Whether you're new to skin care of 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 like glycolic acid (an alpha-hydroxy acid) instead of granules 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-ageing benefits, you should exfoliate because it can also help improve skin radiance, texture, and clarity, and can also reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles for younger-looking skin.



Dr. Carle recommends doing your skin care routine in this order.

1. Cleanser: Wash your face with cleanser, and check the directions for your exfoliator to see if you should have wet skin or dry skin for your next step.

2. Exfoliant: Complete this step two to three times per week, and use gentle, circular motions for physical exfoliants. By doing this step right after using cleanser, you ensure that impurities are not scrubbed into the skin.

3. Toner

4. Mask

5. Serum: Applying serums after exfoliation can be helpful because you skin may absorb the serums more readily.

6. Moisturiser: Moisturising after exfoliating may help soothe the skin.

7. SPF: In general, it is best to exfoliate at night so the skin is not exposed to any new irritants while it repairs, but if you exfoliate during the daytime, make sure you wear SPF.


Artistic smears of exfoliating Mary Kay skin care product.

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 use of exfoliants as tolerated by your skin.

Is it possible to overexfoliate my skin?
Absolutely! We recommend only exfoliating two or three times per week, and always massage in physical scrubs gently. Rigorous scrubbing could remove too much skin and 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 colour, 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 like a face scrub, which can irritate skin if they’re applied too rigorously. Melanin-rich skin tones, like those found in Black, Latinx, Indian or Middle Eastern people, are often more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This means that skin irritation may lead to dark spots or mottled pigmentation.

Product Suggestion:
 Chemical Exfoliator: We suggest using TimeWise Repair® Revealing Radiance® Facial Peel instead of a physical exfoliant since it exfoliates with glycolic acid, considered by many experts to be the gold standard among alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).
The lip exfoliant Satin Lips Shea Sugar scrub and hydrating Satin Lips Shea Butter Balm in matching tubes with luxurious product smears.

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.

Product Suggestions:
Full Body Exfoliation: Satin Body® Revitalizing Shea Scrub is a great full body scrub for sloughing off dead skin, especially since it’s formulated with nourishing shea butter. You can even use it as a foot scrub!
Exfoliating Hand Care: Get softer, smoother hands with the White Tea & Citrus Satin Hands® Pampering Set for a relaxing at-home spa experience. It’s also available in a soothing White Tea & Citrus scent.
A smiling black woman exfoliating with the Botanical Effects Invigorating Scrub.

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.

Can I still exfoliate if I have to wear a 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 & Beyond

If you want personalised 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 customise 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.