Get Glowing: Exfoliation Products for Your Face and Body

Our head to toe guide to scrubs, peels, and lotions.

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 08, 2012

Is your skin feeling a little rough around the edges? Regular exfoliation can help. 

Your skin renews itself about 30 days. If the old cells remain on the surface and build up, cosmetic dermatologist Naila Malik, MD, says, they can contribute to a flat, dull appearance, blemishes, and scaling. Exfoliation also helps improve the penetration of your other skin products.

Dermatologist Jessica Wu, MD, agrees. “While exfoliating has year-round benefits, as the weather gets colder and the humidity levels drop, more cells dry out and accumulate on the surface,” Wu says. “They need to be removed to uncover smooth, fresh skin.”

Malik's top exfoliator picks:

For the face, I like the combination of crystals for mechanical exfoliation and lactic acid for chemical exfoliation in the Olay Regenerist Microdermabrasion & Peel System. For a more gentle treatment, Neutrogena Deep Clean Invigorating Foaming Scrub uses softer beads to loosen dead skin.

Hands, feet, and back can tolerate stronger exfoliants than your chest and shoulders. A combination product like Eucerin Intensive Repair Body Lotion combines exfoliants with moisturizer to help avoid irritation while smoothing rough spots.

Smoothing the thick, easily calloused skin on your heels can be tough. You may need to use a scrub to loosen skin and then tackle rough spots with a foot file like the Tweezerman Spa Callus Smoother.

Wu's top exfoliator picks:

Acne-causing bacteria feed on the oil trapped by skin cells that don’t turn over quickly enough. So sloughing is important for preventing breakouts. One of my favorite products is Clean & Clear Advantage 3-in-1 Exfoliating Cleanser. The microbeads help loosen blackheads, but they’re smooth and won’t scratch your skin. And the benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria.

Incorporate a scrub into your daily shower routine if your skin tolerates it. Using a product like de-luxe Bain Foaming Body Scrub with apricot kernel powder can help keep elbows and knees free of rough patches and reduce dead-skin cell build up.

If your skin is prone to sensitivity, look for salicylic or glycolic acid washes like Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash, Pink Grapefruit to gently slough dry skin.

Feet can handle slightly more aggressive treatment. The pumice particles in Dr. Scholl’s For Her Liquid Pumice Foot Scrub work beautifully on the thick scales that develop on the heels and balls of your feet.

Exfoliation How-To

Our skin experts warn that people with certain skin types should be careful not to exfoliate too much.

Sensitive skin. Exfoliation for those with very reactive skin can lead to severe irritation and even scarring. Plus, you risk shedding too much of the skin’s protective barrier, which may cause inflammation, dryness, and sun sensitivity. No matter your skin type, it’s important to follow with a moisturizer since exfoliation can make your skin prone to dryness.

Pigmented skin. People with darker complexions need to be cautious with exfoliation because they are prone to post-inflammatory pigmentation, which is difficult to reverse.

Acne-prone skin. While gentle exfoliation can help prevent breakouts, being too rough with harsh, excessive rubbing can aggravate acne by causing inflammation and providing more openings for bacteria.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the experts and are not the opinions of WebMD. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

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Naila Malik, MD, cosmetic dermatologist, Southlake, Texas.

Jessica Wu, MD, dermatologist, Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center.

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