Exfoliation removes dead skin and dirt, keeping your skin cleaner and healthier. Doing it regularly can create glowing, smooth skin, but if you do it too much, your skin can be damaged. How often you should exfoliate depends on a number of factors, including what exfoliant you use, your skin type, and your general skin health.
As a general rule, the softer an exfoliant is, the more often you can use it. Some scrubs are so gentle that you can use them on a daily basis; many scrubs designed for the face, for example, are soft enough for daily use. Coarse scrubs which are extremely grainy should be used no more than once a week, while scrubs which fall somewhere in between can be used two to three days a week. Salt scrubs tend to be the most coarse, while sugar and plant fiber scrubs are much gentler.
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If you have oily skin, you can generally exfoliate two to three days a week without any ill effects. Obviously, you should skip it if your skin feels sensitive or irritated, or if it looks red and flaky. People with more dry, delicate skin should exfoliate one to two times a week, ideally with a gentle scrub which will not irritate their skin.
If you're not sure about whether or not a particular product works for you, test it on your inner elbow, where the skin is especially tender. If the scrub causes irritation, it indicates that it may not be a good choice. If no irritation is experienced, you can safely use that product on a regular basis.
Your skin health also plays a factor in how often you should exfoliate. If you suffer from eczema or other skin conditions, you may want to ease back on your exfoliation schedule, especially if your doctor recommends the use of gentle skin care products only. If you've recently been sunburned, you should also avoid exfoliating until the sunburn starts to peel, because you don't want to pull new skin off while it is trying to heal.
When you exfoliate, less is more. Use only a small amount of exfoliant and take the time to really scour your skin; if you take a large dollop, the product will grind against itself more than your skin, and you will not receive any benefit. After exfoliating, always apply a layer of moisturizer to keep your skin healthy, supple, and moist.