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Exfoliation or scrubbing removes dead cells from the skin's outermost surface. While most of us are aware of some of the benefits of scrubbing - thanks to commercials that urge us to buy scrubs with natural ingredients, microbeads and many other innovations - many of us are still left pondering which type of scrub is good for which type of skin? How often should we exfoliate? And what is the right way to exfoliate?

Well, talking about general cleansing: face wash and body wash are designed to remove the dirt and excess oil from your skin. But they don't give your skin the deep cleanse that it needs from time to time. Exfoliation removes the dead skin cells along with the dirt and oil, making your skin look clean and bright. But, just random rubbing of skin will not suffice. You need to follow proper exfoliating procedure along with taking the required precautions to avoid skin irritation and skin rashes

Before you begin, though, you should determine your skin type and plan the type and frequency of exfoliation accordingly. This is because different types of skin demand different types of care. Read on to know how to choose the right exfoliator and the right method to exfoliate your skin.

Let's begin!

  1. Types of exfoliation
  2. Benefits of exfoliating
  3. Things to consider before you start scrubbing
  4. How to scrub your skin
  5. Difference between face scrub and body scrub
  6. Side effects and precautions for exfoliating
  7. Tips for scrubbing or exfoliating

Exfoliation can be classified into two types: mechanical and chemical. Each of these methods uses different ingredients and can have their own methods of application. Let us take a look at the details of both the techniques.

  • Mechanical exfoliation: We all know someone who uses besan (chickpea or gram flour) and yoghurt to bathe because of their excellent potential for gently scrubbing and rehydrating the skin. This is a type of mechanical exfoliation.
    Also known as physical exfoliation, this the most common way to exfoliate at home. In this technique, the unwanted topical layer of dead cells along with clogged oil and dust particles is removed by physical means or by rubbing.
    For this, many exfoliating scrubs are available in the market. You can also use some scrubbing ingredients available in your kitchen: some of these ingredients can be coffee powder and sugar. You can use the exfoliating agent and rub it gently on your skin. On doing this, the small exfoliating particles mechanically cleanse the dead skin cells giving you brighter and healthier skin. (Read more: Body care during change of season)

  • Chemical exfoliation: Exfoliation of the skin using chemicals like alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids. These chemicals seep into the skin and dissolve dead cells, eventually removing them. As this method works from underneath the skin layer, it helps in getting rid of dead cells in a much more effective way. Different chemical peels have different concentration of chemicals, though, and you should check with a dermatologist before picking one for yourself.

Exfoliating or scrubbing helps to deep-cleanse the skin and remove dead cells from the uppermost layer of skin. The other benefits of scrubbing are:

  • Exfoliation also helps to get rid of blackheads and whiteheads that can clog the pores of the skin.
  • When physical exfoliation is done regularly, it can boost collagen synthesis in the skin. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body - among other things, it helps to keep the skin looking supple and young.
  • Scrubbing increases the permeability of the skin. As a result, moisturisers and nutrients can be easily absorbed if applied just after scrubbing.

Read more: Home remedies to remove blackheads

Before you begin, consider the following factors:

  • Determine your skin type
  • Make a note of environmental factors like air pollution (AQI) levels in your city. If the AQI levels are categorised unsafe or hazardous, then you may need to alter your cleansing routine. For example, you may want to use a milder scrub more frequently each month.
  • Consider the weather: hot and humid climate may require more frequent cleansing but cold and dry weather could present other challenges in the form of dead skin accumulation.
  • Take your medical history into account. If you have acne or eczema or any other skin condition that can be aggravated by scrubbing, consult your dermatologist before application.
  • It is a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting any scrubbing routine, especially if you plan to use chemical peels at home. That said, these peels should ideally be applied by a professional.
  • It is also a good idea to test a sample of the scrub on your skin (example, in the crook of the elbow or behind the ear) to check for any allergies.

You might also be interested in: Home remedies for acne or pimples

There is a right way to exfoliate the skin - yes, it takes more than just squeezing a tiny bit of store-bought scrub into your hand and massaging it all over the face, neck and body. There are some basic steps and precautions to follow, as over-exfoliation can damage your skin. On the other hand, not scrubbing enough can make the skin look dull and lifeless. Here are some points you should follow while scrubbing your face:

