Exfoliating and Washing Your Face: Which Goes First?

Understanding the order of skincare products and the importance of exfoliation is crucial for maintaining smooth, clear, and healthy-looking skin.

Discover the proper order and techniques for exfoliating and washing your face, and how to tailor your skincare routine to achieve a more radiant complexion.

The Takeaway:

  • Understand the different roles of face washing and exfoliating in skincare.
  • Determine when to exfoliate based on your skin type and preferences.
  • Learn how to choose the right cleanser and exfoliant and apply them properly.
  • Customize your skincare routine based on your specific skin type and concerns.

Understanding the Difference Between Exfoliating and Washing Your Face

closeup of man with glasses and soap on face

A balanced skincare routine typically involves both washing and exfoliating your face, but it’s important to differentiate between the two.

The Role of Face Washing in Skincare Routine

Face washing, also known as cleansing, is the process of removing dirt, excess oil, and impurities from your skin. This helps to unclog your pores, prevent breakouts, and maintain a clean, radiant complexion, as the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) explains.

The Role of Exfoliation in Skincare Routine

Exfoliation, on the other hand, involves removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. This promotes skin renewal, reveals fresh, bright skin, and can help improve your skin’s texture and tone. Exfoliation can be done through physical methods, such as a facial scrub or exfoliating cloth, or chemical techniques like using acids, enzymes, or exfoliating masks, as the experts at the American Academy of Dermatology Association detail.

Skincare Tip: It is essential to strike a balance between face washing and exfoliation to ensure optimal skin health.

When to Exfoliate: Before or After Washing Your Face?

While there are different opinions on whether to exfoliate before or after washing your face, the choice should be based on your skin type and personal preferences.

Reasons to Exfoliate Before Washing Your Face

Exfoliating before washing your face allows you to remove dead skin cells and dirt, allowing your cleanser to penetrate your skin more effectively. This method, sometimes called pre-cleanse exfoliation, could be particularly suitable for oily or acne-prone skin, as it helps remove excess oil and debris before cleansing.

Reasons to Exfoliate After Washing Your Face

Alternatively, exfoliating after washing your face ensures that your skin is thoroughly cleansed and free of impurities before you exfoliate. This method, sometimes referred to as post-exfoliation, may be better suited for sensitive or dry skin types, as the cleanser can provide a protective layer before the exfoliant is applied.

Skincare Tip: Regardless of when you choose to exfoliate, it’s essential to tailor your exfoliating routine to your skin type and specific needs.

Techniques for Proper Face Washing and Exfoliation

To maintain a healthy and smooth complexion, it’s important to use the right techniques for washing and exfoliating your face.

Choosing the Right Cleanser and Exfoliant

Select a cleanser and exfoliant based on your specific skin type, concerns, and ingredients that work best for you. Consult a dermatologist if you’re uncertain about your skin type or need guidance in choosing suitable products.

  • For sensitive skin: Choose gentle, fragrance-free cleansers and exfoliating masks or chemical peels with mild acids or enzymes.
  • For oily skin: Opt for gel cleansers and exfoliants that help regulate sebum production and refine pores.
  • For acne-prone skin: Look for cleansers and exfoliants with acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or tea tree oil.
  • For dry or flaky skin: Nourishing, hydrating cleansers and exfoliants with ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or ceramides can help combat dryness and flakiness.

How to Wash Your Face and Exfoliate Correctly

Follow these face washing tips and exfoliating techniques to achieve a clean, refreshed complexion:

  1. Use lukewarm water: Avoid hot water as it can strip your skin of natural oils, causing irritation and dryness.
  2. Be gentle: Avoid harsh scrubbing or rubbing, as this can cause irritation, redness, and even damage your skin’s barrier.
  3. Use a clean towel: Pat your face dry with a clean towel instead of rubbing it to minimize irritation and the spread of bacteria.
  4. Apply exfoliant evenly: Whether using a facial scrub, exfoliating brush, or chemical exfoliant, apply the product evenly on your face and massage gently in a circular motion. Avoid the delicate eye area and any active breakouts.
  5. Rinse thoroughly: Make sure to remove all traces of cleanser and exfoliant from your face to prevent residue buildup or irritation.
  6. Don’t over-exfoliate: Exfoliating too frequently can harm your skin. Start with once or twice a week and adjust the frequency based on how your skin reacts.

Skincare Tip: When choosing a cleanser, opt for a mild, fragrance-free, and pH-balanced formula to avoid drying or irritating your skin.

Adjusting Your Routine Based on Your Skin Type

Tailoring your skincare routine to suit your specific needs and skin type is essential for maintaining a healthy, radiant complexion.

  • Sensitive skin: Limit exfoliation to once a week or less, and opt for gentle, hypoallergenic products. Avoid harsh ingredients or fragrances, which can trigger irritation.
  • Oily skin: Exfoliate two to three times a week, focusing on areas with enlarged pores or excessive sebum production. Look for oil-free, non-comedogenic products.
  • Acne-prone skin: Gradually increase exfoliation frequency, starting with once a week, while using products specifically designed for acne-prone skin. Consult a dermatologist for personalized advice.
  • Dry skin: Limit exfoliation to once or twice a week and choose hydrating products that help restore your skin’s moisture balance.

Remember that your skincare routine should also include daily sunscreen application with a minimum of SPF 30 to protect your skin from harmful UV rays and maintain a youthful, vibrant appearance, as the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends.

By understanding the importance of both face washing and exfoliating, and learning how to apply these techniques properly, you can achieve a clearer, smoother, and more radiant complexion. Customize your skincare routine based on your skin type and concerns, and always consult a dermatologist if you’re unsure of your skincare needs or which products to use.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

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