How Often Should I Exfoliate, Or Use a Mask?

A person with an exfoliating scrub in their hands
Jennifer Cheung/Getty Images

Question:

I'm a 32-year-old woman with normal to oily skin. I do experience a few breakouts from time to time. I wear foundation everyday, and also cleanse and moisturize my skin twice a day.

How often should I mask and exfoliate my face? Also, how often should I get a facial and what type?

Answer:

What you're currently doing is a great start, but, before we talk about masks or facials, your skin care routine needs a few tweaks.

Every single person, no matter their ethnicity or gender, needs to use four different skin care products: a facial cleanser, a moisturizer, an exfoliant, and a sunscreen. To those products you can add an eye cream, antioxidant serum, toner, and a mask, but the four products mentioned above are a must for everyone.

Check to make sure your moisturizer has sun protection. If it doesn't, buy one to use daily that does, or buy a separate sunscreen for your face. We recommend EltaMD UV Daily Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 40, ($35,) or Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30, ($8.) Using sunscreen not only protects your skin from cancers like melanoma, but it also slows down the skin aging process. Skin that's well protected from the sun daily will end up looking younger.

Exfoliation, also, is more than important. It's a "must" skin care step, one that makes sure your skin is healthy and smooth.

Particularly if you're prone to acne and breakouts, you need to exfoliate in order to remove the dead skin cells and oil that are stuck in your pores. These things are causing blackheads and breakouts, and you obviously don't want that. As we age, our skin renews itself more slowly, so we need to help our skin by exfoliating regularly.

That way fresh and new skin cells are revealed, and skin is smooth and glowing. Without regular exfoliation, your skin can be rough. Your products won't absorb well, and your skin will look dull.  

For some people, exfoliating once or twice a week is enough. For others, exfoliating gently every day is better for their skin. How often you exfoliate depends on the product you use and how sensitive your skin is. If you have lots of acne, that doesn't necessarily mean you should be exfoliating all the time—it seriously depends on your skin type, and your acne could even be aggravated from exfoliation. And don't forget to exfoliate the rest of your body, not just your face.

There are also numerous ways to exfoliate. You can use a gentle scrub like The Body Shop's Almond Milk & Honey Gently Exfoliating Cream Scrub, ($24.) Or you could use a facial cleanser with facial acids to exfoliate while you clean your face like Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 3% Facial Wash, ($38,) or La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser for Acne Prone Skin with Salicylic Acid, ($15.) Lastly, you could use a serum, gel, or a lotion that stays on the skin in order to exfoliate overnight. Try Allies of Skin's Promise Keeper Blemish Sleeping Facial, ($120,) for example.

We recommend masking once a week for healthy skin. Choose your mask depending on what boost your skin needs at that moment. Is your skin feeling tight and dry? Apply a hydrating mask. Is your skin breaking out? Apply a clay mask.

As for facials, we recommend letting your esthetician decide which type of facial your skin needs. Once your esthetician can touch and look at your skin up close they can really evaluate which type of facial is best for your skin at that moment. Perhaps one time you'll need a deep cleansing facial, but another time your skin will need extra hydration and soothing. For that reason, it's best to leave that choice up to the professional.

As for how often you need facials, that also depends on what's going on with your skin. We recommend getting facials about four times a year, when the seasons change, but if you have acne you could need a facial every few weeks.

If you want to improve the look and tone of your skin, then getting anti-aging facials once a month might be best for you. Other people just love how relaxing and renewing facials can be, and will want to get one once a month for that reason, even if they don't have a specific skin care concern.

Updated by Carolyn Hanson