  • Choose the right exfoliator: Keep in mind any allergies you may have and your skin type, of course. Also, remember that something that works for your mom or wife won't necessarily work for you. If you have very sensitive skin, be extra careful about choosing an exfoliator: start with mild options, and remember to test them in a small area on your forearm before using them elsewhere. Here are some of the things to keep in mind while picking an exfoliator: 
    • For oily skin: If your skin is very oily, you may need to use a stronger exfoliator. For this, you can use a scrub that has bigger exfoliating particles. You can also use a motorised scrubbing brush. If you plan to use a chemical scrub, consult your doctor first. Many dermatologists also offer chemical peel facials - they are better placed to avoid chemical burns, abrasions and other skin problems that can arise due to improper use of the exfoliator. (Read more: Oily skincare tips)
    • Dry and sensitive skin: Dry skin does not require too much scrubbing. Also, it is advised to use a milder scrub that does not have big scrubbing particles. You can also use natural ingredients like coconut milk in a home-made exfoliator to moisture the skin while you scrub away the dirt and dead skin.
      If you are using a chemical exfoliator, go for a mild one - check with your doctor before using them.
    • Normal skin: If you have normal skin, you can safely use most types of exfoliators. Take care not to over-exfoliate your face, though. For mechanical exfoliation, you can use a scrub with moderate-sized exfoliating particles. The same goes for chemical exfoliation. Use a chemical exfoliator with mild chemicals. 
  • Frequency of exfoliation: If you have dry and sensitive skin, do not exfoliate more than once a week. People with oily skin type may need to exfoliate more than once a week. The frequency of exfoliation depends entirely on how oily your skin is.
    Over-exfoliation can cause skin reactions and may also lead to breakouts and dark spots.
    If you have any burns, bug bites or acne, avoid exfoliating that part of your skin. 
  • Be gentle on your skin: Do not apply too much pressure while scrubbing, to avoid damage and irritation of the skin cells. Here's how you can scrub your skin safely:
    • Gently rub the scrub on your skin in a circular motion, using only the tips of your fingers.
    • Continue massaging your skin like this for a few minutes and then wash with plain water.
    • If you are using a chemical exfoliator, use the one with the right dosage of chemicals for your skin type (after testing it on a patch of skin on your forearm first). For this, you can talk to a dermatologist.
  • Moisturise afterwards: Exfoliation or scrubbing makes your skin more permeable. So, this the best time to give it the nutrients and moisture it needs. Additionally, Scrubbing can cause a little dryness - moisturising immediately afterwards will help you avoid the stretchy feeling on your skin. Here's how to do it:
    • Take a moisturiser that suits you. You can choose something with collagen or hyaluronic acid as these have been shown to reduce the signs of ageing.
    • Apply the moisturiser evenly all over your skin. You can also choose some natural moisturising agents like aloe vera gel.
  • Fix a schedule: Your skin does not require exfoliation every day. Exfoliation should be done at a fixed interval, according to the skin type and conditions. Know your skin and get into a routine to exfoliate accordingly.

Your facial skin is thinner than the skin on the rest of your body. So you will need a stronger exfoliator for your body. Using chemical exfoliator for the body can work periodically, but it can turn out to be expensive. If you prefer using a physical exfoliator, use one with stronger exfoliating particles. You can also use some ingredients from your kitchen for exfoliation. Here's one way to do this:

What you will need:

  • 3 tablespoons gram flour or besan
  • 3 tablespoons fuller's earth or multani mitti
  • 1/2 bowl curd
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • A mixing bowl and spoon
  • Moisture or after-bath oil

How to do it:

  • Take the gram flour, fuller earth and turmeric in a bowl.
  • Now add the honey and yoghurt and mix them well.
  • Apply this paste on your body and leave for 10-20 minutes.
  • Once dried, take this paste off by rubbing it off.
  • You can add a few drops of water to reduce friction, if required.
  • Wash the rest of the paste off. When you're semi-dry, moisturise your whole body.

Here are some precautions to keep in mind while exfoliating to avoid any damage to skin:

  • Do not over-exfoliate. Over exfoliation can damage healthy skin. It can also lead to breakouts and wounds.
  • Analyse your skin properly and then choose the exfoliator - you can also take help of your dermatologist for this. Picking the wrong exfoliator can lead to problems like skin irritation, acne, allergy.
  • After exfoliation, your pores open up. Remember to apply a moisturiser or a serum suited to your skin type afterwards.
  • Do not rub a physical exfoliator or scrub vigorously on your skin: this can cause abrasions, which increases your risk of skin infections.
  • Do not use any exfoliator on the skin under your eyes. This is because the skin in this area is quite thin. Exfoliating in this area could damage the skin.
  • Consult a doctor if you are considering a chemical peel for yourself.
  • If you have sensitive skin, choose a mild exfoliator and make sure you do patch test first.


Once you've picked your exfoliator, and made a calendar for how frequently and when you need to exfoliate, all that is left do is reap the benefits of an excellent skincare routine. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • You can also use a scrubbing brush on your body for exfoliation. But before using any brush, check if it hurts your skin. There are specialised soft brushes for the face as well - while using these, take care to avoid the eyes and the skin around the eyes.
  • After scrubbing, apply serum or aloe vera gel or a moisturiser of your choice. 
  • If your skin becomes red after exfoliating, you can apply some ice on it. If your skin remains red or continues to be irritated even after a few hours of applying the ice, visit your dermatologist.
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