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Exfoliator: How to Choose One Based on Your Skin Type

Filed in: Clean Beauty



Are You Using the Best Exfoliator for Your Skin Type?

Exfoliator to the rescue! All chicks seem to want glowing skin! Heck I do. Can you guess the #1 product for achieving radiant skin all year long? Exfoliators! 

Exfoliating involves literally sloughing away dull, dead skin cells to reveal the newer, more radiant ones underneath. This new fresh skin allows your products to penetrate more effectively and work better as a result. But exfoliating too much is never a good thing. Excessive usage can lead to redness, irritation, and even breakouts which defeats the purpose of exfoliating to begin with. Instead of glowing you’re hurting. So I’m going to help you finally figure this out.

Why Do We Really Need to Exfoliate?

Regularly exfoliating can help prevent acne, manage dark spots, and contribute to an overall “glow.”

By rubbing the particles against your skin, you will buff away the layer of dead skin cells. Newer, younger skin will be revealed when you wash off the product. Your skin will look and feel smoother and the result oh so J-lo glow.

3 Types of Exfoliants

There are three major categories of exfoliants: manual (physical), chemical, and natural ingredients from your kitchen. 

1. Physical or Manual Exfoliants 

Physical exfoliants are like scrubs that contain some type of rough material such as grains or ground up nuts. Another example would be an exfoliating brush like Clarisonic

Physical exfoliates can vary in their ability to exfoliate—it all depends on what kind of product you buy. Even those with sensitive skin can tolerate most physical exfoliates well. Experiment with different products and different grain textures to see what works best for you. Keep in mind that exfoliants with microbeads have now been banned in the United States. 

With manual exfoliants it’s easy to scrub too hard or apply too much pressure to a brush, so be as gentle as possible when using those. In fact, I recommend you use a gentle washcloth rather than a brush to start with since it’s less aggressive. Take baby steps especially when trying new products. 

Clarisonic Mia Prima | Sonic Facial Cleansing Brush

2. Chemical exfoliants 

Examples of chemical exfoliants include: 

  • several types of enzymes (including fruit enzymes)
  • alpha hydroxy acids like lactic or glycolic
  • beta hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid

But chemical exfoliants aren’t just found in your standard exfoliant. They are also found in your face cleansers, moisturizers, toners, overnight serums and masks. An example of an exfoliating mask is Peter Thomas Roth Pumpkin Exfoliating Mask which contains aluminum oxide and AHA. One of my favorites for my sensitive skin is Sunday Rileys’s Good Genes which is lactic acid that doesn’t require you to rinse it off.


3. All-natural exfoliants

Ground Almonds

Great for those with mature skin. The fine grains will gently exfoliate, and the oil in the almonds provides skin with vitamins A and E leaving your skin nourished and hydrated. 

Baking Soda

Feels like a microdermabrasion at home. Typically great for all skin types but works great on oily skin as it absorbs excess oil. It can be a great Exfoliator.

Ground Rice

Did you know that Asian women have used ground rice powder on their skin for ages to smooth complexions, lighten skin discolorations and reduce wrinkles?


Ideal as an Exfoliator for very sensitive skin; use them whole or grind them up to gently unclog pores and soothe irritation.

Ground flax seeds

A gentle but effective choice for exfoliation. They’re rich in anti-inflammatory and hydrating omega-3 fatty acids.


Which Exfoliant Is Best for You?

Using the wrong type could actually hurt your skin. Here’s a breakdown on the best exfoliators based on your skin type.

Oily Skin

If you have oily skin, look for a physical exfoliator, like a scrub or a cleansing device. But you have to be careful because you can go overboard with it. Your skin is not made of hard wood floors. Be gentle on your face. Otherwise you’ll end up damaging your skin. 

Fresh Umbrian Clay Mattifying Face Exfoliant 3.3oz

Dry Skin

Look for the finest grains in a creamy, lotion texture, one that contains moisturizing oils or that’s honey-based. Exfoliator scrubs that contain honey like Kate Somerville’s Intensive Exfoliating Treatment since it’s perfect not only to exfoliate but moisturize as well. 

Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

What it is: A dual-action exfoliator that smooths and polishes skin to reveal a natural glow; lactic acid and fruit enzymes clean clogged pores in as little as one use.

Combination Skin (Normal to Oily)

A physical exfoliator or a light chemical exfoliator is best for this skin type. If you want to tame your oily skin use a cleanser with alpha hydroxy acid (or AHA). This will gently exfoliate, preventing pores from getting clogged with oil and dead skin cells.

