional before committing to any new products or rituals to avoid causing further irritation. 

Sensitive skin type 

Aim for once per week using a chemical exfoliant, such as an enzyme. 

Avoid using physical exfoliants as they will be too harsh on the skin, likely causing irritation and redness. 

Combination skin type 

Aim for twice per week using chemical and/or physical exfoliants, such as scrubs, acids, and enzymes. 

While combination skin may benefit from a mixture of both exfoliation methods, they should never be used simultaneously on the same day, as this can cause skin irritation.

Do #2: Be intentional with when you choose to exfoliate in your AM or PM ritual

Unfortunately, skincare experts worldwide are yet to come to a conclusive decision as to whether exfoliation is best suited to a morning or evening ritual. The consensus is that it’s more important to be consistent with your ritual and to ensure your exfoliation routine complements your other skincare products. Let’s look at this in a little more detail. 

Generally speaking, we recommend our customers focus on protection in the morning and correction in the evening. Most people who follow this philosophy will likely use more potent and irritating products before bed (i.e., retinol or acne treatments). This means adding an exfoliator to the mix may be a little too harsh for some skin types, causing further agitation. As such, those with sensitive skin may find it most beneficial to exfoliate in the morning. Additionally, those with oily skin may reap more reward from an AM exfoliation ritual. As exfoliators are designed to remove the unwanted dead skin cells residing on your skin’s surface, doing this process in the morning will allow other skincare products to absorb more efficiently and effectively, reducing the build-up of product and oil on your skin. 

However, those who prefer a little more thorough skin cleansing at night will likely prefer adding their exfoliator to their PM regime. People who wear frequent makeup and sunscreen may find their double evening cleanse isn’t quite enough to eliminate the day’s bacteria, grime, and layers. To ensure you’re getting a much deeper cleanse and breaking down all the necessary particles from the day, nighttime exfoliation may suit your lifestyle better. Additionally, depending on the potency of your nighttime ingredients, you may find that leaving this part of your skincare routine til the evening will improve the efficacy of your additional skin products — mainly since your skin is hard at work regenerating as you sleep, meaning this process can improve skin cell turnover by helping to remove the layer of dead skin cells. 

Do #3: Always opt for gentle exfoliators

Gone are the days when force and grit are considered the solution to silky smooth skin. In reality, harsher physical and chemical exfoliators do more harm than good, from microtears to long-term skin damage. 

While you may not necessarily notice the micro tears caused by harsh exfoliants, they can leave room for extra bacteria to enter the skin, potentially disrupting the skin barrier and causing acne or skin sensitivities. Additionally, applying too much pressure can cause blood vessels to break under the skin, causing visible damage. 

While many topics surrounding exfoliation are still up for debate — from timing to the best types of exfoliants — there is one topic all skincare experts agree on: exfoliation is most effective when using gentle motion or soft microbeads, as opposed to larger, coarse particles. 

For example, Dr Tanya’s NuSonic Facial Exfoliator is a pocket-sized facial exfoliator that helps to loosen dead skin build-up through Ultra Sonic Vibrations, which gently massage the skin, stimulate collagen growth, and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. The NuSonic Facial Exfoliator is a patented technology that is far gentler than many other forms of exfoliation, thus, can be used far more frequently while also boasting benefits for all skin types. We highly recommend a product like this for those who want the benefits of exfoliation without the potential damage that occurs when done incorrectly. 

Dr Tanya’s Top 3 Exfoliation ‘don’ts’

Don’t #1: Do not apply too much pressure — avoid over-exfoliating

While there’s no denying the importance and benefits associated with exfoliation, unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing. While it’s easy to assume that frequent exfoliation will translate to quicker results and smoother skin, it can be more counterintuitive than beneficial.

While it’s dependent on your skin type, as a general rule, your skin should only be exfoliated one to two times per week. Often, this is enough to increase skin cell turnover without causing damage to your skin. 

Common signs of over-exfoliation include skin irritation, redness, inflammation, and dry, flaking skin. Additionally, you may experience small breakouts or rash-like symptoms. Thankfully, your skin is proactive in letting you know if you’re relying too heavily on exfoliation. 

As long as you’re using a chemical exfoliant with quality ingredients or a gentle physical exfoliant, you won’t need to excessively or aggressively exfoliate your skin. 

Don’t #2: Do not exfoliate irritated skin or skin that’s recently undergone a skin treatment

Whether it’s caused by acne, skin allergies, or skin sensitivities as a result of a recent treatment, you should avoid exfoliating your skin at all costs if it’s already irritated or sensitive. 

We recommend waiting to reintroduce exfoliating until your skin has returned to its normal, healthy state. Even then, start slowly and patch-test your skin to ensure it has enough tolerance. Otherwise, you risk damaging the skin’s barrier, which is extremely important in protecting you against environmental elements and helping your skin retain moisture. 

While the recovery lengths will vary, here is a general guide to the treatments you shouldn’t immediately exfoliate after:

  • Facial waxing, threading, or bleaching (wait at least 72 hours)
  • Facial skin treatments (wait at least 72 hours)
  • Sunburn (wait until the skin has fully recovered)
  • Irritated, sensitive or broken skin (wait until the skin has fully recovered)
  • Facial peels, microdermabrasion, or laser treatments (wait until the skin has fully recovered)
  • When prescribed medical exfoliating products
  • When you have active acne or pustules

Don’t #3: Don’t ignore what your skin is trying to tell you 

When starting a new skincare ritual, it’s easy to assume what works for others will also work for you. Yet, the truth is, no one knows your skin better than you. Be attuned to your skin, and pay close attention to what it’s showing you it needs. 

Everyone’s exfoliating ritual will look different as several variables dictate when, how often, and what you should use to exfoliate — from temperature to skin type. This means you may want to switch between products throughout the year and adjust your ritual depending on your skin’s response — no routine is set in stone. Just as your skin is in a constant state of change, so too should your skincare ritual. 

Pay close attention to how your skin responds to your routine and adjust accordingly. For example, in colder climates or during winter, your skin may feel as though it requires less exfoliation. In contrast, those in more humid climates or warmer times of the year may require a more frequent exfoliation routine. If your skincare products appear to be sitting on the surface and struggling to absorb, you’re likely under-exfoliating. On the contrary, if your skin is red and irritated, you’re likely going a little too hard on the exfoliation and stripping your skin of its natural oils.  

When building a sustainable skincare ritual that sticks, finding what works best for you is essential. This means:

  • Getting professional recommendations from a skincare expert
  • Trialling different types of chemical and physical exfoliants to find what works best for you
  • Assessing how your skin is responding to your products and making adjustments
  • Considering what climate you live in and building an adaptable routine that changes with your skin’s needs 

The recap 

Exfoliation plays a crucial role in your overall skincare ritual. From helping to unclog pores and prevent acne to promoting an even skin tone and improved absorption of other key skincare products, its benefits are indisputable. 

With so many exfoliants on the market, it can be hard to distinguish between quality and hype. Yet, as we’ve mentioned, all skin is unique, which means what works for your best friend won’t necessarily be your holy grail. The frequency, product type, and timing of your exfoliating ritual will depend highly on your lifestyle and skin type. Thus, trialling available options is the key to finding the right solution for your skin’s needs. 

As always, we recommend consulting your skincare professional before jumping into any new skincare routines and paying close attention to how your skin responds to any new products. For a highly effective exfoliator that puts your skin’s results and safety first, our go-to pick is the Dr Tanya NuSonic Facial Exfoliator — our patented technology uses Ultra Sonic vibrations to loosen dead skin build-up and stimulate collagen growth in a far gentler way than many other exfoliants on the market.