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How You Should Exfoliate For Clear Skin

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I’ve always been pretty good at exfoliating regularly. But it wasn’t until I stopped for about 4-5 months, that I realized what a huge impact it had on my skin.

Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin using manual or chemical means. Today let’s talk all about manual exfoliation: washcloths, scrubs, gommages, peeling gels, konjac sponges…

Why Did I Stop Exfoliating?

Last year I started to fear chemicals and started believing that they were dangerous because of all the natural skincare gurus and their fear-mongering myths. I didn’t understand how skin worked at all and trusted what I was reading…I began my crazy experiments with natural oils and stopped using all of my amazing ‘chemical’ products. I also began to fear exfoliating because I thought it would irritate my skin…

That’s when my skin went crazy. I started breaking out…At first I thought I was purging, until I learned that purging only happens when you use products that promote cellular turnover like scrubs, chemical peels, retinoids, and Vitamin C.

I was washing my face with the gentlest cleanser and using oil to moisturize…But my skin was the worst it’s ever been. And it just kept getting worse.

My skin felt hard, rough, and it was bumpy as all hell.

I was at a loss. I thought natural was supposed to be better. I thought low maintenance was supposed to be better than high maintenance.

Turns Out Less Is Not More

After 3 and a half months of torture, I decided to get back to my skincare basics. I started using my ‘chemical’ products again – a gentle cleanser, an actual moisturizer, and an exfoliant.

I reintroduced exfoliating into my routine first with washcloths at night, then with scrubs about 1-2 times a week.


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Turns out the so called ‘purging’ was a REACTION to oils, and continual build-up of dead skin cells mixed with sebum and oil. The lack of exfoliation made things worse.

My skin desperately needed to be exfoliated, and it took about a month of exfoliating regularly to improve my skin and stop the crazy breakouts.

Some Skin Stuff

Skin is pretty amazing…It renews itself all the time.

Cell turnover works by pushing new skin cells from deeper in the epidermis all the way to the surface and falling away. This is a continual cycle.

But the rate of cell turnover isn’t the same for all of us. Some skin produces skin cells too quickly – where the dead skin cells remain on the surface and clog the new skin. Other skin produces new skin cells too slowly, so the dead skin cell layer on the surface gets thicker and rougher.

Cell turnover also slows with age. You make new skin cells every 24-30 days in your twenties, every28-35 days in your thirties, and every 30-42 days in your forties.

Exfoliation helps increase the rate of cell turnover so that you can have smooth, glowing, clear skin without waiting 30 days.

Increased cell turnover has too effects: purging and clear skin.

Purging happens because a microcomedone gets pushed to the surface faster. Normally, a microcomedone can come and go without you ever noticing it, but if you’re chronically stressed or experiencing inflammation, then your immune system attacks it making it swell and become red. It goes from being invisible to very visible.

But it takes around 8 weeks for a pimple to form out of a microcomedone. Exfoliation cuts that time down, making you break out now, so that you can have clear skin later.

A lot of people experience purging after exfoliation and think it’s a reaction, and stop exfoliating…But this is a natural process that needs to occur before you can experience clear skin.

Don’t be scared if you break out after exfoliating. It’s just your skin clearing.

Ironically, people don’t freak out when their skin reacts to oils because they believe it’s just ‘purging’.

How To Start Exfoliating

Begin by introducing washcloths into your nighttime cleansing routine. The gentle fibres of the cloth will help with makeup removal while simultaneously sloughing off dead skin cells.

You can do this every night. But if you feel like you need something a little stronger, consider getting a scrub or peeling gel.

Scrubs are great if they contain even, round beads – not sharp bits like St. Ives Apricot Scrub, or sea salt, or rough sugar!

Avoid unevenly shaped beads because they can scratch up the skin and cause inflammation and dryness instead of giving you a healthy glow.

One of my favorite ways to exfoliate is with a konjac sponge – it’s squishy and soft, and super gentle!

But the coolest way to exfoliate is probably with gommages, or peeling gels. A gommage is a gel containing no exfoliating particles. The way it exfoliates is by rubbing or rolling away the gel to reveal glowing new skin. The dead skin cells come off with pieces of the actual gel. My favorite so far is from Decleor.

What Is Over-Exfoliation?

If exfoliation is so great, should you scrub your face twice a day?


There’s such a thing as too much exfoliation. I experienced this personally while I used the horrible Proactiv cleanser in my teenage acne days. The Proactiv cleanser was actually a SCRUB. That means I scrubbed my skin TWICE a day, every day…I didn’t know any better.

The result? I had dry, dehydrated, oily skin with regular breakouts. My skin was shiny like a disco ball and super irritated!

If your skin is really dry and flaky, it’s totally ok to manually exfoliate about 1-2 times a week to get rid of that outer shell of dry skin and gunk and help your moisturizer penetrate better. But anything beyond 3 times will most likely cause even more dryness and irritation.

Read about how to make the most out of your moisturizer here.

Let me know what you use to exfoliate and how often you do it in the comments below!


P.S. I’ve shared my best 28 hacks for clear skin in my 28 Days Of Clear Skin video series. You can sign up to get every single hack in your inbox here!

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