Exfoliation is when someone removes dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin. People can use natural products or items such as sugar, oatmeal, or sponges to help exfoliate their face at home.

People may choose to exfoliate their skin as it can provide benefits such as improving its appearance and encouraging circulation. But people should take care when exfoliating their face as they can easily damage or irritate their skin.

In this article, learn more about the benefits of exfoliating and which natural products people can use.

A person using natural ingredients to exfoliate their face.Share on Pinterest
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For exfoliation at home, there are two main ways that a person can exfoliate: mechanical and chemical.

Mechanical exfoliation is the use of an object to physically remove the dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. This includes tools such as sponges, facial brushes, and washcloths.

Chemical exfoliation is the use of chemicals to dissolve and remove the dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants include acids such as alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), exfoliation can help improve the skin’s appearance. A 2016 study notes that exfoliation stimulates the turnover of new cells on the skin’s surface. This can result in a smoother, more polished appearance.

The AAD recommends that when using a chemical exfoliator or a scrub, a person should use small, circular motions when applying the product. When a person uses a physical exfoliator, such as a sponge or washcloth, they should use short, light strokes when exfoliating.

A person should also ensure that they are not exfoliating if they have wounds, open cuts, or sunburn on their skin.

How often a person should exfoliate will depend on their skin type and the method of exfoliation.

For example, people with oily skin may prefer to exfoliate more often than people with dry or sensitive skin. Additionally, the more aggressive the exfoliation method, the less often a person should perform it.

As it is easy to over-exfoliate and irritate skin, people should exfoliate their face no more than one to three times a week. If irritation occurs, people should stop exfoliating their skin until it heals and consider performing it less frequently or trying a different method.

A person should consult a medical professional, such as a dermatologist, to determine the most appropriate exfoliation frequency for their skin type.

People with acne may consider exfoliating their face to improve their skin’s appearance. But it is important that they consider what skin care products they are currently using and choose an appropriate exfoliation method to suit their skin type.

Certain acne medications, especially those containing retinol or benzoyl peroxide, may make skin more sensitive. Exfoliating when using these products may result in an acne breakout.

Additionally, if a person has acne-prone skin, it may be advisable for them to avoid using mechanical exfoliation methods as this may be too irritating for their skin type.

Instead, it may be more suitable for them to use chemical peeling methods. For example, chemical exfoliants such as salicylic acid can help manage and treat acne.

There are many natural exfoliants that people can use on their skin. Typically, they are mechanical exfoliants, meaning that people can use them to physically remove dead skin cells. They can include:


People can use round, crushed, or rolled oat grains to make oatmeal, which contains active properties that may benefit the skin. Manufacturers may use colloidal oatmeal in skin care products. This is a finely ground version of oatmeal that absorbs water much more readily.

A 2012 study testing different skincare products containing colloidal oatmeal suggests it is an effective exfoliator. A 2017 study also notes that oatmeal was effective in exfoliating dead skin cells and may reduce acne breakouts and remove oil and bacteria from the skin.


The rough texture and shape of sugar granules makes them a suitable physical exfoliant. By applying a sugar scrub to the skin and using circular motions, people can exfoliate their skin via friction.

Some sugars, such as sugarcane, also contain other active properties such as glycolic acid, which is an AHA.

A person can buy sugar scrubs commercially or make them at home by mixing sugars with an oil, such as brown sugar with almond oil.


Sponges act as mechanical exfoliants. People can use them to physically remove dead skin cells from the skin’s surface through scrubbing.

The loofah sponge is a type of sponge that people often use to scrub and exfoliate skin. Using a loofah sponge may also help to promote blood circulation.

Some people may also suggest konjac sponges. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people can use fiber from the konjac plant to gently exfoliate their face.


Washcloths provide gentle exfoliation that is not too harsh on the skin.

Washcloths may be preferable for people with sensitive, dry, or acne-prone skin. This is because other mechanical exfoliation methods or strong chemical exfoliators may irritate the skin and cause breakouts.

For exfoliation, a person can dampen a regular washcloth and use short, light strokes against the skin.

A person should first determine their skin type before exfoliation. This is because different skin types will react differently to exfoliation methods. Different skin types include:

  • Sensitive skin: This skin type is more likely to sting, burn, or experience redness after using certain skincare products.
  • Normal skin: This skin type is normally clear and not sensitive to product use.
  • Dry skin: This skin type is itchy, flaky, or rough.
  • Oily skin: This skin type is normally greasy or shiny.
  • Combination skin: This skin type is a combination of dry and oily skin. Some areas of skin may be dry, while others may be oily.

The AAD recommends that people with dry or sensitive skin use a mild chemical exfoliator or a washcloth for gentle mechanical exfoliation.

People with oily, thicker skin may require other methods for exfoliation, such as stronger mechanical or chemical exfoliators.

A person may also want to consider their skin tone when choosing an exfoliation method. It is advisable that some people, particularly those with darker skin tones, avoid strong chemical or mechanical exfoliation. This is because these methods may cause dark spots to appear on darker skin tones.

Exfoliation allows for the removal of the outer layer of dead skin cells and can also help to unclog pores and keep skin clean. This may help to improve the appearance of skin.

For example, many people may use chemical exfoliants to help combat signs of aging, acne, acne scarring, ingrown hairs, or hyperpigmentation.

It is important that people use the correct exfoliation technique and consider what methods are appropriate for their skin type. Over-exfoliation can damage the skin and can cause redness or acne breakouts.

A person should not exfoliate skin that is sunburned or has open wounds or cuts, as this can irritate skin further.

Exfoliating too often and using inappropriate exfoliants can cause damage to the skin known as micro-tears. This can result in the skin barrier becoming weaker and can cause it to lose its ability to regenerate.

When using mechanical exfoliants, such as sponges or washcloths, a person should also ensure that they clean them regularly. This is because these tools can harbor bacteria that can cause breakouts in the skin.

Exfoliation is beneficial in removing dead skin cells and maintaining the appearance of healthy skin. Natural exfoliants are available that are effective yet gentle on the skin.

A person should ensure that they consider their skin type and appropriate methods before exfoliating to ensure they get the most benefit. Over-exfoliating and certain chemical exfoliants can cause more damage to the skin.