How Should I Exfoliate Dry Skin?

Both physical and chemical exfoliation can treat the symptoms and appearance of dry skin. Learn how to choose the method that will dramatically improve the condition of your own complexion.

Dry skin makes everything from skincare to makeup application challenging. Whether you're experiencing flaking or your makeup cakes into fine lines, effective exfoliation goes a long way towards the treatment and reversal of dry skin.

Whether you have a chronically dry skin type or your skin has become temporarily dehydrated, we recommend choosing one of the following two types of exfoliating products:

  1. Moisturising, cream-based physical exfoliants
  2. Chemical exfoliants containing glycolic acid or lactic acid


model exfoliating face


Of all the types of exfoliants, these two specifics offer standout benefits to dry skin. Let's take a deeper look at why and how.

Moisturising, Cream-Based Physical Exfoliants for Dry Skin

Cream-based scrubs use tiny grains or microspheres to gently buff away dead skin cells. There are two reasons why these types of exfoliants are very effective at treating dry skin types:

  1. They instantly remove visible flakes.
  2. They moisturise in the same way as a hydrating mask or night-time moisturiser.

Creamy exfoliants tackle dry skin on two levels whilst also providing instantly noticeable results.

We've selected three of our favourite cream-based exfoliants for you to choose from:

When using a cream-based exfoliant, it's important to remember that these products don't replace cream cleansers. You should cleanse before exfoliating so that impurities aren't encouraged to penetrate more deeply into your skin.


Pixi Glow Tonic


Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid Exfoliants for Dry Skin

In contrast to physical exfoliants, chemically based exfoliants continue to work long after application. If you're looking for both instant and long-lasting results, you'll need to integrate physical AND chemical exfoliants into your routine.

However, you should only use one type of exfoliant at a time. Alternate your physical and chemical exfoliants to prevent over-exfoliating your skin. We'll explain more about this after we've listed the benefits of chemical exfoliants for dry skin:

  • Soften and hydrate skin
  • Treat layers of skin not yet visible to prevent dryness in mature skin
  • Increase the skin-cell turnover rate, which inhibits the formation of dry patches and flakes

Two kinds of chemical exfoliants are perfect for dry skin:

  1. Glycolic acid
  2. Lactic acid

Water-soluble glycolic acid is especially effective at penetrating and treating dry skin. Although dry skin is dehydrated, the root cause of this skin type is a lack of naturally protective barrier oils. When compared with normal or oily skin, dry skin actually has a higher proportion of water to barrier oils.

These glycolic acid products are perfect for dry skin types:

Some of our recommendations feature both glycolic and lactic acid. These two ingredients complement each other perfectly in the treatment of dry skin. While glycolic acid is quite effective alone, lactic acid adds a significant benefit.


Lactic acid is the most hydrating of all chemical exfoliants. While it may sound contradictory that a product formulated to remove dead skin can also hydrate skin, this phenomenon has been proven time and time again. Lactic acid is so effective that it's used in the only FDA-approved dry skin treatment: LacHydrin.

We recommend the following lactic acid exfoliants for the treatment of dry skin:

Now that you know which exfoliating products are best at treating dryness, you can design a skincare routine that gives both instant and long-lasting results. To do this, you need to integrate both kinds of products into your routine:

  • Cream-based physical exfoliants provide instantly noticeable results.
  • Glycolic or lactic acid exfoliants provide long-term results by affecting layers of skin not yet visible.

When you combine both of these products into a skincare routine, you should never use them on the same day and certainly not one right after the other! Continue to another Ultimate Guide article, 'How Often Should I Exfoliate My Face?', to learn how frequently you should use your exfoliating products.


How Should I Exfoliate Dry Skin?