Learn How To Exfoliate Sensitive Skin At Home Safely And Effectively

From A to Z.

Whether you’re a self-proclaimed skin minimalist or cherish a lengthy ritual, exfoliation is essential, and that applies even if your skin is sensitive. Contrary to popular belief, exfoliating sensitive is a good idea, just that you have to err on the side of caution when your complexion is already susceptible to damage. To stop things go awry for you, we compiled a complete guide on how to exfoliate sensitive skin, from what type of exfoliant to use, how frequently, and how to care for your skin post-exfoliation so that you get the benefits without the drama.

Can I exfoliate if I have sensitive skin?

Yes, sensitive skin can exfoliate once a week with a gentle product containing a low or moderate concentration of exfoliating agents. Exfoliation stimulates cell renewal and promotes a more radiant and even-looking appearance, so it’s a must in any skincare routine.

What type of exfoliation is best for sensitive skin?

When choosing the type of exfoliation for sensitive skin, you should err on the side of caution. There’s physical exfoliation, which involves rubbing grainy particles or scrubs on the skin to strip away surface cells manually. Next is chemical exfoliation, which uses acids (like glycolic and lactic) to boost cell turnover at deeper skin layers, and finally, enzymatic, which uses fruit enzymes to remove the top layer of the skin.

First and foremost, avoid scrubbing as it’s the most aggressive exfoliation method. Instead, if your skin is sensitive and easily reactive it’s best to use alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) or enzymatic exfoliants to slough of buildup of dead cells. Lactic acid is the mildnest AHA due to its high molecular weight, so it would be the perfect pick. Glycolic acid is also good for sensitive skin if used at a low concentration of up to 8% once weekly. Remember that the key to exfoliate sensitive skin is to pick the right exfoliant and adjust the concentration and frequency until your skin accommodates with the process.

How often should sensitive skin exfoliate?

Most dermatologists agree that people with sensitive skin should exfoliate once a week to avoid damaging the protective barrier. 

How to exfoliate sensitive skin

Now, the juicy part, how to exfoliate sensitive skin at home:

  • Perform a patch test: It’s always wise to perform a patch test whenever you add a new exfoliating product to your routine to see how your skin reacts and eliminate the chances of further sensitivities. Apply a thin layer of product to a small patch of your face and rinse it after 10 minutes. If it’s a leave-on exfoliator, skip the rinse part. Wait 48 hours before applying any other product to that area. You can safely use the product if you don’t experience any irritation.
  • Start slowly: Exfoliating once per week is enough for sensitive skin to reap the benefits without bothering your complexion. This gives the protective barrier enough time to recover and eliminates the risk of over-exfoliation.
  • Use a mild exfoliator: Using gentle products is deadly important to avoid damaging the barrier. That said, a lactic acid peel is one of the best options for sensitive skin because it’s the mildest among acids. A glycolic acid toner can also be a good pick since toners are not as concentrated as peels. You could also try a polyhydroxy acid products. It’s the next-generation of acids that exfoliates more delicately while also being hydrating. Regardless of your choice, ensure the product is gentle enough for your skin and contains soothing ingredients. 
  • Follow with a restorative moisturizer: Applying a reparative moisturizer post-exfoliation speeds up the skin’s recovery process and therefore offsets possible adverse effects. Look for moisturizers infused with ceramidescholesterol, and fatty acids, as they’re great for fortifying the skin’s barrier. 
  • Monitor your skin: Monitoring your skin constantly can give you a lot of insights on how to improve the exfoliation process and get the most out of it. Are you still experiencing irritation? Reduce the frequency or move to gentler products. Are you not satisfied with the results? Move to more potent formulas.

What else?

Before you leave, there are a few other things you should be aware of when exfoliating sensitive skin:

  1. It’s best to exfoliate your skin at night since the process can increase photosensitivity. And never skip sunscreen in AM.
  2. Don’t use retinolvitamin Cbenzoyl peroxide, or other exfoliants at least 24 hours after exfoliation.
  3. Sun exposure, microneedling, and other cosmetic procedures are a big no-no after exfoliation.
  4. Exfoliation boosts the absorption of what you apply after, giving you the perfect opportunity to use targeted products.

Read next: 12 Best Organic Exfoliators for Sensitive Skin

Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder of Women's Concepts and a certified skincare consultant. She has over five years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and over a decade as an acne sufferer. With a background in dermatological research, Ana brings a wealth of expertise to a diverse range of topics, from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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