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How to Exfoliate Rough, Dull Skin
How to Exfoliate Rough, Dull Skin


How to Exfoliate Rough, Dull Skin


Is your skin feeling a little rough or uneven? Exfoliation could be the answer. This is the process of removing dead skin cells that gather on the top layer of the skin. There are different methods of exfoliation, each of which should be based on your individual skin type and needs.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about exfoliation and how you can safely exfoliate your skin at home. We’ll also cover some of the common causes of dull, uneven skin, so you’ll understand how to take better care of your face and body.

In this guide:

What causes rough, textured skin?

The skin is a complex organ, with multiple layers. The top layer of the skin (known as the stratum corneum) is made up of dead skin cells, which are constantly being replaced with new ones.

While these naturally fall off on their own over time, if these old cells remain on the surface and build up, it can lead to dull, rough looking skin and blocked pores. A complete cycle of cell turnover takes around 28 days to complete. However, the process can slow with age and may take as long as 45 days.

Environmental factors can also affect the skin. As the humidity drops and the weather becomes colder, this can cause more cells to dry out and accumulate on the surface of the skin. Surface roughness can also be the result of damage caused by exposure to the sun's UV rays.

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation aims to remove dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin to reveal a fresher, smoother complexion. While it can help improve the overall appearance of your skin, it can do more harm than good if not carried out properly.

Not all exfoliation methods are suitable for every skin type, so it’s important to understand what works for your skin before choosing a method. There are various types of skin exfoliation methods. Some, you can try at home, while others will require a dermatologist or a suitably qualified practitioner.

At-home exfoliation

These exfoliation methods can be carried out at home. It’s recommended to start off with a gentle exfoliator to see how your skin reacts. If your skin becomes irritated after trying a new product, you should refrain from using it.

  • Physical exfoliation: this involves using a scrub containing particles such as cellulose beads, or a textured cloth or sponge to physically remove dead cells from the skin. Mechanical brushes can also be used for deeper exfoliation.
  • Chemical exfoliation: this method relies on chemicals like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) to gently dissolve the dead skin cells. Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) can also offer similar effects and often cause less irritation, making them more suitable for those with sensitive skin.

Since the skin on your body is generally thicker than that on your face, body exfoliation can tolerate more abrasive products, like pumice stones, that you wouldn’t use on your face.

Professional exfoliation

If you’re looking to make a more drastic change to your appearance, then you may want to consider professional exfoliation. Professional exfoliation is usually carried out by a dermatologist or a suitably qualified practitioner and is often more intensive than at-home methods and may require some downtime. Popular procedures include microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser resurfacing.

Your skin is your body’s largest organ, so taking care of it is important. By incorporating exfoliation into your skincare routine, you can help brush away dead skin cells and improve the overall appearance of your skin. Exfoliating can also help other skincare products soak into your skin.

The best skin exfoliating ingredients

When it comes to skin exfoliator ingredients, there are plenty to choose from. Here are some key ones you’ll commonly find in exfoliating skincare products:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid, help to dissolve the protein bonds that hold dead skin cells together, making it easier to remove them. NEUTROGENA® Clear & Defend+ Daily Serum contains 5% glycolic acid to help increase the skin turnover and fade the appearance of marks left after acne.
  • Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), like salicylic acid, are similar to AHAs in that they aid with the skin shedding process, but they can also enter the pores in certain formulations to help remove stubborn oil and dirt.
  • Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) are a new generation of hydroxy acids. Examples include gluconolactone, which helps clear pores and refine skin texture. They provide similar effects to AHAs but generally cause less irritation and are more suitable for those with sensitive skin types.
  • Cellulose beads: these natural cellulose exfoliators are often found in facial scrub products, like the NEUTROGENA® Clear & Defend Face Scrub. They’re designed to loosen dead skin cells and help cleanse and unclog pores.
  • Sugar and oats: natural ingredients like these can be mixed with water and oil to create a physical exfoliating scrub.

How to exfoliate your face and body safely

Here are five top tips for safe and effective skin exfoliation for your body and face:

1. Tailor your exfoliation to your skin type

Before you exfoliate, it’s important to make sure you consider your skin type skin type. If not, this could damage your skin and lead to redness and potential breakouts.

Here are a few examples of products which may be better suited to different skin types:

2. Choose the right product for the area

Much like tailoring your exfoliation routine to your skin type, you should also make sure you’re using the right product for the area you’re exfoliating. For example, while you can exfoliate any part of your body, it’s recommended to use gentler tools and ingredients on your face and neck than the rest of your body. Your back, feet, and hands are also able to tolerate stronger exfoliation than other areas of your body, such as your shoulders and chest.

3. Exfoliate gently

Remember to be gentle to your skin. Whether you’re using a physical exfoliator or a chemical one, you should always try to apply the product gently in small, circular motions, avoiding the delicate eye area. And always be sure to wash off any product with lukewarm water rather than hot water to avoid irritating the skin.

4. Keep your skin moisturised

Once you’ve exfoliated your skin, apply a suitable moisturiser to help prevent your skin from drying out. Make sure you choose a moisturiser that suits your skin type, such as an oil-free moisturiser for spot-prone or oily skin.

5. Repeat the process at a pace that suits your skin

Some people might need to exfoliate more regularly than others, but this usually depends on your skin type and the products you use. For example, a gentler product might be suitable for daily use, while exfoliants that are harsher on the skin should be used less often.

Skin exfoliation FAQs

Is exfoliating bad for your skin?

While exfoliating can help to improve the appearance of your skin, if it isn’t carried out properly, it may cause damage. Therefore, if you choose to exfoliate, it’s important to do so safely. Make sure you choose a product and exfoliation method that’s suitable for your skin type.

What does dead skin look like?

A build-up of dead skin cells may leave your skin looking dull and lifeless. The skin may appear rough or uneven too. Sometimes, dead skin cells can also lead to clogged pores and blemishes like blackheads.

Do I exfoliate before or after shaving?

Exfoliating before you shave can help to remove dead skin cells and avoid build-up on the razor. You’ll also get a much smoother exfoliation if you soften your skin first, so aim to shave towards the end of your skincare and shower regime.

Should I exfoliate before or after a cleanse?

If your skin feels a little drier than usual, or has excess build up, try to exfoliate before you cleanse. Use a gentle exfoliator alongside your regular cleanser, before following with toner and moisturiser. Just remember, you don’t need to exfoliate every day.

How often should you exfoliate your face?

How often you exfoliate your face will depend on your skin type and exfoliation method. Generally speaking, the more aggressive the product or method, the less it should be done. You should also try to avoid over-exfoliating, as this may lead to redness and irritation.

How often should you exfoliate your body?

Again, how often you exfoliate your body will depend on your skin type and needs. The key is to pay attention to your skin. If you have sensitive skin, it may be better to exfoliate weekly, rather than daily. The type of exfoliation method you use should also be taken into consideration, as certain methods – such as physical exfoliation – may cause sensitivity.