Home Skincare How Often Should You Exfoliate Acne Prone Skin?

How Often Should You Exfoliate Acne Prone Skin?

by Gabbi

Healing acne-prone skin can feel like a long journey or a recipe you can never figure out quite right. Genetics, diet, lifestyle, and skincare can affect or trigger acne-prone skin. However, many individuals believe exfoliation is the answer to clearer skin. 

It can feel satisfying to slough away dead skin in the hopes of a clearer complexion. However, exfoliation is a crucial tool that should be used sparingly and wisely. It can quickly bring new skin cells to the surface and promote further irritation. 

You may be wondering, how often should you exfoliate acne-prone skin? It’s recommended to exfoliate your skin at least 1-3 times per week, depending on how well your skin tolerates it. Sensitive skin types may only handle once per week. 

Another crucial factor to consider when exfoliating acne-prone skin is what type of exfoliant you are incorporating into your routine. There are two main types of exfoliants that each provide varying results depending on how much you use them. 

When implementing new skincare products or methods in your routine, give them enough time to provide results. Also, it’s necessary to create a balance between exfoliation and nourishment to promote a happy skin barrier. 

What Is Acne-Prone Skin?

Acne-prone skin can deal with a mix of inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne symptoms. This can include whiteheads, blackheads, cysts, pustules, and more. It can be caused by genetics, lifestyle, puberty, bacteria build-up, etc. 

You can try various acne treatments like over-the-counter or heavier prescription products. Of course, it all depends on the severity of your acne-prone skin. We always recommend seeing a dermatologist if you want the best advice for ridding your skin of acne.

Can All Skin Types Have Acne?

Understanding your skin type is crucial because it can help heal your acne. For example, most acne-prone skin can have an oily complexion. 

However, it’s still possible for your skin to be dry and still have acne. Or you may find you are sensitive and acne-prone. Our skin can undergo multiple changes in a lifetime, whether it is puberty, birth control, pregnancy, etc.

Why Should You Exfoliate The Skin?

Exfoliation is an essential step in any skincare routine, regardless of your skin type. 

It will efficiently unclog pores, remove dead skin, and promote a more even complexion. Also, you can find a mild exfoliant (like this effective one from La Roche-Posay), or your derm may prescribe you a product.

Types Of Exfoliants 

When we first think of an exfoliant, we might automatically picture a face scrub filled with microbeads that slough away dead skin. However, there are two primary types of exfoliants which include physical and chemical. 

Physical exfoliants are your typical scrubs for manual exfoliation, and chemical exfoliants can be a form of acid like Salicylic Acid


According to Healthline, “chemical exfoliants are acids that get rid of dead skin cells. They come in various concentrations…they work by breaking the bond that holds the skin together…as those bonds are broken, the top layers of skin shed.”

Some chemical exfoliants that help with acne-prone skin are azeliac, salicylic, and glycolic acid. 


Physical exfoliants are known as manual exfoliation. This is the category where most typical face scrubs fall into. These exfoliants will focus on exfoliating the surface layer of the skin, but they’ve become less popular due to creating abrasions. 

It is crucial to know each exfoliant has its downsides and must be appropriately used for the best results.

How Frequently Should You Exfoliate Acne-Prone Skin? 

Acne-prone skin can significantly benefit from proper exfoliation. However, how often should you exfoliate?

Healthline and Dr. Jousha Zeichner state, “these skin types can exfoliate two or three times a week if their skin can tolerate it. Opt for products containing salicylic acid, Zeichner notes… as it’s oil-soluble.” 

If you are more sensitive, you can exfoliate at least once a week until the acne improves or you build a tolerance. 

Can You Exfoliate Too Much?

Unfortunately, you can over-exfoliate, and it’s not recommended to do it daily. 

This is because your skin needs time to heal in between exfoliating to promote a healthy skin barrier. Without this time, too much exfoliation can trigger excess inflammation or irritation.

Should You Exfoliate More If Acne Is Severe?

It’s recommended to visit a dermatologist if you’re dealing with severe signs of acne. Treating acne is not one-size-fits-all, and receiving personalized care is crucial. In addition, you may require a prescription-grade product to heal your acne-prone skin. 

