Whether you’re new to skin care or have a well-thought-out regimen, you’ve probably heard a lot of myths and misconceptions about face and body exfoliation that may cause more harm than good. That’s why Dr. Tiffany Carle, Associate Principal Scientist, Skin & Clinical Research, is answering the most common questions about exfoliation, so you can exfoliate your skin the right way!

An Asian woman smiling and exfoliating with Mary Kay Naturally® Exfoliating Powder

What is exfoliation, and why is it important?

In terms of skin care, exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells. You can achieve this removal with a physical exfoliant like a scrub or brush or by using a chemical exfoliant, which may use an acidic chemical such as glycolic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid) to remove dead skin cells.

This is an important step regardless of skin type, because even though the skin renews itself every 30 days or so, sometimes the uppermost dead skin cells are not completely removed naturally. Exfoliation helps clear these excess dead surface cells so the underlying new skin cells are revealed. Exfoliating the skin — including the lips— helps smooth skin texture and may also help prevent the development of dry, flaky skin. If you're looking for anti-aging benefits, you should exfoliate because it can help improve skin radiance, texture and clarity, and can also reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles for younger-looking skin.


Artistic smears of exfoliating Mary Kay® skin care products on light pink background

What if I use retinol products? Does that change how I should exfoliate?

Yes! If you’re using a retinol product, we don’t recommend using exfoliation products while your skin is still in the retinization period, as this may increase potential discomfort. After the retinization process and skin has adjusted, you can use exfoliation products on the evenings you are not using retinol. If you experience skin discomfort, scale back the use of exfoliants as tolerated by your skin.


Is it possible to overexfoliate my skin?

Absolutely! We recommend exfoliating only two or three times per week, and always massage in physical scrubs gently. Rigorous scrubbing could remove too much skin and could result in redness and irritation. And if you use chemical peels, only use them as directed since overexposure could also irritate the skin.


You should always stop if your skin feels irritated. And this applies to you even if you aren’t using retinol. No matter what the rest of your routine looks like, don’t exfoliate too often or more intensely than you should.

As a woman of color, should I do anything different to exfoliate my skin? Like other dark-skinned women, I’m a little concerned about getting hyperpigmentation from physical exfoliation.

Women with darker skin may find that mild chemical exfoliants perform better than physical exfoliants such as face scrubs, which can irritate skin if they’re applied too rigorously. Melanin-rich skin tones, such as those found in people of African American, Latina, Indian and Middle Eastern descent, among others, are often more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This means that skin irritation may lead to dark spots or mottled pigmentation.


Product Suggestion:

Do I need to exfoliate my body, too, or just my face and lips?

All healthy skin can benefit from exfoliation. Exfoliating your elbows, knees and feet can be especially beneficial to prevent dry, flaky skin. Do not exfoliate broken or irritated skin on your body. And while exfoliating before applying self-tanner helps you achieve a more even application since it helps ensure the skin surface is uniform, I don’t recommend using a body exfoliator before or after shaving since both procedures can potentially irritate the skin. And contrary to popular belief, body exfoliation doesn’t help with ingrown hairs. A better approach would be to shave in the morning, then exfoliate with a body scrub in the evening.

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What about acne? Can I still exfoliate if I have acne?

Yes! People with acne-prone skin can exfoliate their skin. In fact, it may be beneficial because it may help clear pores. However, it’s crucial to avoid exfoliating active lesions or pimples and to consult with a board-certified dermatologist before using an exfoliating product.


Salicylic acid, a common ingredient in skin care products for acne-prone skin, is an exfoliating ingredient known for acne-fighting. It helps remove dead skin cells and helps keep pores unclogged to reduce buildup of P. acnes bacteria on acne-prone skin.

Product Suggestion:

  • Exfoliating With Salicylic Acid: Clear Proof® Blemish Control Toner* contains 2% salicylic acid and tones without overdrying, cleanses skin completely and helps control shine. Plus, it leaves skin feeling soft and supple.

Can I still exfoliate if I have to wear a face mask?

If wearing a mask irritates your skin, I don’t recommend exfoliating or using any products that have the potential to further irritate the skin immediately prior to wearing one. In general, it is best to exfoliate at night so the skin is not exposed to any new irritants while it repairs.

Exfoliation for Beginners and Beyond

If you want personalized tips and product recommendations for exfoliating your skin, contact or connect with a Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultant! As your personal skin care advisor, she can help you customize your skin care routine, find an exfoliant that fits your current needs and share the latest makeup looks with one-on-one consultations and small gatherings — virtually or in person!


Dr. Tiffany Carle, Associate Principal Scientist, Skin & Clinical Research, is a scientist from Austin, Texas. She loves soccer, football and spending time with her two Labrador retrievers. She uses the TimeWise® Microdermabrasion Plus Set three times a week to help her skin feel fresh and invigorated.


Kristen Reed-Belveal, a writer from Dallas, Texas, loves puns and studying the Bible for daily encouragement. She uses TimeWise Repair® Revealing Radiance® Facial Peel as her go-to exfoliation product, and she loves to use Mary Kay® CC Cream Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 15* in Deep   when she wants to even her skin tone.