How to Exfoliate Your Hands

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 07, 2022
5 min read

Skin care for the face is very common. But how often do you care for one of the most dexterous and resourceful parts of your body — the hands?

Read on to learn more about exfoliation for hands, the steps, types, benefits, and more.

Exfoliation is a term used for the process of scrubbing dead skin cells from the surface of the body. You can do this with the help of natural products like oatmeal or sugar, which have a grainy texture. You can also use commercially available scrubs and sponges to exfoliate your skin.

Your skin has three layers — the epidermis (outermost layer), dermis (middle layer), and hypodermis (innermost fatty layer). Skin exfoliation involves the removal of dead cells from the topmost layer or epidermis. 

Exfoliation is usually quite beneficial for your skin, but if you don’t do it properly, it’s possible to damage your skin. All exfoliation methods and products may not be suitable for every skin type, so you need to understand what works for your skin type before attempting exfoliation. 

Human skin is generally classified into five types:

  1. Normal. This is the most common type of clear skin that isn’t very sensitive.
  2. Dry. This skin type is flaky, rough, and sometimes itchy.
  3. Oily. This skin type is greasy and shiny.
  4. Sensitive. This skin type is reactive to most products and may burn or sting after exfoliation.
  5. Combination. This skin type involves some dry and oily skin patches.

For best results and to avoid skin irritation, select your hand exfoliation products and method to complement your skin type.

Skin exfoliation is usually categorized into two types based on the products and method used:

Mechanical exfoliation. In this method, you’d use physical tools like brushes, sponges, washcloths, and scrubs to manually remove dead skin cells. This method is ideal for you if you have a thick or oily skin type.

Chemical exfoliation. In this method, you’d use chemicals like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), or polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) to exfoliate your skin. AHAs are water-soluble and help in superficial exfoliation, whereas BHAs are oil-soluble, so they can enter your pores and help in the deep exfoliation of dead skin cells and sebum. PHAs provide gentle exfoliation without irritation or sun sensitivity. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are commonly used AHAs. 

Salicylic acid is the most popularly used BHA. Gluconolactone and galactose are PHAs. Note that all chemical exfoliants might not be suitable for you if you have a sensitive skin type.

Some hand exfoliation benefits include: 

  • Removes dirt, debris, and dead cells to give you healthy skin
  • Unclogs skin pores
  • Fights signs of aging like wrinkles
  • Reduces skin discoloration and evens your skin tone
  • Smooths skin texture
  • Improves blood circulation and lymphatic drainage
  • Increases skin cell turnover
  • Stimulates collagen synthesis
  • Helps in better penetration of other skin care products like moisturizers

Here are some dermatologist-recommended tips to help you build your own exfoliation routine:

Step 1. Keep track of any medications or other skin care products you may be using because certain chemicals like retinoids and benzoyl peroxide can make your skin overly sensitive, dry, or flaky. If you apply a strong exfoliator while using such products, you could end up irritating your skin or causing damage.

Step 2. Your exfoliation technique and all the products you use must match your skin type. For example, if you have dry or sensitive skin, you should use mild chemical exfoliators or soft washcloths for exfoliation. Applying mechanical force during exfoliation will only cause damage to your skin. Alternatively, if you have oily or thick skin, strong exfoliators are the need of the hour. But if also have a dark skin tone, avoid aggressive exfoliation, as it can cause dark spots.

Step 3. Whether you’re using a chemical or mechanical exfoliator, gently apply the product and use light, short strokes or tiny circular motions to scrub the skin of your hands for around 30 seconds. Then rinse off the product using lukewarm water. Avoid exfoliating any areas with sunburns, insect bites, or open wounds or cuts.

Step 4. After drying your hands with a soft towel, apply moisturizer immediately as exfoliation dries out the skin. Moisturizing regularly will keep your skin hydrated and healthy. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen before you step out to protect your hands from skin cancer-causing harmful ultraviolet sun rays. 

Step 5. The frequency of skin exfoliation depends on your skin type, lifestyle, and exfoliation method. As a rule of thumb, the stronger your exfoliation technique, the less frequently you need to do it. Avoid exfoliating too much because this can lead to skin irritation.

Skin exfoliation gives great results. But this may not be enough to see a significant improvement in your skin quality if your lifestyle contradicts the positive effects of skin exfoliation. For example, if you use tanning beds too often or stay out in the sun for too long, you could develop age spots (solar lentigines or liver spots). 

If you’ve recently lost a lot of weight, your skin could become loose and wrinkly. As you age, your skin loses elasticity. This happens all over the body, but you may tend to focus on the changes you can see on your face. To complement all the hard work you’ve been doing to maintain your appearance, remember to care for your hands.

Here are some small lifestyle changes you can implement to make your body healthier and your hands look younger:

  1. Drink enough water to keep your body hydrated and your skin clear. Aim for 13 cups a day if you’re a man and 9 cups a day if you’re a woman. Avoid drinking alcohol and too many caffeinated beverages, which can cause dehydration.
  2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet containing fresh fruits and vegetables and other whole foods with important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants. A vitamin B complex and vitamin C are great for your skin, hair, and nails. A lack of these nutrients can make your nails brittle and flaky. You could even take multivitamin supplements if you feel that your diet isn’t nutritious enough.
  3. Based on your skin type, use a cream-based moisturizer for dry skin, a gel-based moisturizer for oily skin, or a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free moisturizer for sensitive skin. Moisturize regularly, especially after you wash your hands.
  4. Whenever you’re outdoors, protect your hands with sunscreen of SPF 50 or higher. You could also use cotton-lined gloves when doing chores like gardening and washing dishes. Use handwashes or soaps with a mild pH so that they’re not too harsh on the skin of your hands.

If you’d like soft and smooth hands, then hand exfoliation treatment might just be worth your time and money. Invest in a good-quality chemical or mechanical exfoliator according to your skin type. For best results, maintain a regular exfoliation and moisturization schedule. Don’t overdo it, and speak to your dermatologist immediately if you notice any skin reactions.