Again, too much exfoliation can lead to more irritation and inflammation, so it may be wise to cut exfoliants from your routine until you get a professional opinion.

Signs Of Over-Exfoliation 

How can you tell if you’ve over-exfoliated your skin? You may notice various symptoms, including redness, inflammation, or tenderness. This can be especially true if you exfoliate daily or don’t have any nourishing components in your skincare.

Flaky Skin

You may believe that peeling skin is a sign your exfoliation is producing results. 

However, sometimes dry and flaky skin can be an adverse reaction. Therefore, you must try to balance exfoliation with moisturizers and nourishing components like ceramides.

Also, avoid picking or peeling off flaky skin as it could trigger other signs of irritation or hinder the skin from healing. 

Increased Sebum Production

Does your skin feel oilier than it usually does? Over-exfoliation can also lead to increased sebum production. Because the skin may constantly feel dry from too much exfoliation, it can potentially lead it to produce more oil. 

This may be a sign to reduce exfoliation and focus on incorporating high-quality moisturizers into your skincare regimen.


You can get used to redness if you struggle with acne, but if it’s not disappearing with exfoliation, it may be a sign that it’s too much. In addition, chemical exfoliants can highly irritate the skin if they’re misused or without sunscreen protection. 

Redness can also signify other skin conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema.


Exfoliation is supposed to sweep away clogged pores and dead skin cells. However, if your skin looks inflamed, it may be wise to stop or limit how often you exfoliate. Sometimes an exfoliant can be too harsh or have a high concentration.


Your face may also feel tender if you over-exfoliate the skin. Chemical and physical exfoliants can create a raw feeling for the skin, which may indicate you have a damaged skin barrier. Some products may even sting upon application.

This can accompany other signs of over-exfoliation, like redness or inflammation.  

How To Incorporate Exfoliation In Your Skincare Routine

So how can you properly and effectively exfoliate your acne-prone skin? First, it’s crucial to remember that it can take time to see any results from exfoliating, and you’ll want to stay consistent.

Some helpful tips include slowly building a tolerance with your desired exfoliant, using it at night, and balancing it out with a nourishing skin regimen. You may also want to contact a dermatologist. 

Exfoliate At Night 

Exfoliating at night is essential, especially when using chemical exfoliants. These exfoliants can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, making it challenging to produce results. Also, it can increase skin irritation if you don’t follow up with SPF

Exfoliating at night allows the product time to work, especially when paired with sunscreen in the morning.

Don’t Skip Moisturizer 

Please don’t skip out on moisturizer. This is a vital product for all skin types, including acne-prone and oily. Moisturizers will soothe your barrier and ensure you don’t overproduce sebum, leading to more oily skin or acne-related symptoms. 

Moisturizer will provide an excellent balance and stop the skin from getting dry.

Invest In Barrier Repairing Products 

You may also decide to focus on barrier-repairing ingredients. This may include humectants like glycerin to lock in moisture or ceramides to build up your skin barrier. It can be wise to alternate between these products for seamless results. 

You can find these components in moisturizers and serums.

Wear SPF Every Morning

One thing that is recommended to use consistently in your skincare routine is SPF. Sunscreen will protect your skin and ensure your exfoliants won’t increase irritation. It can also help diminish acne scarring and redness. 

It’s advised to wear SPF daily and reapply every two hours to keep the skin protected. You will notice results with time and consistency.

When To See A Dermatologist

Acne-prone skin can be challenging to treat, so it’ll be wise to visit a dermatologist if you ever feel in doubt about your acne. It’s especially recommended for those dealing with severe acne symptoms like cysts.

Dermatologists can prescribe high-quality exfoliants and other supplemental products. 


Acne-prone skin can be exfoliated 2-3 times a week if the skin can tolerate it. However, start exfoliating once a week and build up your tolerance towards exfoliants. You may choose a physical or chemical exfoliant to add to your routine. 

Chemical exfoliants like azeliac or salicylic are great for acne-prone skin to clear the skin from under the surface. But, as always, consult with a dermatologist first before doing anything drastic or conduct a patch test before using a new product.

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