Exfoliation Part I: Scrubs and Peels

Exfoliation is used to help your skin shed the dead skin cells by either manual or chemical means, leaving your pores cleaner and your face brighter.

Unlike most hydrating products like essences or serums, exfoliators can get your skin into trouble if you overuse them.

There are basically two different kinds of exfoliation: manual and chemical. You want to be careful with both since manual over-exfoliation can lead to raw skin or broken blood vessels, and chemical over-exfoliation can lead to a breakdown in your skin’s moisture barrier, which triggers inflammation and dryness. Neither of these is good.

When deciding which type you want to use, consider the following:

  1. Manual exfoliation is great for getting off any dry skin patches or flakes and keeping your skin nice and smooth.
  2. Chemical exfoliation is great for reducing breakouts, reducing fine lines, and minimizing the look of your pores.
  3. If you use chemical exfoliants, especially AHAs (which I’ll get to in my second post), YOU MUST WEAR SUNSCREEN. You should be wearing it anyway, but this is an absolute if you use AHAs, which make your skin photosensitive.

I will be covering chemical exfoliants in a second post coming soon!

Basically, I think of manual exfoliants as working on the very surface of my skin, whereas chemical exfoliants get into my pores to do their work. I utilize both, but you certainly don’t have to. Use what your skin needs.

Manual Exfoliation

The juxtaposition of scrubs and peels against a soft, fuzzy background to underscore their gentleness is just good rhetoric, people.

Manual exfoliators come in many different forms: scrubs, peels (gommage), or using tools like a sponge or Clarisonic brush. Most manual exfoliation–especially scrubs or peels–are recommended 2-3 times a week. Gentle tools like konjac sponges can be used daily. Scrubs and peels are used directly after cleansing, and konjac sponges are used with a foaming cleanser during the second step of a double-cleansing.

I enjoy manual exfoliation; I don’t do it as often now that I have added in chemical exfoliants into my routine, but there is no better feeling than a freshly exfoliated face. My skin feels soft, and the products I put on after absorb so much more quickly.

I find it particularly useful in the winter months when I’m more likely to get dry, flaky patches.



Scrubs are often paste-like products that have a granular texture. Some scrubs are the Skinfood Black Sugar scrub (pictured above), the Skinfood Rice Mask, and the Mizon Sea Weed Jelly Scrub. And don’t forget your lips! I like Fresh’s Sugar Lip Polish (pictured above). It’s pricey, but it’s very gentle; the best I’ve tried.

The most important thing to remember is to rub these around very gently; this is your face, not a dirty frying pan. The granulations in the scrub will do the work for you.

I use the Skinfood Black Sugar scrub, for example, which is a very thick, paste-like product. (And smells amazing. If you’re sensitive to smells, the Skinfood scrubs–there are several–may be ones to avoid. I love the sweet sugary-lemon smell, but I know it is irritating to others.) I wet my hands several times as I spread  it around my face because it’s gentler on my skin that way. I massage my face gently, then let the mask sit for 12-15 minutes, wash it off, and continue my routine.



I love the Holika Holika Peeling Egg sample packet. It was so cute that I had to include it.

These sound scary, but most peels are actually quite gentle. There are many, many different kinds of peels, such as Secret Key Lemon Peel Mask  (pictured above), the Mizon Apple Smoothie Peeling Gel, and the Neogen Dermalogy Wine Bio-Peel Gauze.

Most are a type of gommage, which is a technique where you apply the (often gel-like) product to your skin and allow it to sit for a minute to dry a bit. You then begin rubbing your fingers in small circles, and the product will begin to peel up and form little balls. (Make sure your fingertips are dry when you do this.)


This is going to be the softest hand ever.

These little balls will then gently exfoliate your skin, sloughing off and picking up any dead skin cells. I will massage my whole face for minute, then wash it all off, and continue my routine.

[Note: I think people get confused about gommage peels: no gommage product claims that what balls up is all of your dead skin (I mean, that would be a crazy amount of dead skin). But I think people are afraid the companies are trying to fool them by making them *think* that’s dead skin? I dunno. The reviews on peeling gels are often fraught with misinformation.]


Dry/granular exfoliators/scrubs: 

These are slightly different from the scrubs above in that these are dry scrubs that you add to your cleanser. The type that I use is actually a Western brand, Buff Her.

Adorable bottles, and they smell like their names!

I like these because they are incredibly gentle, and I can combine it with my second cleansing step for days when I want to get off dry patches without adding too much time to my routine. This brand, in particular, is great for anyone with sensitive skin or allergies because the ingredient lists are super short–usually just the dehydrated, crumbled versions of whatever is in the name. You don’t need much, so these will last awhile.

In short, manual exfoliation can be a gentle way to get softer, smoother skin. I find that it also helps products that I apply afterward absorb more quickly as well. There are many different types and brands, so if you’re in the market for one, you will have plenty to choose from to fit your needs.

What is your favorite manual exfoliator?




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