Pixi Beauty Glow Peel Pads Advanced Exfoliating Treatment


  • Glycolic Acid: Stimulates cell turnover
  • Rose Water: Hydrates & revitalizes
  • Retinyl Palmitate: Promotes collagen production

Acne-Prone Skin

Because your skin is inflamed you need to be really careful to avoid further irritation. That means you need to avoid aggressive physical exfoliators with harsh grains, sugar, or salt, and facial brushes as much as possible.

If you have breakouts, use a chemical exfoliator. This will help fight oil and acne from a deeper level in the skin. AHA and BHA acids (like salicylic, lactic, and glycolic) will be the most effective. These will not only fight oil and remove pore-clogging dead skin cells but also improve your skin’s texture and repair acne scars.

PETER THOMAS ROTH Acne Face & Body Scrub

What it is: An ultra-gentle yet effective one percent salicylic acid acne scrub that cleanses and treats the face and body without over drying.

Mature Skin Exfoliator

Older skin tends to be sensitive and dry so you need a physical exfoliator that contains super-fine particles like a microdermabrasion scrub. Products that contain AHA and BHA acids are your best choice because these chemical exfoliators can penetrate skin deeper to improve the appearance of fine lines.

Herbivore - Natural Prism AHA + 5% BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial


What it is: A jelly-textured, potent blend of 20 percent fruit-based AHAs and five percent willow-bark-based BHA in an exfoliating rinse-off weekly facial that naturally transforms skin from dull to radiant and glowing in only 10 minutes.

Normal Skin

Normal skin has it the easiest because it is clear and not easily irritated. It basically comes down to a personal choice.

fresh sugar face polish

What it is: A two-in-one face scrub and mask that buffs and hydrates with real brown sugar and strawberries.

Highly Sensitive Skin Exfoliator

Sensitive skin types should avoid chemical exfoliation and most physical exfoliators too. Try natural ingredients from your kitchen like rice and oatmeal. Try this DIY homemade mask. 


DIY Cucumber & Oatmeal Face Mask for Sensitive Skin

Cucumber with oatmeal addresses inflammation and sensitivity, while yogurt containing lactic acid is gently exfoliating. Sage helps naturally remove dead skin cells while providing vitamin A.


  • 2 tablespoons plain, sugar-free yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons pureed cucumber
  • 2 tablespoons oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon chopped sage


  • Combine all ingredients into small bowl. 
  • Apply with a facial brush or fingers.
  • Leave on for 10-15 minutes.
  • Rinse with warm water. 
  • Finish off with your serum and face moisturizer. 

Why it works

  • Yogurt contains lactic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid that dissolves dead skin cells. This gentle exfoliation not only helps to create a natural glow and prevent breakouts, but works to diminish the appearance of lines and wrinkles. It’s a great multi-tasking beauty ingredient. It will help moisturize, fight acne, prevent premature aging, relieve sunburn, and reduce discoloration. Yogurt helps rejuvenate and soften the skin. With summer just around the corner this yogurt face mask often is perfect as a post treatment after excessive sun exposure to help calm the skin. 
  • Cucumber with oatmeal addresses inflammation and sensitivity.
  • Sage helps naturally remove dead skin cells while providing vitamin A.


How Often to Use an Exfoliant

You gotta walk before you can run. Regardless of the type of exfoliant start exfoliating once a week and see how your skin responds. But never use an exfoliant more than three times a week. It really depends how gentle or intense the product is. 

You know you’re exfoliating too much if you start to see redness, dryness, increased sensitivity, or flaking. So when this happens you need to back off or consider using a gentler exfoliant.   

If you’re using a medicated product like Retinoids you should space out the time between using a product like that and exfoliating.

Never exfoliate if you have cuts or open sores on your skin.

When to Exfoliate?

I believe exfoliating in the evening makes sense since you want to slough off any lingering makeup or other debris too.


As you can see you absolutely need to consider your skin type and level of sensitivity when picking an exfoliant. Don’t just look at the brand name; make sure you check out the ingredients first. If you’re not sure what your skin type and skin condition are make an appointment with a dermatologist or an esthetician. Otherwise let’s start glowing! 



Disclosure: All products featured on my blog are independently selected by Anna Bennett. Please note that some of the products above are Amazon affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have personally purchased and used these clean beauty products because they simply work, not because of the small commissions I make. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your skin, beauty, and health goals.

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