Expert Answers to Your Exfoliation Questions

Expert Answers to Your Exfoliation Questions

Wondering which exfoliating products to use from head to toe this fall? Our experts give their top picks.


In each issue of WebMD the Magazine, our experts answer your questions about skin care, beauty, makeup, hair care, and more. In our October 2010 issue, Diann Wagoner Garnett, 39, an English as a Second Language teacher in Bethlehem, Pa., asks for recommendations on exfoliating products. We turned to Naila Malik, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist in Southlake, Texas and Jessica Wu, MD, a dermatologist at the Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center for recommendations.

Q: Now that it’s fall, I want to exfoliate from head to toe. What should I look for in an exfoliator?

Malik's top picks:

Regular exfoliation is an important part of a skin care regimen. Cells move from the base of the epidermis up to the top in a 30-day cycle. If the old cells remain on the surface and build up, they can contribute to a flat, dull appearance, blemishes, and scaling. Exfoliation also helps improve the penetration of your other skin products.

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 ($24.99). For a more gentle treatment, Neutrogena Deep Clean Invigorating Foaming Scrub ($7.99) 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 ($11.99) 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, then tackle rough spots with a foot file like the Tweezerman Spa Callus Smoother ($20).

Wu's top picks:

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, and they need to be removed to uncover smooth, fresh skin.

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 ($8.49). 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 ($4.49) 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 ($5.99) 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 ($6.99) work beautifully on the thick scales that develop on the heels and balls of your feet.

Exfoliation Tips

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

Sensitive skin. Exfoliation on 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 section are of the experts and are not the opinions of WebMD. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

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