Does Exfoliating Cause Acne


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One question I get asked a lot is does exfoliating cause acne? Surprisingly, the answer is both yes and no. Why? Because it depends on your skin type.

If your skin is more prone to acne, you might be over-exfoliating in an attempt to unclog your pores to prevent breakouts. What you may not realize is that you can have too much of a good thing pulled out from your face and make matters worse.

Washing your face is part of your daily routine. It’s something simple you do to keep your skin looking and feeling clean. Dermatologists suggest that exfoliation is a great way to shed dead skin cells and reveal the fresh, radiant skin sitting below the surface. But recent popularity of cleansers, toners, and serums have influenced people for exfoliating a bit too much and a bit too often that might harm your natural facial oil.

So, how can you tell if you need to buff away the buildup or give it a break?

Here’s a comprehensive guide for everything you wanted to know about exfoliation and whether it can halt your face acids or cause more acne.

What is Exfoliation and how does it help to prevent breakouts?

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells that can clog your pores and contribute to acne breakouts. One has to be careful about choosing an exfoliating cleanser because if you make the wrong choice, you could end up irritating or damaging your skin, ultimately making the matter worse.

Department of Dermatology recommends“Exfoliating skin only one to two times per week to help expedite skin cell turnover without causing damage.”

Exfoliation is extremely important and essential to help reduce the occurrence of acne. That’s because acne-causing bacteria thrive on dead skin cells. The more sustenance is available, the easier it is for the bacteria to populate. The easier they find it to populate, the more acne lesions form.

Exfoliation not only limits both the number of dead skin cells that remain on your skin but also the amount of time they remain. Both of these benefits help to remove a key factor in the cause of acne. Whether your acne is mild or more severe, regular exfoliation will smooth and soften the skin and brighten your complexion.

Choosing the Right Exfoliant

Making the right exfoliant choice is essential for getting good results without irritating your skin and aggravating acne. There are hundreds of exfoliating products and procedures available today, but all are found in one of two forms: physical or chemical.

Physical Exfoliants

You’re probably most familiar with physical exfoliants. Physical exfoliants manually remove dead skin cells by use of an abrasive ingredient or implement. It leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth, but they often aren’t the best exfoliant choice for acne-prone skin. The friction involved in using a physical exfoliant can irritate already inflamed skin.

This rubbing and scrubbing can leave your skin looking redder and can make existing breakouts worse by irritating and exacerbating redness. The more inflamed your acne, the more you’ll want to avoid physical exfoliants.

Some examples of Physical Exfoliants include – gritty scrubs, rough cleansing pads and cloths, and professional microdermabrasion procedures.

Chemical Exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants work without abrasive agents. Instead, chemical exfoliants dissolve or loosen the bonds that hold dead cells on the skin’s surface using an acid or enzyme.

Some examples of chemical exfoliants include Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA), and Topical Retinoid.

Does Exfoliating Cause Acne or Help with Acne?

No one wants to face clogged pores, although it’s tough to avoid them with grime sinking into our skin throughout the day. Clogged pores occur because of the buildup of oil, dirt, makeup, and sweat. Eventually, this causes blemishes to appear.

When acne surfaces on the skin, you’ll do anything to get rid of it. Many turn to exfoliating with a facial scrub as a first-step defence. Exfoliation sloughs away dry and flaky skin, cleans out pores and helps you to achieve a fresher, brighter complexion.

But does exfoliating help acne or make it worse?

Exfoliation is effective in helping to get rid of dead skin cells and impurities that perpetuate the appearance of acne. However, it can aggravate chronic or cystic acne if not done gently and correctly.

It’s important to identify the causes of acne and exfoliate based on the current condition of your skin. Clogged pores aren’t the only culprit behind developing blemishes on the face. Acne is caused by hormonal changes, dietary habits, and certain medications. Any of these triggers can result in blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts or bumps. The severity and frequency of your acne will determine what method of skincare is right for you.

Also, treating acne needs to be handled based on how your skin reacts to certain techniques and products. Determine which type of exfoliation works best on your skin type. Finally, maintain a regular skincare regimen and follow esthetician tips for exfoliating your face regularly to keep your skin healthy and clear.

The majority of women who’ve used this treatment have seen a significant impact on the condition and health of their skin.

  • 100% of women tested showed highly significant improvement in the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and crow’s feet.
  • 97% of women tested showed a highly significant improvement in the appearance of pores.
  • 94% of women tested showed a highly significant improvement in skin texture.

Identifying Your Acne Types

Acne can pop up anywhere on the body, but it mostly makes its appearance on the face. There are varying levels of acne, which affect the skin in different ways, and knowing the various levels of acne will help you determine how to best combat yours with exfoliation.

