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How to exfoliate at home from head to toe

Exfoliating is an important step of your skin care routine.
how to exfoliate face
If you're not exfoliating, you're missing a big step in your skin care routine.Getty Images stock
/ Source: TODAY

Maintaining beautiful skin isn't always easy and it usually takes a careful and consistent skin care routine.

While you may know the right way to cleanse and hydrate, you could also be missing a vital step: exfoliating. Exfoliation is an incredibly important part of a skin care routine, helping shed dry, flaky skin and allowing you to feel fresh and bright — and maybe even look a bit younger!

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation, in the most basic terms, is the removal of dead skin cells.

“Humans shed through the top layer of their skin roughly every 28 days,” Di Medlock, director of spa operations at Exhale, told TODAY Style. “Factors like environment, diet, stress, etc. can cause the natural sloughing process to slow down, causing dull, acne-prone, tired-looking, dry or flaky skin."

Exfoliants are products that help speed up the cell-turnover process. “The benefits of exfoliating are increased circulation, increased elasticity, clearer pores, reduced redness and an overall youthful glow,” Medlock said.

How to exfoliate your face:

Exfoliants can be found in cleansers, serums, scrubs and masks, but the two main options are chemical and physical.

  • Chemical exfoliation

“Chemical exfoliation uses various acids — like glycolic, salicylic, phytic or lactic acid — in various concentrations to loosen dead skin cells and help them slough off,” said dermatologist Dr. Doris Day of Day Dermatology and Aesthetics.

“Salicylic acid is especially good for those who have acne since it gets down into the follicles and can clear out the pores,” said Day. “Glycolic helps with evening out skin tone and overall rejuvenation. Phytic and lactic acids are gentler and may be better for those with sensitive skin and rosacea.”

  • Physical exfoliation

Physical exfoliation uses beads, particles or materials that are rough on the surface to physically remove the outer layer. "Depending on the surface size of the particles and smoothness, you can get more or less of an aggressive exfoliation,” said Day, who added that she’s even seen people use sandpaper to exfoliate — not the best idea!

How to exfoliate your lips:

It's important to be very careful to not irritate the lips when you exfoliate. “One option is to physically rub the lips with a toothbrush, but that in and of itself could be irritating, so if one selects this method, do it with Vaseline or Aquaphor as an emollient and reapply afterward if it still feels dry or irritated,” said dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Mark, who has offices in New York City, the Hamptons and Aspen.

“I prefer a more natural approach with a combo of sugar granules and honey and using one’s fingertips,” Mark said. The sugar granules will mechanically exfoliate dry or flaky lips.

How to exfoliate your legs and body:

For a body exfoliant, try a lotion-based product. “I feel using a sugar or salt scrub soaked with oils just leaves my skin feeling heavy with excess oil and clogged pores,” said Heather Rohrer, a physician's assistant and owner of the prestigious celebrity medical spa Center for Aesthetic Medicine and Human Performance in Las Vegas. She prefers Skinceuticals Body Retexturing Treatment.

Skinceuticals Body Retexturing Treatment

“This exfoliating lotion contains hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, which work together to enhance cell turnover and restore your skin's natural moisture barrier. This product is perfect on legs, arms, elbows (and) knees, which can all get dry and flaky without the proper care,” said Rohrer, adding that results are typically seen in eight weeks.

How to exfoliate your scalp:

Dirt, oil and buildup will form on your scalp, sometimes forming dandruff, but exfoliating can help.

To do so: “Wet your hair with warm water. Don’t use hot water. With the flat part of your fingers (not the fingertips) massage your scalp with a scalp exfoliator," said Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York City-based dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "You can even make your own. You can mix some brown sugar and a little baking soda and, if you like, you can add a few drops of an essential oil, such as tea tree. You can also look for an exfoliating shampoo.”

TODAY Style editors recommend this purifying scrub with sea salt.

Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub

The salt crystals help physically exfoliate skin on the scalp and dissolve in water while the other ingredients create a satisfying shampoo lather.

This story was originally published March 18, 2019.