How to Exfoliate: Tips for the Face & Body

Plus Homemade Scrub Recipes for Both

Asian Beauty
Shuji Kobayashi/Taxi/Getty Images

As we age, cell turnover slows down and dead skin cells can give us a dull complexion. Exfoliating both the face and body weekly helps get rid of the dead top layers of skin. This allows moisturizers and serums to better penetrate the skin and helps your foundation glide on smoothly instead of sitting atop flaky skin (yuck).

The Best Tools for Exfoliation

While I love natural ingredients like brown sugar and even baking powder (yes, I'm serious) for face and body scrubs, you can't go wrong with a few exfoliating tools.

But you have to get the right ones. 

Forget those fluffy nylon bath things you get with a bottle of body wash. And throw out that bacteria-infested loofah, which is too abrasive on most of your skin, anyway. Instead, consider the basic washcloth your best friend when it comes to exfoliating both your face and your body. I personally prefer to use super soft bamboo baby washcloths. I use them to bathe my toddler and to scrub my face and the only con to them is they take forever to dry in the dryer. ​

Other great tools for exfoliation: A dry brush like The Swissco Deluxe Bath Brush (buy from Amazon.com) gets great ratings online, exfoliating gloves (I use these from Amazon) and the Clarisonic Mia for the face (buy from Amazon).

When I was growing up my family had a brush hanging in the shower for years and no one used it. The long handle was wooden and on the end was a soft brush. Because wood is not meant to be stored in wet places, the brush slowly accumulated mildew, but no one threw it away because it was a gift from our Austrian relatives.

It was like a disgusting piece of bathroom art.

Years later I found out the brush is meant to be used before a bath to exfoliate the body. You simply give yourself a good dry-brushing from feet on up and then wash off in the shower. Just be sure to keep it outside the bath or shower.

I love the gloves.

I use them to scrub my skin in a circular motion. Nothing works better, in my opinion.

Treat Yourself to an At-home Body Scrub

As a beauty writer, I've had dozens of professional body scrubs. While nothing beats the scrubs done at Korean spas found in big cities, I find professional body scrubs in your average spa to be disappointing. Why spend $150 to do what you can achieve in your own shower for a fraction of the price using a dry brush and a body scrub?

Marcia Kilgore, the founder of Bliss Spas, shared this excellent step-by-step instruction for the perfect weekly body exfoliation in the book, "Allure: Confessions of a Beauty Editor" (buy from Amazon).

  1. Apply oil to skin
  2. Take a dry brush to skin from the feet up, brushing in short, light strokes
  3. Step in the shower and using a sugar or salt scrub start at the feet again and massage the skin in a circular motion on up the body. I like to do the massage with exfoliating gloves.
  4. Rinse off using lukewarm water, then apply a salicylic acid body wash to the skin, paying more attention to heels, elbows, and knees. If you have a tendency towards back and butt acne, make sure to apply there as well.
  5. Pat skin dry and apply a moisturizer while skin is slightly damp.

    My Best Exfoliating Tips for the Face

    Chances are if you don't exfoliate daily or weekly, your skin is covered in dead skin cells that are mucking up the surface of your skin and causing your skin to not only look dull, but older. Without proper exfoliation, foundation won't smooth over your skin cleanly and moisturizer won't properly soak in. Here are my best exfoliating tips for the face:

    • According to Allure Magazine, the best time to exfoliate is in the morning. Apparently, our skin repairs itself at night, therefore, the morning is the perfect time for scrubbing away those dead skin cells.
    • Exfoliate with a scrub once or twice a week. Don't over-exfoliate or use a product with granules that can tear at the skin. Rub the product in a circular motion for 30 seconds and then rinse off with lukewarm, never hot, water. If you have oily skin, large pores or acne-prone skin, you can try an at-home microdermabrasion system.
    • Consider natural products for exfoliating your face. A baking soda paste made with (you guessed it) baking soda and distilled water will gently cleanse your pores and skin. I also love to mix a pinch of brown sugar in my palm with coconut oil to form a wonderful natural scrub. 
    • To save time, mix in a dime-size amount of your favorite facial scrub into your cleanser and do it all at once.
    • There are some great scrubs on the market, but a washcloth works (almost) as well and it's more budget-friendly in these recessionary times. Get the full scoop in How to Exfoliate Using a Washcloth.
    • The Clarisonic Mia skincare brush is one of those rare products that is beloved by most everyone who tries it. Basically a tool for cleansing the face, you use the Clarisonic with your favorite cleanser to deep clean your pores. You can buy the Clarisonic Mia from Amazon.com.

    Acids and Retinoids

    Take your exfoliating one step further with stronger products. You can exfoliate with microdermabrasion, chemical peels or beta alpha hydroxy pads. Glycolic acid can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Salicylic acids help with facial acne, butt acne, and back acne. Retinoids increase cell turnover and also exfoliate the skin (I write about my love for Retin-A at length here).

    Don't Forget Your Lips

    Scaly lips are simply not sexy, but there are times in our lives when we all suffer from it. Luckily, getting rid of scaly lips is a relatively easy fix. 

    Exfoliation Tip for Your Elbows

    I love this tip I got from "Allure: Confessions of a Beauty Editor" (buy from Amazon). When elbows get rough, you can soften them up with a sock trick. Cut the toes off a clean pair of thick socks, rub Crisco on your elbows and slip the socks over your arms. Either sleep like that for 8 hours or spend the day inside doing, well, nothing. The shortening works wonders on tough spots. In fact, Allure reports this method is used in hospitals to treat eczema.

    Don't Forget Your Feet

    It only takes two minutes every shower to keep feet in great shape for summer.

    At the end of every shower, exfoliate the bottoms of your feet with a pumice stone (buy one from Amazon) for about a minute a foot. Make sure to scrub around the toes and the entire heel. Dry, cracked heels are even less attractive than a grown-out pedicure. Daily care will not only keep feet soft and supple during sandal season, but you won't have to go all out when you get a professional pedicure (scraping off dead skin with a razor can be dangerous).

    You can get pumice stones almost anywhere these days. You can find them in the same aisle as nail polish and nail clippers.