How Often Should I Exfoliate If I Have Oily Skin?

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Expert-approved

This article has been reviewed by Dr. Aznaida T. Pandapatan, a board-certified dermatologist that practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology.

How often to exfoliate oily skin is a question I wish I knew the answer to earlier. I often am ashamed of how rarely I used to exfoliate my oily skin. In the past, when I didn’t know much about skincare, exfoliating once every three weeks or so seemed enough. Say what?!

Oily skin actually needs more frequent exfoliation than other skin types. So my problem back then was that I didn’t know the answer to two simple, yet tricky, questions: how often to exfoliate oily skin, and what type of exfoliant should I use? But now I do, so stay tuned.

To find out exactly how often oily skin should exfoliate, we turned to board-certified dermatologist Aznaida T. Pandapatan, MD.

What exfoliation does

Skin is ever-changing and renewing, and old cells are shed from the skin’s surface every 28 days while new healthy cells take their place. But as we grow older, skin exfoliates less frequently on its own, and some other factors also hinder the exfoliation process. As a consequence, it causes dead cell buildup, which in turn leads to a dull look, clogged pores, and most likely breakouts. Here is where exfoliation comes to help.

By exfoliating your skin, you help pores unclog and eliminate excess sebum, so fewer chances for pimples and blackheads to appear. Also, by removing old cells and allowing new healthy ones to replace them, dark spots are minimized and tone evens. Need more? Exfoliation increases product absorption for boosted benefits — there you go.

So exfoliating your skin regularly is important and comes with a whole package of benefits, but you wouldn’t want to overdo it as it can lead to the opposite effect. Over-exfoliation can dry out the skin and trigger the sebaceous glands to secrete even more oil in an attempt to replenish the moisture loss. That you don’t want.

How often you should exfoliate oily skin

How often you should exfoliate your oily skin hardly depends on the type of exfoliation and exfoliating agent you’re using. This is important because while some exfoliators are gentle enough for twice-weekly applications, others can be harsh, and overusing them can mess up your skin barrier.

Physical

The old, traditional method of exfoliation with small granules (or brushes) you rub on the skin to slough off dead cells, is called physical exfoliation. Physical exfoliation may be too harsh for most people, which is why is often used for the body and not for the face. “If you have active acne, physical exfoliation is absolutely not advisable,” says Dr. Aznaida. However, “for those without acne, physical exfoliation may be ok, especially for those who have resilient, non-sensitive skin,” she adds.

How often to physically exfoliate oily skin

If you have oily skin, you can use a facial cleansing brush two-three times a week to remove the buildup of dead cells. Physical exfoliation is more abrasive, so you shouldn’t want to do it more than 2-3 times per week.

Chemical exfoliation

Chemical exfoliators are acids that work to eliminate dead skin cells and are gentler than physical ones. You most likely have heard about alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs). While AHAs are water-soluble and remove buildup from the skin’s surface, BHAs are oil-soluble, so they penetrate the skin more in-depth, removing oil and dirt below the skin’s surface. The best are salicylicglycoliclactic, and azelaic acids to exfoliate oily skin, especially if it’s prone to acne. 

How often to chemically exfoliate oily skin

Even if chemical exfoliation is gentler than physical, for the best, start with once weekly and increase slowly up to a maximum of three to see how your skin reacts. This also depends on the product at hand and its concentration. For instance, you can use a salicylic acid toner every day, but you can’t use The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution daily. 

Enzymatic exfoliation

Enzymatic exfoliation most often uses fruit enzymes like papaya, pomegranate, and pineapple, and they also have calming effects on the skin. This type of exfoliation works on a much gentler level than a chemical one. So, if you want a safe cell turnover process, go for enzymatic exfoliation which works by breaking down the glue that holds dead cells together, revealing smoother skin. 

How often to exfoliate oily skin

It depends on the type of exfoliant you use, but the general belief is that people with oily skin should exfoliate 2 to 3 times a week. No answer fits all, you have to observe your skin and see how it reacts to certain products. Start with one exfoliation weekly, then two, and finally three a week. If your skin gets irritated reduce the frequency.


References

  1. Rodan K, Fields K, Majewski G, Falla T. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2016;4(12 Suppl Anatomy and Safety in Cosmetic Medicine: Cosmetic Bootcamp):e1152. Published 2016 Dec 14. doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001152
  2. Endly DC, Miller RA. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017 Aug;10(8):49-55. Epub 2017 Aug 1. PMID: 28979664; PMCID: PMC5605215.
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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