Whiteheads and blackheads are most common.

Whiteheads or pimples are formed by a combination of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria that’s been trapped in the pores.

Blackheads often appear along the bridge of the nose and since they are open at the skin’s surface, oxygen changes the impurities to appear black.

These two forms may occur periodically or develop into acne that’s painful and difficult to get rid of. When the skin becomes inflamed, papules, nodules, and cysts may appear. These are larger in appearance and often contain pus.

Essentially, exfoliation is a key treatment for all acne types and problems, but different levels of acne will respond in different ways. The trick is using it based on what’s right for your skin type and its current condition.

Exfoliation Tips to Help Fight Acne

There are a few tips to keep in mind to protect your skin and keep it looking its best.

  • Choose the right skincare product – Select one with acne and bacteria-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid to see better results. Opt for vitamin and enzyme enhancements like those found in our acne treatment products to protect and nourish the skin.
  • Be gentle on the face – Acne breakouts can be stubborn and will take time to treat and heal. It may be tempting to scrub at whitehead and blackhead bumps on the skin. Always wash hands first and use circular motions around the face to get the job done to avoid causing further flare-ups.
  • Test a small area of the skin first – When using a new product or technique, it’s always a good idea to start small and work your way up. It’ll give you a chance to see how your skin reacts and determine if you need to switch exfoliators or methods.
  • Keep consistent with your skincare – Don’t only rely on exfoliation when your skin is experiencing its most extreme conditions. You can always reduce the frequency of exfoliation without removing it from your regimen completely.

Final Remarks on Does Exfoliating Cause Acne

So, does exfoliating help acne? The answer is yes when you use the right exfoliating products, methods, and consistency. Breakouts are never fun to battle, but there are ways to keep them in check and minimize their occurrence. Give your skin the boost it needs by adding exfoliation as a regular step to your skincare regimen.

Does exfoliating cause acne? The answer is yes when you do over-exfoliate your skin that might cause breakouts and halt the production of your face’s natural oil and no if you do it by consulting with a doctor or in limit prescribed.

Fact – Our skin naturally sheds dead skin cells every 30 days or less. However, if you deal with acne-prone skin this shedding is increased by 5x. That’s roughly 100,000 or more dead skin cells just chilling on the skin

Best Exfoliator to Prevent Acne

Here are a few gentle exfoliators that we recommend. Finding the right exfoliator for your face will help prevent breakouts. The ones listed below have a high success rate for people with acne-prone skin. Hope this article answers your question on “Does exfoliating cause acne?”. The only step left is to pick an exfoliator below to add to your daily routine.

Best Budget Gentle Exfoliator

Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub

Extra Gentle Daily Scrub ,Gently Exfoliates & Cleanses Without Over-drying, For All Skin Types, Non-Irritating & Hypoallergenic,Suitable For Sensitive Skin, 6 Fl Oz, Pack of 2

This dermatologist-tested gentle exfoliator help removes dead skin, dirt, oil, and impurities on your skin. Skin conditioners, Vitamin E, and B5 is present in this exfoliator to help soften your skin. This exfoliator is natural and paraben-free. It is safe for daily use on sensitive skin.

Is Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub Good?

I used this exfoliator on my face every day for two weeks. It did not dry out my face or cause any skin irritations. There is a scent to this exfoliator, and I think the smell is not too bad. I know people who don’t find this smell pleasant.

For the price, I think this is a good buy if you are on a budget and don’t mind the scent.


Best Overall Gentle Exfoliator

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Paulas Choice--SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant--Facial Exfoliant for Blackheads, Enlarged Pores, Wrinkles & Fine Lines, 4 oz Bottle

This exfoliator is one of the best selling liquid exfoliators with 2% salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a popular beta hydroxy acid that dives deep into your skin to help get rid of dead skin, dirt, and oil. Other benefits of this acid include reducing redness and smoothing out your skin surface. This exfoliator is safe to use on your sensitive skin.

Is Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant Good?

This exfoliator is part of my skincare routine. After one month of weekly use, I noticed an improvement in the texture of my skin. I will continue to use this exfoliator as it does not dry my skin nor cause my skin to breakout. Another thing to mention is that this exfoliator is fragrance-free and does not have a scent.

I know a friend who had acne-prone skin with pretty severe acne. After they used this exfoliator for some time, their acne and redness started to get better.

I highly recommend this exfoliator because it works like a miracle.


If you need more recommendations, check out our full list of the Best Exfoliator for Sensitive Skin.

About Carmen

Hi, my name is Carmen and I am a skincare enthusiast. I hope you like and find my articles helpful!

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