Cleansing washes away dirt, makeup, and other skin impurities. Exfoliation removes dead skin cells that can clog pores and lead to acne breakouts. Cleansing first may remove surface-level dirt, allowing for better access to dead skin cells when exfoliating.

Sun exposure, pollution, stress, fatigue, perspiration, and hormonal factors may cause a person’s skin to become blemished, damaged, or prematurely aged.

Cleansing and exfoliating the skin both serve an important purpose in maintaining a healthy, glowing complexion. However, for best results, a person may consider cleansing the skin before exfoliating.

Individuals may remove makeup first with a gentle makeup remover and then choose a cleanser that best suits their skin type, such as oily, dry, or combination.

This article will examine the differences between exfoliation and cleansing, the benefits of each, the order in which a person may consider performing them for best results, and other skin care tips.

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There are two types of exfoliation, mechanical and chemical.

Mechanical exfoliation uses an abrasive item, such as a sponge, to scrub away dead skin cells. It can also include washes with a rough textured item or exfoliating beads.

Physical exfoliation causes the quick removal of old skin cells. This results in a temporary disruption of the skin barrier, causing increased transepidermal water loss.

Chemical exfoliation removes dead skin cells by slowly dissolving them with chemicals. Common formulations for these exfoliation products include alpha and beta hydroxy acids.

There are also some newer chemical exfoliants called polyhydroxy acids that include lactobionic acid and gluconolactone. These exfoliants have larger molecule sizes, and individuals may find them more tolerable. However, for those with sensitive skin, experts typically recommend mandelic acid.

Removing dead skin cells can make the skin look more vibrant and renewed. It can also prevent acne flares due to a decrease in skin oil that can clog pores.

Exfoliation can be harsh for some skin types and may sting or burn if the skin is sensitive. Specifically, it may not suit individuals with rosacea, allergies, or older skin, and those with darker skin tones may notice pigment changes.

Because many methods of exfoliation are more abrasive than other daily skin care practices, such as cleansing, washing, and toning, a person does not need to exfoliate every day. For most people, once or twice per week is sufficient.

Cleansing the face helps decrease sebum or oil and old skin cells that can clog pores and lead to bacterial overgrowth. In turn, this can cause acne.

Washing the face does not remove all bacteria — some are essential for the skin to remain healthy. However, overwashing the face can strip the skin’s resistance, decrease lipids, and increase water loss.

Dermatologists recommend using a nonabrasive cleanser that does not contain alcohol. Many cleansers use natural ingredients, such as tea tree oil or aloe vera, that are kind to the skin.

A person should use their fingertips to apply it, as washcloths or sponges can cause irritation. They should not scrub the cleanser into the skin. They can then rinse with lukewarm water and pat the face dry with a towel before applying moisturizer.

An individual should also only cleanse twice a day and after sweating.

The main benefit of exfoliating first is that it washes away dead skin cells during cleansing. Using an exfoliant a few times per week before sleeping and cleansing when waking may make for a gentler skin care routine.

A person should not scrub the face with a washcloth or sponge during cleansing, as this can cause irritation.

An individual should use the fingers to gently apply cleanser to the skin, rub in a circular motion, and then rinse with water.

They should follow exfoliation with a suitable moisturizer for their skin type.

Cleansing the face before exfoliation will allow chemical exfoliants to penetrate deep into the skin and prevent makeup or dirt from pushing deeper, especially if also using mechanical exfoliation. However, a gentle cleanser or exfoliant alone should remove makeup and dirt — using both may strip the skin of moisture.

A person can follow these tips for cleansing:

  • Use a gentle cleanser that is suitable for all skin types and does not contain alcohol.
  • Apply the cleanser using the fingertips, as sponges or washcloths can irritate the skin.
  • Do not scrub the skin, but rinse the cleanser away with lukewarm water.
  • Afterward, apply a good moisturizer that also suits an individual’s skin type.

Individuals using retinoids or other prescription medications for their skin should consider speaking with their dermatologist or healthcare professional before exfoliating to avoid over-exfoliation.

Keeping skin healthy requires daily attention.

There are a few skin care tips that dermatologists recommend to provide the best results:

  • Wear sunscreen with 30 SPF or higher daily to avoid sun damage.
  • Do not use tanning beds, as these can cause permanent skin damage.
  • Establish a simple skin care routine, as a person is more likely to stick to a simpler routine.
  • Use the right skin care products for a person’s skin type.
  • Avoid touching the face throughout the day, as bacteria on the hands may cause blemishes.
  • Apply sunscreen to the lips, ideally SPF 25 or higher.
  • Check the skin regularly for growths, new spots, or new or changing moles.

Cleansing and exfoliation are both important steps in a person’s skin care routine.

Cleansing washes away impurities and bacteria that can lead to acne or other infections. Exfoliation removes excess oil and dead skin cells that can clog pores and lead to acne breakouts.

There are two types of exfoliation — chemical and mechanical. The former uses a chemical compound a person applies to the skin to dissolve dead skin cells while mechanical removes them through gentle scrubbing.

Cleansing the skin before exfoliation allows chemical exfoliants to penetrate the skin and prevents a person from scrubbing makeup and dirt into the skin during exfoliation.

For those who can tolerate exfoliants, cleansing the skin beforehand may aid in the absorption of the chemical exfoliants and could prevent dirt or leftover makeup from entering the epidermis.

A person should use a gentle cleanser that suits their skin type and only cleanse twice each day and after sweating.

Those with allergies should always conduct a patch test before using a new product. However, if a person experiences an allergic reaction, they should consult a doctor or healthcare professional as soon as possible.