Everybody knows that exfoliating sensitive skin is a delicate procedure – literally!

Exfoliating is important, sure. But what’s also important is not making your skin irritated or inflamed just to remove some dead skin cells.

This involves making key decisions like choosing the best makeup for sensitive skin, among others.

But with so many different physical and chemical exfoliation methods, how are you supposed to know which one is the best for your sensitive skin?

In this article, we break down 11 methods you can use to wipe away that dead skin and give the sensitive skin on your face a fresh start!

What causes sensitive skin?

Understanding Rosacea and Sensitive Skin - Institut Dermed

There are a few different things that could be the culprit behind your sensitive skin:

  • Environmental factors like wind, cold, and sun
  • Skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis
  • Allergies to certain products or ingredients
  • Hormonal changes
  • Genetics

How do you know if you have sensitive skin?

6 Signs You Have Sensitive Skin - Prevention & Care - Urban Ladies

If your skin is easily irritated, dry, or inflamed, you might have sensitive skin. Other signs include:

  • Redness
  • Dry patches
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Stinging
  • Tightness

Our tips for removing dead skin cells from sensitive skin

Now that you know what causes sensitive skin and how to identify it, let’s move on to the good stuff: how to exfoliate your face!

Use glycolic acid

Use glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s derived from sugarcane. It’s one of the most popular ingredients in skincare because it effectively breaks down the bonds between dead skin cells and healthy skin cells.

This makes it an excellent choice for exfoliating sensitive skin because it helps to dissolve dead skin cells without irritating or inflaming the skin.

To use glycolic acid, start by cleansing your face with a gentle cleanser. Then, apply a glycolic acid-based product to your damp skin and massage it in for 1-2 minutes. Rinse it off with lukewarm water and follow up with a moisturizer.

Our favorite product with glycolic acid is the CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser.

Try an at-home microdermabrasion treatment

Try an at-home microdermabrasion treatment

Microdermabrasion is a type of exfoliation that uses fine grains to sand away the top layer of dead skin cells. It’s often done in a professional setting, but there are also at-home microdermabrasion treatments that you can use to exfoliate your sensitive skin.

When using an at-home microdermabrasion treatment, it’s important to start slowly and increase the frequency as your skin becomes more accustomed to the treatment. We recommend using it once a week to start, and then increasing to 2-3 times per week as needed.

Our favorite at-home microdermabrasion treatment is the PMD Personal Microderm.

Make a DIY sugar scrub

Make a DIY sugar scrub

Sugar scrubs are another popular choice for exfoliating sensitive skin because they’re gentle and effective. Plus, they’re super easy to make at home!

To make a sugar scrub, simply combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup of olive oil or coconut oil. Then, add in a few drops of your favorite essential oil for fragrance (optional). Mix everything together until it’s well combined and store it in an airtight container.

To use the scrub, wet your face with warm water and massage the scrub onto your skin in circular motions. Rinse it off with warm water and follow up with a moisturizer.

Be careful not to overdo it

Over-Exfoliated Skin: The Dangers Of Over-Exfoliation & How To Treat I – Misumi Luxury Beauty Care

One of the most important things to remember when exfoliating sensitive skin is to be gentle and not overdo it. Over-exfoliating can damage the skin barrier, which can lead to irritation, inflammation, and even breakouts.

Start slowly and increase the frequency as needed. We recommend exfoliating once or twice a week to start, and then increasing as needed. And be sure to listen to your skin! If it starts to feel irritated, back off on the exfoliation for a bit.

Use lactic acid

Lactic acid is another type of AHA (alpha hydroxy acids) that’s derived from milk. Like glycolic acid, it effectively breaks down the bonds between dead cells and healthy skin cells.

The main difference between glycolic acid and lactic acid is that lactic acid is slightly more gentle. It combines especially well with facial oils for sensitive skin (usually applied afterwards).

To use lactic acid, start by cleansing your face with a gentle cleanser. Then, apply a lactic acid-based product to your damp skin and massage it in for 1-2 minutes. Rinse it off with lukewarm water and follow up with a moisturizer.

Our favorite product with lactic acid is the Peter Thomas Roth Lactic Acid 10% Gel Mask.

Use a cleanser with salicylic acid

Use a cleanser with salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a type of beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that’s derived from willow bark. It’s commonly used to treat oily skin because it effectively breaks down the bonds between dead cells and healthy skin cells.

This makes it an excellent choice for those with sensitive skin because it helps to remove dead skin cells without irritating or inflaming the skin.

To use salicylic acid, start by cleansing your face with a gentle cleanser. Then, apply a salicylic acid-based product to your damp skin and massage it in for 1-2 minutes. Rinse it off with lukewarm water and follow up with a luxury moisturizer like these ones from Noy.

Our favorite product with salicylic acid is the CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser.

Use a gentle peeling exfoliant

Use a gentle peeling exfoliant

Peeling exfoliants are another excellent choice for those with sensitive skin because they’re gentle and effective.

To use a peeling exfoliant, start by cleansing your face with a gentle cleanser. Then, apply the exfoliant to your damp skin and let it sit for a few minutes. It’s important to read the instructions on the label because they tend to vary from product to product.

Once the time is up, rinse it off with lukewarm water and follow up with a moisturizer.

Our favorite peeling exfoliant is the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel.

Use a cleansing brush

Cleansing brushes are small, handheld devices that use rotating bristles to cleanse and exfoliate the skin.

