You may have a six-step skin care routine, but can you name the last time you exfoliated your body? Yeah, same. But taking care of your appendages the same way you take care of your facial epidermis is the key to healthier, more radiant skin — all over. In the spirit of the summer, Bustle spoke with the pros for tips on how to exfoliate your body.
Like your scalp and your face, regular exfoliation of your torso, arms, and legs is important if you want skin that isn’t flaky, dry, itchy, or covered in breakouts (just to name a few side effects of not doing so). “Physical and chemical exfoliation help to brighten the complexion by sloughing off the old dead skin cells and revealing the fresh new cells underneath,” says Dr. Hadley King, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist.
Shedding that outer layer of cells is important because it means you’re unclogging pores, keeping your skin clean and less prone to pimples. (Body acne, anyone?) King says that regular body exfoliation also smoothes and polishes, which reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles (they don’t just show up on your face, after all). To add to its role in healthier skin, it helps you stay moisturized, too. “Exfoliation exposes a fresh layer of skin that is ready to retain hydration when moisturizer is applied afterwards,” King tells Bustle. Plus, with a regular exfoliating routine, “your cell turnover will increase and stimulate collagen production,” she says — and that leads to plump, more vibrant arms and gams.
Read on for a comprehensive guide on how to exfoliate your entire body.
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How Often Should You Exfoliate Your Body?
First of all, remember that the skin on your body is different from that on your face. While you can exfoliate your face every day, exfoliating your body is a different story, says Dr. Harold Lancer, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Lancer skin care. The moral of the story: Your body requires tougher exfoliants used less frequently, he explains.
So how often should you be exfoliating below the neck? It’s an annoying answer, but — it depends. Generally speaking, you should do it twice a week, according to Lancer. But if you have sensitive skin, he recommends starting with once a week and only upping it depending on your tolerance levels.
You can take cues from your body, BTW. “You’ll know it’s time to exfoliate if you begin to have irritation on your skin or notice the dryness,” says King.
What Should You Use For Body Exfoliation?
Just like with your facial epidermis, there are two types of body exfoliants you can pick from: physical and chemical. But, unlike your face, you have more options when it comes to the former. “Most areas of the body tend to be less sensitive to exfoliation,” says King, adding that “stronger exfoliants can generally be used.” This means more pressure with physical exfoliation and higher concentrations of acids with chemical exfoliants.
Physical exfoliators for the body come in two forms; the first is as beaded or grainy-textured products (think scrubs) and the second is as a tool like a body brush, microdermabrasion, or microfiber cloth. When it comes to scrubs, King recommends using a product with fine, small particles to avoid irritation and tearing — jojoba beads and sugar are two great options. With tools, it’s all about what your skin can tolerate. If you’re sensitive or irritation-prone, you might want to stick with physical exfoliants, or slowly test the product out before incorporating one into your routine.
You’ll recognize the same chemical exfoliators you know and love in your facial serums and creams in body care — overall, King says the best ingredients in this category for your body are salicylic acid, glycolic acid, fruit enzymes, citric acid, and malic acid. “Chemical exfoliation works by loosening the glue-like substance that holds the [skin] cells together, allowing them to ease away,” she explains. Look for these ingredients in body washes, serums, and moisturizers.
How Do You Exfoliate Your Body?
As for the how, Lancer says he’s a proponent of exfoliating in the a.m. “The morning is ideal because the skin repairs itself during sleep, leaving a layer of dead skin cells on top of your skin,” he tells Bustle. So you get to slough away all that builds up on your limbs while you were snoozing. If you’re using a chemical exfoliant for your body, start with an in-shower wash, a serum after you step out, and a moisturizer as the last step that seals it all in.
If you’re using a physical exfoliant, King recommends doing your routine in the shower with warm water. “Wet skin is soft and makes the exfoliant more effective and less likely to damage the skin barrier,” she says. Once in the shower, use a grainy body wash or a scrub with gentle pressure. If the crux of your physical exfoliation is a tool like a pumice stone or body brush, first lather the skin with a hydrating wash before starting the treatment. And, of course, finish your routine with a moisturizer after your shower. “A moisturizer will lock in to help your skin retain hydration and look radiant,” says Lancer.
Below are some editor-fave products that’ll help you perfect your radiance-boosting body exfoliation routine.
Shop Body Exfoliators
The Brush Option
Dry brushing is a body treatment touted for a plethora of benefits, including stimulating your nerves and helping you shed those dead skin cells to reveal brighter skin all over your body. Lightly brush your limbs and torso when dry before hopping in the shower.
The Gentle Chemical Exfoliant
If you’ve ever dealt with strawberry legs, ingrowns, or keratosis pilaris, this is the exfoliant to buy. It works on the most sensitive of skin types thanks to its soothing concoction of lactic acid, urea, glycerin, centella, and aloe vera. A little goes a long way, and — after regular use — your limbs will be glowing.
The Physical Exfoliating Soap
This bar soap is a physical exfoliant that makes the most of African black soap’s many beauty benefits — think reduced hyperpigmentation, quashing breakouts, and upping your hydration game. It’s also made with ash, an exfoliator that will reveal plush, glowing skin. Added perk? You can buy it with the brand’s exfoliating mitt if you need the extra support.
The Body Serum
Ren’s body serum uses salicylic acid and lactic acid to gently boost your skin’s natural exfoliation process while still keeping it hydrated (thanks to shea butter and probiotics). It’ll smooth out any unevenness so you’re left with silky-soft arms and legs.
The Exfoliating Tool
Gua sha lovers might like this chic tool from Esker Beauty — it works in a similar way, and uses a blunt stainless steel edge to scrape away your dullness. Use it after your shower on damp skin to feel the spa vibes at home.
Kornhauser, A. (2009). The Effects of Topically Applied Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid on Ultraviolet Radiation-Induced Erythema, DNA Damage and Sunburn Cell Formation in Human Skin. Journal of Dermatological Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2791365/
Moghimipour, E. (2012). Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941867/
Rodan, K. (2016). Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5172479/
Sethi, A. (2016). Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian Journal of Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885180/
Dr. Hadley King, M.D., board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Harold Lancer, M.D., board-certified dermatologist