Your Exfoliating Questions, Answered

I went about 20 years without ever exfoliating and for the most part, you could tell by looking at my face. It wasn't until I learned how to properly exfoliate my face and body that I felt exfoliating should be part of everyone's beauty routine. If there had been a crash course in exfoliating, I would've been exfoliating as soon as I got the green light to bathe on my own. Fortunately, I've made some monumental exfoliating mistakes over the years, so you don't have to. Welcome to Exfoliating 101.

According to sources at, exfoliating the top layer of skin allows the nutrients of your scrub to penetrate more than just the top layer of skin. That means it's getting to those under-the-skin pimples, blackheads, and any other hidden secrets our skin is keeping. Although many dermatologists argue about how often you should exfoliate, they all seem to agree on one thing: everyone should exfoliate their face and body.

Exfoliating has definitely attributed to my skin's recent changes in attitude. My twice-weekly exfoliating habit on my face has improved the overall texture of my skin and keeps breakouts few and far between. According to Sonya Dakar's Skin Clinic, exfoliating reduces the appearance of pores and wrinkles, too. Dang.

Sure, we all know we should exfoliate, but knowing how to effectively do so is crucial to avoid irritated skin or dry skin. Here are seven tips that will have you successfully exfoliating in no time.

1. Choose the Right Ingredients

Pure Baking Soda, $12, Acai Powder, $24, Organic Bee Farm, $18, AmazonMorton Natural Sea Salt, $3, Amazon

A rule of thumb I follow is to use gentle, smaller grains to exfoliate my face. Oatmeal, fennel, baking soda, and coconut pulp are great places to start. Coffee is an excellent natural exfoliate, but you want to make sure you grind up those beans nice and fine to make sure they aren't too rough around the edges. Save the sea salt and raw sugar for the rest of your body. Other important ingredients are pH balancing, restoring, and hydrating oils: remember, you are looking to get rid of the dead skin, not all your skin. Honey, apple cider vinegar, coconut milk, and fresh fruit are a few of my favorite exfoliate ingredients.

2. Choose the Right Time of Day

It's true, exfoliating at the end of the day can help remove leftover makeup and grossness that has penetrated deep into your pores. However, you can get rid of all that with a natural make-up remover and stand-up cleanser. According to Allure magazine, exfoliating our skin in the morning is more effective, as our skin tends to repair itself overnight. Use your exfoliate in the morning to make room for the new skin cells that are just itching to get out.

3. Decide How Much Is Too Much

Here's the thing, there are sources that claim exfoliating daily is perfectly safe and then there are others that claim you should exfoliate no more than twice a week. While I agree you don't want to exfoliate too often or too little, I think that this is something that is up to you and your skin. Personally, I find that gentle exfoliating ingredients like nutmeg can be used daily. Not only does it depend on your own skin type, but it also depends on which ingredients you are using.

4. Exfoliate Before You Shave

Exfoliating before shaving has made all the difference underneath my arms, which often suffer from hard bumps and ingrown hairs. (Yes, things were once very dire underneath these arms.) I exfoliate with baking soda, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar before shaving to control odor, restore my pit's natural pH level (which also contributes to odor), and to remove any dead skin. Turns out, that dead skin can actually lead to more ingrown's and razor burn.

5. Get Moist First

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We all know better than to shave on dry skin, but most of us have slathered on an exfoliate onto dry skin and scrubbed away our dead and healthy skin cells. It's super important to rinse your skin with lukewarm water before exfoliating to remove makeup and slightly open up your pores for the nutrients it will soon be drinking in. I personally like to use coconut milk as a rinse before I exfoliate. I suggest using water, rose water, or coconut milk instead of using a hefty cleanser before exfoliating.

6. How To Do It

To exfoliate your face and body, use gentle, circular motions. This motion will help pull blackheads and remove dirt, but the key is to be very gentle. Exfoliating too hard or using harsh wash cloths can lead to irritation and dryness — which is exactly what you are trying to combat by exfoliating. My preference is to use my hands, but another great tool are the Clarisonic brushes — they are as effective as they are gentle.

7. Tone And Moisturize

If you are using a natural, effective exfoliate you can skip additional cleansing, but you can use a gentle oil-fighting cleanser to close your pores, if necessary. Most importantly, make sure you use a toner and moisturizer after you've finished exfoliating.

Image: Nikki_, Sudipto Sarkar/Flickr; Kristin Collins Jackson