How to Exfoliate Sensitive Skin & Acne Prone Skin

Tina Adoniou

What Is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation refers to the removal of dead skin cells from the skin’s outer surface. Our anti-aging mechanisms begin to weaken as we grow older, leading to a build-up of dead cells on our skin. If left unchecked, the skin becomes dull.

While the skin can naturally shed dead cells by itself until it gets too old, individuals with acne-prone skin usually require a little help by using exfoliants. Exfoliants are procedures and products formulated to decrease the number of dead cells on the skin. 

Benefits of Exfoliation

With regular exfoliation, you will notice the following benefits:

Increased Blood Flow

Besides removing product residues, oil, and dead cells from the top of your skin, exfoliation can also boost blood circulation. It brings your blood closer to the surface and gives your skin a beautiful flush.

By stimulating blood flow, collagen production is also improved. This will help in minimizing fine lines and other signs of aging.

Improves Absorption of Nutrients 

Skincare products are less effective on skins with a build-up of dead skin cells. For example, your expensive cream might not yield appreciable results even after a long time because a thin layer of dead skin cells prevents it from doing its job. 

Without regular exfoliation, the ingredients and nutrients in skincare products will likely sit on your skin’s top layer without penetrating the pores as they should.  Exfoliation rids your skin of layers of dead skin cells to allow for full absorption of nutrients. 

Reduces Breakouts

When done correctly, exfoliation will remove dirt and debris from your pores, even on the skin with the worst acne. This cleansing not only paves the way for improved nutrient absorption but also reduces the occurrence of breakouts. 

Promotes Radiant Skin 

Regular exfoliation can keep the skin brighter and glowing all year round, regardless of the weather. Exfoliants formulated with gentle ingredients helps maintain moisture balance in sensitive skin while deeply cleansing pores. 

The overall effect is radiant and gorgeous skin that leaves you feeling confident about the largest organ in your body. 

Exfoliation Methods

There is an overabundance of exfoliating products and procedures available. But they all fall into one of two broad categories: physical (mechanical) and chemical exfoliants.

Physical Exfoliants

These are abrasive tools that manually remove dead cells from the skin’s surface. They include scrubs, sponges, cleansing pads, gloves, and microdermabrasion procedures. 

Mechanical or physical exfoliants are excellent for making the skin smooth and soft, but they are not suitable for sensitive and acne-prone skin. Scrubs and other abrasive exfoliants can exacerbate acne, worsen scarring, and even cause breakouts. The process of scrubbing or aggressive rubbing can make sensitive skin appear redder and cause more irritation. 

Chemical Exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants do not involve the use of abrasive agents. Instead, they are enzymes, acids, or procedures that speed up the skin’s cell turnover rate. They contain ingredients that gently dissolve the bond between the skin’s surface and dull, dead cells. 

A 2016 study suggests that chemical exfoliants containing Mandelic acid are particularly suitable for sensitive skin. Other good choices are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), such as lactic acid, tartaric acid, and glycolic acid. 

You may want to use beta-hydroxy acids (BHA), such as salicylic acid, if your skin is prone to acne. Apart from effectively cleansing pores, salicylic acid prevents inflammation. Research also indicates that chemical peels are excellent options for exfoliating acne-prone skin. They are used in clinical practice to produce quick improvement in skin appearance and texture. 

If you are thinking of how to exfoliate sensitive and acne-prone skin, chemical exfoliants are your best option. Even highly potent chemical exfoliant products are not likely to irritate your skin, but consider asking a dermatologist for prescriptions before choosing stronger chemical exfoliants. 

For a mild chemical exfoliant, you can find safe OTC products, such as glycolic peels and other popular options, from local retail stores. Alternatively, you can order online. 

If you prefer to exfoliate at spas, an esthetician can help you choose which product or procedure works best for your skin type.


Tips for Exfoliating at Home 

Here are some suggestions on how to exfoliate sensitive skin at home. 

  • Consider using a soft washcloth. They work just as well as scrubs and are more affordable, too.
  • Always use lukewarm water to rinse off. Never use hot water for any reason.
  • To exfoliate your face, use a circular motion to rub in your preferred product for about 30 seconds before rinsing off.
  • Make sure to soften your skin with a warm shower before exfoliating your pubic area and bikini line.
  • Remember to apply an oil-free moisturizer immediately after every exfoliating session when your skin is still damp. This will help your skin to fully absorb the ingredients in the product for better results.  

How Often Should You Exfoliate?

The number of times to exfoliate depends on what methods you are using and your skin type. For sensitive and acne-prone skin, the recommendation is to use a mild chemical exfoliator once or twice weekly at most. 

Remember that although chemical exfoliants don’t use abrasive agents, some contain very potent ingredients that may not be suitable for daily use.

Excessive exfoliation can cause irritation, skin redness, and excessive dryness. Do not hesitate to seek guidance from a dermatologist if you need help figuring out how often to exfoliate or what products to use. In any case, it is best to use only one exfoliant at a time to prevent unpleasant reactions. 


Exfoliating and your Skin Microbiome

We learned that exfoliating is good for removing dead skin and impurities from your skin, but this process also impacts your skin microbiome, the invisible ecosystem on your skin that’s home to trillions of bacteria that provides protection for your skin. This is one of the many reasons why it’s important to be mindful of how often you exfoliate, and how strong of an abrasive you use. Adding a live probiotic facial mist to your skin care routine will help ensure that your skin microbiome will stay healthy and thriving. 

When to Stop the Process

Inflamed skin is a clear indication to stop further exfoliation until you speak with a doctor. You are also better off discontinuing the process if you notice skin redness, irritation, or peeling. 

While exfoliation has positive effects, it may not be suitable for everyone or in some conditions, such as when you are using certain acne products. Breakouts can occur, or your skin may become worse if you ignore signs that tell you to stop. 

A Word on Homemade Scrubs

In your quest to learn how to exfoliate sensitive skin at home, buying into incorrect methods of doing it is possible. Homemade exfoliators, including sugar scrubs, are not good for facial skin, whether or not you have sensitive skin or acne-prone skin. If you must use sugar scrubs, consider doing so on other parts of your body, but never on delicate areas such as your face. 

Final Thoughts

If your skin is prone to acne or you have sensitive skin, it will look and feel smoother, brighter, and healthier with regular exfoliation. By removing dead skin cells, you will also notice minimal fine lines, wrinkles, and blemishes. However, if you are currently using topical retinoids or other acne medications, it is best to consult a dermatologist before starting any exfoliation treatment. And above all else, remember to restore your microbiome with a probiotic spray after exfoliating to ensure long term healthy, glowing skin. 

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