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Can Exfoliating Cause Acne? (Everything You Need to Know)

If you are searching for glowing, healthy skin, chances are you have encountered numerous skincare products and routines that swear by the miracles of exfoliation. 

From cleansers and scrubs to toners enriched with exfoliating acids, skin care products that exfoliate have taken over the beauty shelves. But amid all this enthusiasm, there's a lingering question: Can exfoliating cause acne?

Also read: How to choose the best acne treatment

Biggest Take-Aways:

  • Exfoliating your skin can either aid in preventing or exacerbating acne, depending on how often you exfoliate.
  • Understanding the difference between skin purging and breaking out is crucial for evaluating the effectiveness of new skincare products.
  • The type of exfoliation you choose, physical or chemical, should align with your skin's needs to avoid irritation and damage.
  • Exposed Skin Care offers a comprehensive range of products that are expertly formulated to handle exfoliation and acne management, making it easier for you to maintain healthy skin.
Woman using skin care scrub to exfoliate face

What is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin. Our skin naturally sheds its outer layer approximately every 30 days to make room for new skin cells. However, these dead skin cells sometimes don't fully shed, leading to clogged pores, acne, and a dull appearance.

Types of Exfoliants

Exfoliants can generally be categorized into two types: physical and chemical.

  • Physical Exfoliants: These include products like scrubs that manually remove dead skin cells when you massage them into your skin.
  • Chemical Exfoliants: These use ingredients like alpha and beta hydroxy acids to dissolve dead skin cells. Common chemical exfoliants include glycolic acid and salicylic acid.

The type of exfoliant you choose depends on your skin type, skin care needs, and the severity of your acne or other skin issues.

Can Exfoliating Cause Acne: Myth or Reality?

The Impact on Acne-Prone Skin

Acne-prone skin is highly sensitive and often produces more sebum, the skin's natural oil. Exfoliating can help unclog pores filled with sebum, dead skin cells, and other debris. However, it's a double-edged sword. If you over-exfoliate or use the wrong type of exfoliant, you might exacerbate the issue, causing more acne and breakouts in new areas.

Close up of chin with acne

Purge vs Breakout

When you initially start using a new exfoliating product, it might cause a purge—where pimples and acne come to the surface. This is often a good sign as the skin is clearing out. However, breakouts in new areas or persistent acne may indicate that exfoliating is causing more harm than good.

What Happens When You Over-Exfoliate?

Signs of Over-Exfoliation

It's essential to keep tabs on your skin's response to exfoliation. Over-exfoliation can lead to:

  • Irritation and Redness
  • Dry Skin and Peeling
  • Increased Sensitivity

The Consequence on Cell Turnover

When you over-exfoliate, you may disrupt the skin cell turnover process, affecting not just the outer layer of your skin but also deeper layers. This could lead to skin damage, and there’s a good chance it could exacerbate the severity of your acne.

The skin barrier is your skin's protective shield. Over-exfoliating damages this barrier, making your skin more susceptible to irritation, redness, and even infections.

Young girl with reddish face

Choosing the Right Exfoliating Products

Ingredients Matter

Look for exfoliating products that contain mild hydroxy acids like glycolic or salicylic acid, especially if you have acne-prone skin. Other ingredients like benzoyl peroxide can also be effective but could be harsh on some skin types.

Depending on Your Skin Needs

The best exfoliating product depends on your skin type, whether you have dry skin, oily skin, or combination skin. You may also want to consider the current state of your skin health.

How Often Should You Exfoliate?

This is another area where your skin type plays a significant role. Some people can handle exfoliating a few times a week, while others may need to limit it to once a week to avoid irritating their skin.

Tips for a Balanced Exfoliation Routine

  • Start Slow: If you're new to the world of exfoliating, it's advisable to start slow. Initially, use a mild cleanser with exfoliating acids and monitor how your skin reacts.
  • Monitor Your Skin: Keep a close eye on how your skin responds. Signs of irritation, redness, or dry skin are likely indicators of over-exfoliating or using products too harsh for your skin.
  • Layering Skincare Products: Your exfoliating product isn't the only one in your skin care regimen. Layering multiple skin care products requires careful consideration to ensure they complement each other and do not lead to skin irritation.