Cleansing brushes are excellent exfoliators for sensitive skin because they help to remove makeup and other impurities that can clog the pores and lead to breakouts. You can also use dry brushes to exfoliate your skin, if you don’t like using a cleansing brush.

To use a cleansing brush, start by wetting your face with warm water. Then, apply a gentle cleanser to the bristles of the brush and massage it onto your skin in circular motions. Rinse your face with warm water and follow up with a moisturizer.

Our favorite cleansing brush is the Clarisonic Mia 2.

Be careful with acne-prone skin

Be careful with acne-prone skin

If you have acne-prone skin, it’s important to be careful when exfoliating because you don’t want to irritate your skin or make your breakouts worse.

We recommend using a product with ordinary lactic acid because it’s designed for removing dead skin cells without irritating the skin. Glycolic and lactic acids are safe and gentle ways to wipe away dry skin that sometimes results from acne medications and treatments.

You should also avoid using harsh scrubs or any other product that could potentially aggravate your skin.

Don’t choose a product with small beads

Don't choose a product with small beads

When selecting exfoliators for sensitive skin, try to avoid the ones with small beads. These little beads are made of plastic and they can do more harm than good.

Not only are they bad for the environment, but they can also scratch your skin and make your breakouts worse.

With so many natural products out there, why would you choose to rub little plastic particles on your face instead?

Opt for a natural product

Opt for a natural product

If you’re looking for a more natural way to exfoliate your skin, we recommend using a product with ingredients like sea salt, apricot kernels, or rice bran. These natural ingredients are gentle and won’t scratch or irritate your skin.

You can also make your own exfoliating scrub at home using ingredients like honey, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice.

The best thing about using natural ingredients to exfoliate your face is that you don’t have to worry about them causing any irritation or skin problems.

Use hyaluronic acid afterward

Use hyaluronic acid afterward

Hyaluronic acid is a substance that’s naturally found in the skin. It helps to keep the skin hydrated and plump.

When used after exfoliating, hyaluronic acid can help to soothe and heal the skin. It’s also an excellent choice for those with sensitive skin because it’s gentle and non-irritating.

Not only that, but using serums that contain hyaluronic acid give the skin a glowing effect almost immediately. When paired with dermarolling or exfoliating, it’s a truly powerful weapon in the fight against aging!

To use hyaluronic acid, start by applying a small amount to your face. Then, massage it into your skin in circular motions until it’s fully absorbed.

Make sure to exfoliate clogged pores

Make sure to exfoliate clogged pores

Clogged pores can be a breeding ground for bacteria and they can also make your skin look dull and lifeless.

That’s why it’s important to exfoliate them regularly. The best way to do this is to use a product with salicylic acid or beta hydroxy acids.

These ingredients will help to unclog your pores and leave your skin looking and feeling refreshed.

If your pores are really bad and your skin can handle it, consider using pore strips or cleansing pads. These are excellent ways to forcefully pull out any contaminants from your skin. It may sting a little bit, but your pores will thank you!

Try a physical exfoliant

Try a physical exfoliant

Physical exfoliants are products that contain ingredients like beads, seeds, or shells. These ingredients work by physically removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin.

If you have sensitive skin, we recommend using a physical exfoliant that’s specifically designed for sensitive skin types. You can also try using a soft washcloth or a loofah.

Just be sure to use gentle, circular motions when exfoliating your skin. You don’t want to scrub too hard and end up irritating your skin.

Do a chemical peel

Do a chemical peel

A chemical peel is a great way to deeply exfoliate your skin. This type of treatment uses powerful chemicals to remove the top layer of dead skin cells.

If you’ve never used chemical exfoliators before, we recommend starting with a lower-strength peel. You can always increase the strength of your peel as your skin starts to tolerate it better.

Just be sure to follow the directions on your peel carefully. If you use too much or leave it on for too long, you could end up causing irritation or even burns.

Use an exfoliating toner

Use an exfoliating toner

Toners help to remove any dirt, makeup, or oil that’s left on your skin after cleansing. They also help to restore the skin’s pH balance and prep the skin for the rest of your skincare routine.

They’re also very useful for sloughing off dead skin cells. These products usually contain glycolic acid or other AHAs.

To use an exfoliating toner, simply apply it to a cotton ball and swipe it across your face. You can use it once or twice a day, depending on your skin’s tolerance.

Start with a low concentration

Salicylic Acid Start with a low concentration

If you’re new to exfoliating, it’s always best to start with a product that has a low concentration of active ingredients. This will help your skin get used to the exfoliation process and prevent any irritation.

You can always increase the concentration of your product as your skin starts to tolerate it better. Just be sure to listen to your skin and stop using the product if you start to experience any irritation.

Exfoliate in the evening

Should You Exfoliate in the Morning or Night? | Dr. Phoenyx

The best time to exfoliate your skin is at night before you go to bed. This gives your skin time to recover as you sleep.

If you exfoliate in the morning, you’ll need to apply sunscreen before going outside. This is because your skin will be more sensitive to the sun’s rays after exfoliation.

But if you exfoliate at night, you can just apply your regular nighttime skincare products afterward. That way, your skin has the entire night to absorb whatever goodies you apply to it without having to worry about any irritation!

Final Thoughts

Exfoliating is an important part of any skincare routine, but it’s especially important for those with sensitive skin. By removing the top layer of dead skin cells, exfoliation can help to reveal brighter, smoother skin.

There are a variety of ways to exfoliate sensitive skin, but some of the most popular include glycolic acid, microdermabrasion, and sugar scrubs. Just be sure to start slowly and increase the frequency as needed so you don’t overdo it and damage your skin.

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