From head to toe, our entire bodies are covered in dead skin cells. But what they didn’t teach us in seventh-grade biology class when we were singing about the mitochondria being the powerhouse of cells? Cells die and are replaced with new ones after they’ve served their purpose. Through regular exfoliation, we can speed up the whole cycle. Exfoliating regularly—via either mechanical or chemical means—can help sweep away these dead skin cells to reveal a brighter complexion underneath.
The most common chemical exfoliants include alpha-, beta-, and poly-hydroxy acids and enzymes. “These acids and enzymes act to loosen the glue-like substance that holds the cells together, allowing them to ease away,” says Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. The most used mechanical exfoliation tools are abrasives like microfiber cloths, adhesive exfoliation sheets, scrubs, crepe paper, crushed apricot kernels or almond shells, sugar or salt crystals, pumice, and materials such as sponges, loofahs, and brushes, she explains.
For most skin types, Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL recommends daily chemical exfoliation, and then incorporating mechanical exfoliation into your regimen about once a week. That said, everyone’s skin type and goals are different, so scroll to find out what type of exfoliation is best for your skin, according to two top dermatologists.
If you have sensitive skin: Cleanlogic Bath and Body Large Exfoliating Body Scrubber, $5
For sensitive skin, Dr. Hartman suggests opting for a physical exfoliator with a soft, rubber surface because the intensity can be controlled better than with a chemical exfoliator. This body exfoliating cloth is great because you don’t have to scrub too hard to reap some major skin-softening benefits, and it’s large, making it perfect to get to those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies without needing to contort your body.
Shop now: Cleanlogic Bath and Body Large Exfoliating Body Scrubber, $5
If you have acne-prone or oily skin: Skinceuticals Micro-Exfoliating Cleanser, $31
When it comes to acne-prone and oily skin, Dr. Hartman recommends using both a chemical and mechanical exfoliator. The best chemical exfoliator to treat these concerns is a retinoic acid, which is great to pair with a mechanical tool like the Foreo Luna ($89) or this SkinCeuticals scrubbing cleanser.
Shop now: Skinceuticals Micro-Exfoliating Cleanser, $31
If you have keratosis pilaris: Eucerin Roughness Relief Body Lotion, $12
For keratosis pilaris, Dr. King recommends a gentle chemical exfoliation in a moisturizing base so that the skin won’t get irritated. The glycerin in this lotion hydrates while the shea butter locks in that hydration to effectively deliver moisture for 48-hour hydration. It is also enriched with urea to gently chemically exfoliate, so it can help smooth and soften rough and bumpy skin.
Shop now: Eucerin Roughness Relief Body Lotion, $12