How To Exfoliate By Skin Type

Posted by Azadeh Shirazi MD on

Exfoliation can be a game changer in your skincare routine, but if you’re not careful it can go awry. It helps promote a brighter, smoother skin complexion, while also addressing specific skin concerns. Exfoliation is not one-size fits all and is best customized to your individual skin type and needs. In this blog, we’ll take a deep dive into the benefits of exfoliating and how you can incorporate it into your routine based on your personal skin type. I’m here to help you achieve your best skin yet!
For more in depth information over this topic, check out my newest Youtube video over exfoliation!

What Is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells and excess oil from the skin to help reduce buildup, allowing fresh healthy skin cells to surface. Our skin exfoliates naturally but boosting this process can further improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, acne, clogged pores, tone, texture, discoloration, and dull skin. Not only does it leave the skin brighter, but it also enhances the penetration of skincare products allowing for makeup to go on smoother.

What Are The Different Types of Exfoliation?

There are two different types of exfoliation:

  1. Physical: This type involves physically removing dead skin cells with a tool or a scrub. It can be as simple as using a washcloth to wipe away dirt and oil on the surface or as in depth as using a scrub to manually wash away dead skin cells and debris. Physical exfoliation yields faster results but there are potential risks. It’s important to be careful with physical exfoliation, as scrubbing the skin too harshly can lead to micro-tears, especially when using scrubs.  Be cautious if you have active acne or rosacea as friction and rubbing can worsen breakouts and trigger the formation of broken capillaries. 
  2. Chemical: I favor this type of exfoliation as there’s more control and many exfoliants can send signals into the deeper skin layers to stimulate collagen.  Some are also humectants that help with skin hydration. This type involves using a chemical agent to dissolve dead skin cells. There are many different types of chemical exfoliants:
  • AHA’s- which are alpha-hydroxy acids. These types of chemical exfoliants are water soluble, meaning they target the surface of the skin. An example of this would be glycolic acid. 
  • BHA’s- which are beta-hydroxy  acids. These types of chemical exfoliants are oil soluble, meaning they can penetrate deeper into the pores to remove excess dirt and oils. An example of this would be salicylic acid.
  • Enzymes- are typically derived from fruits and they break down proteins that bind dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. This is a more gentle form of chemical  exfoliation but can sometimes feel spicy. A commonly used example of this is a pumpkin enzyme mask.

It is important to know that chemical exfoliants can also disrupt the skin barrier when overdone, used with the wrong products in your regimen, or if they are too strong for your skin type. They can increase sun sensitivity so be sure to apply a broad spectrum SPF30 or higher every morning. I recommend starting with a low concentration of any chemical exfoliant and gradually increasing the frequency and strength over time. Always do a patch test before fully applying any new products and make sure to choose an exfoliant based on your skin type.  I’ll help you choose one below. 

How To Exfoliate By Your Skin Type

Now that you know what exfoliation is, what the different types are, and how to be cautious when applying them, let's talk about what exfoliation is best for you based on your skin type. If you have:

  • Oily Skin: Salicylic acid is best for oily skin types as it’s lipophilic allowing it to penetrate pores dissolving sebum, dirt, and dead cells.  I recommend using salicylic acid alone OR in combination with glycolic like Clarify pads, 1-2 times a week. If you have acne or are acne prone using a wash with salicylic acid like the Exfoliating Cleanser daily is beneficial to keep breakouts away. Make sure to you follow with a moisturizer right after and apply your SPF cream in the morning. 
  • Dry Skin: Lactic acid is most suitable for dry skin types as it’s also a humectant.
  • Combination Skin: Glycolic acid is a favorite for combination skin, anti-aging, and hyperpigmentation. Clarify pads 1-3x a week is an easy and convenient way to exfoliate using glycolic and salicylic acid.  Start with once daily and substitute it in place of your retinol.  You can titrate up to 2-3 x a week as tolerated.  Avoid using retinol the days you exfoliate if your skin becomes irritated. Follow with a moisturizer afterwards and use a mineral based SPF in the mornings.
  • Sensitive Skin: sensitive skin types, like those with rosacea prone skin will need to be cautious with all types of exfoliation. I favor Azelaic acid as a gentle exfoliant with many other benefits such as reducing breakouts, lightening hyperpigmentation, treating acne and rosacea, and evening out skin tone.
  • Body Exfoliation: The ONE spray is an easy effective method to smooth body texture, treat breakouts, razor bumps, Keratosis Pilaris, and ingrown hairs.

Dr. Azi’s Recommended Products:

Azelaic10 Serum: Serum designed to even skin tone, reduce hyperpigmentation, smooth texture, reduce breakouts, and calm redness

Exfoliating Cleanser: Cleanser for those with oily skin designed to deliver ultra refined glycolic and salicylic acid 2% to gently cleanse acne prone skin

Clarify Pads: 2% Salicylic Acid with Glycolic Acid exfoliating pads. Used to target clogged pores, uneven texture, dark spots, fine lines, acne, and breakouts 

The One Spray: Medicated, clinical strength glycolic acid 10% and salicylic acid USP, 2% unclogs pores, exfoliates dead skin cells to smooth texture, unclogs pores to treat breakouts and ingrown hairs while improving hyperpigmentation

Restore Moisturizer: A restorative cream with Niacinamide, Green Tea Polyphenols, and Caffeine, that provides deep hydration with age-defying benefits to nourish dry skin back to healthy glowing skin

Purify Cleanser: Antioxidant calming cleanser with green-tea polyphenols to gently remove makeup and prevent buildup in pores, resulting in healthier, brighter skin. Part of double cleanse: apply to dry skin and work off makeup and debris/dirt 

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Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, MD is a Board-Certified Dermatologist.

Specializing in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology, Dr. Shirazi received her undergraduate and medical degrees from the University Of Kentucky College of Medicine. After doing a Research Fellowship at Harvard Medical School at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, she completed her residency training in Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in addition to completing her training in dermatology and cosmetic surgery at the University of California San Diego.

She has received multiple research scholarships from iconic institutions including Harvard University and the University Of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has several peer-reviewed publications to her name.