Woman doing her skin care routine

What to Do if Exfoliation Causes Acne?

Stop Exfoliating Immediately

The first step is to stop using the exfoliating product. Give your skin time to recover. It's crucial to avoid the temptation of treating acne with other potent skincare products immediately, as this could worsen the situation. Focus on repairing your skin barrier by using gentle and hydrating products. Your skin needs time to heal, so be patient.

Reevaluate Your Skincare Routine

Once your skin has recovered, it might be time to reassess your skincare routine. Do you need to switch to a milder exfoliant? Or perhaps you need to exfoliate less often. It’s all about finding the balance that your skin care needs require.

The Benefits of Using Exposed Skin Care for Managing Acne

Exposed Skin Care's comprehensive skincare line is designed with the perfect blend of advanced scientific ingredients and natural extracts to manage acne and promote overall skin health. Exposed Skin Care Ultimate Kit

Here are some notable benefits:

  • Expertly Formulated Products: Whether you prefer physical or chemical exfoliation, Exposed Skin Care offers specialized cleansers that help you shed dead skin cells without irritating your skin. Ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids make exfoliating skin a rejuvenating experience.
  • Balanced Exfoliation: Over-exfoliating your skin can cause irritation and disrupt the layers of the skin. The Exposed Skin Care line ensures that you don't cross that line. Their products are also suitable for darker skin tones, which often require more specific care.
  • Holistic Skin Health: Beyond just acne treatment, these products can help keep your skin healthy, which is crucial in preventing common skin issues like skin cancer.
  • Clarifying and Nourishing: If you’re using the Exposed Skin Care Basic Kit, you'll find it’s more than just for washing your skin. It offers a Clearing Tonic and Treatment Serum that dives deep into every layer of skin, offering a more profound cleaning experience.

By providing exfoliating products that align with your skin type and the types of acne you are dealing with, Exposed Skin Care ensures that you get the optimal benefits from each product.


The type of exfoliation you choose, whether chemical exfoliation using acids or a physical exfoliant like a scrub, can greatly impact your skin's health and appearance. Finding a balanced routine that caters to your skin’s specific needs without causing irritation or adverse effects is crucial.

It’s essential to pay close attention to how your skin reacts when using the product. Too much exfoliation can cause your skin to become irritated or damaged, but the right amount can lead to visibly healthier and clearer skin. Understanding terms like "skin purging vs. breaking out" can also help you better assess the efficacy of your skincare routine.

Exposed Skin Care is an excellent example of a holistic approach to acne management and skin health. Its carefully formulated products aim to strike the perfect balance, aiding in effective skin exfoliation without causing harm. 

The key takeaway here is the importance of personalization and mindfulness in skin care. Start exfoliating cautiously, observe your skin's response, and adjust your regimen for optimal results. After all, understanding the nuances of skin care is the first step toward achieving a glowing, healthy complexion.


What is the importance of exfoliating your skin?

Exfoliating helps remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, and rejuvenate your skin, aiding acne prevention and improving overall skin health.

How often should you exfoliate?

The frequency of exfoliation depends on your skin type and the products you're using. Too much can irritate the skin, while too little may not provide the desired results.

What is skin purging vs. breaking out?

Skin purging temporarily increases breakouts when you start a new skincare product that accelerates cell turnover. Breaking out is a negative reaction like redness or pimples that doesn't improve over time.

Should you use a scrub or chemical exfoliants?

Both have their merits. Scrubs provide physical exfoliation, while chemical exfoliants like alpha and beta hydroxy acids offer a more gentle, deeper cleanse. Your choice should depend on your skin type and needs.

Can Exposed Skin Care help with exfoliation and acne?

Yes, Exposed Skin Care offers a range of products formulated to help with acne and skin exfoliation without causing irritation, making it a suitable choice for various skin types.