This article has been reviewed by Dr. Aznaida T. Pandapatan, a board-certified dermatologist that practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology.
How often to exfoliate oily skin is a question I wish I knew the answer to earlier. I often am ashamed of how rarely I used to exfoliate my oily skin. In the past, when I didn’t know much about skincare, exfoliating once every three weeks or so seemed enough. Say what?!
Oily skin actually needs more frequent exfoliation than other skin types. So my problem back then was that I didn’t know the answer to two simple, yet tricky, questions: how often to exfoliate oily skin, and what type of exfoliant should I use? But now I do, so stay tuned, you’re about to find out how often to exfoliate your skin and why.
Skin is ever-changing and renewing, and old cells are shed from the skin’s surface every 28 days while new healthy cells take their place. But as we grow older, skin exfoliates less frequently on its own, and some other factors also hinder the exfoliation process. As a consequence, it causes dead cells buildup, which in turn leads to a dull look, clogged pores, and most likely breakouts. Here is where exfoliation comes to help.
To find out exactly how often oily skin should exfoliate, we turned to board-certified dermatologist Aznaida T. Pandapatan, MD.
What exfoliation does
By exfoliating your skin, you help pores unclog and eliminate excess sebum, so fewer chances for pimples and blackheads to appear. Also, by removing old cells and allowing new healthy ones to replace them, dark spots are minimized and tone evens. Need more? Exfoliation increases products absorption for boosted benefits — there you go.
Determining how often to exfoliate your oily skin is important, but you wouldn’t want to over-exfoliate. Overdoing it can lead to the opposite effect. Meaning, if you over-exfoliate your skin, it dries out and the sebaceous glands start to secrete even more oil in an attempt to replenish the moisture loss. That you don’t want.
Types of exfoliation
Before we go into how often you should exfoliate oily skin, let’s delve deeper into the types of exfoliation. This is important because while some exfoliating agents are gentle, others can be harsh, and the type of exfoliant you use also influences how often you should exfoliate.
The old, traditional method of exfoliation with small granules (or brushes) you rub on skin to slough off dead cells, is called physical exfoliation. Physical exfoliation may be too harsh for most people, which is why is often used for the body and not for the face. “If you have active acne, physical exfoliation is absolutely not advisable,” says Dr. Aznaida. However, “for those without acne, physical exfoliation may be ok, especially for those who have resilient, non-sensitive skin,” she adds.
How often to physical exfoliate oily skin
If you have oily skin, you can use a facial cleansing brush two-three times a week. Physical exfoliation is more abrasive, so you wouldn’t want to do it more than 2-3 times per week.
Chemical exfoliators are acids that work to eliminate dead skin cells and are gentler than physical ones. You most likely have heard about alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs). While AHAs are water-soluble and remove buildup from the skin’s surface, BHAs are oil-soluble, so they penetrate the skin more in-depth, removing oil and dirt below the skin’s surface. The best are salicylic, glycolic, lactic, and azelaic acids to exfoliate oily skin, especially if it’s prone to acne.
How often to chemical exfoliate oily skin
Even if chemical exfoliation is gentler than physical, for the best, start with once weekly and increase slowly up to a maximum of three to see how your skin reacts. This also depends on the product at hand and its concentration. For instance, you can use a salicylic acid toner every day, but you can’t use The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution daily.
Enzymatic exfoliation most often uses fruit enzymes like papaya, pomegranate, and pineapple, and they also have calming effects on the skin. This type of exfoliation works on a much gentler level than a chemical one. So, if you want a safe cell turnover process, go for enzymatic exfoliation that works by breaking down the glue that holds dead cells together, revealing smoother skin.
How often to exfoliate oily skin
How often should you exfoliate oily skin? It depends on the type of exfoliant you use, but the general belief is that people with oily skin should exfoliate 2 to 3 times a week. No answer fits all, you have to observe your skin and see how it reacts to certain products. Start with one exfoliation weekly, then two, and finally three a week. If your skin gets irritated reduce the frequency.References
- Rodan K, Fields K, Majewski G, Falla T. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2016;4(12 Suppl Anatomy and Safety in Cosmetic Medicine: Cosmetic Bootcamp):e1152. Published 2016 Dec 14. doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001152
- Endly DC, Miller RA. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017;10(8):49-55.