Should I Exfoliate Before, During, or After Cleansing?

With so many different skincare products to choose from, designing an effective skincare routine can seem daunting. Once you've picked out the products you want to integrate, you may still be confused about when to use them. Before we get into that, make sure you're choosing the right exfoliant for you...

Which Kind of Exfoliation to Use - Chemical VS Physical


Exfoliation can be particularly confusing because:

  1.  Some cleansers already contain exfoliating ingredients.

  2. Cleansing and exfoliating both remove unwanted substances from your skin.

Exfoliating products offer two key benefits when integrated properly into a skincare routine:

  1. They remove dead skin cells.

  2. They help the active ingredients in leave-on skincare to penetrate more effectively.

Whereas the key benefits of a cleansing product are to:

  • Remove makeup

  • Remove excess sebum

  • Provide extremely mild exfoliation of already loosened cells

Cosmedix ExfoliatingEnzymemaskCosmedix ExfoliatingEnzymemask

There are two kinds of exfoliation:

1. A chemical exfoliant is a mild acid or enzyme that penetrates the top few layers of skin to soften and dissolve dead cells. For example, Cosmedix Pure Enzymes Exfoliating Mask contains Salicylic Acid and Cranberry Enzymes.

Chemical exfoliants are formulated to penetrate the top layers of skin over several hours, which is why they're often leave-on formulas.
We recommend trying these if you're looking for a killer chemical exfoliant.

This cocktail of natural Fruit Acids, Salicylic Acid, Retinol, Vitamin C, and antioxidant Green Tea and Fig Extracts delivers fast and effective results. EmerginC Triple-Threat Peel works to thoroughly exfoliate the skin and accelerate skin cell renewal to improve skin tone and texture. At the same time, Triple-Threat banishes signs of premature aging such as pigmentation, age spots, and fine lines.

Alpha-H Liquid Gold

This award-winning, bestselling skin exfoliator helps resurface skin overnight. Liquid Gold diminishes wrinkles, pigmentation, acne, and sun damage whilst increasing moisture levels and delivering skin-smoothing, anti-ageing benefits. With noticeable results in just 20 minutes, it’s not surprising that Liquid Gold is one of the most favourite beauty products amongst skin care connoisseurs.

Alpha-H Liquid Gold

This light, cooling gel formula is infused with Alpha-Hydroxy Acids and Beta-Hydroxy Acids to work on the surface and within the pores to clear out excess dead skin cells, oil build-up, and bacteria. In addition, plant extracts calm skin and provide antioxidant protection. Say goodbye to breakouts and uneven tone in an instant with Asap Clear Complexion Gel.

2. A physical exfoliant gently abrades the skin and rubs away dead cells with grains or microspheres. Dermalogica Skin Prep Scrub accomplishes this task with corncob meal. Using a physical exfoliant without first removing your makeup could actually encourage cosmetics to penetrate more deeply into your skin.

As with physical exfoliants, chemical exfoliants used before removing your makeup encourage impurities to penetrate your skin—in theory. Although it's actually unlikely the chemical would do much of anything.
These are some of our favorite physical exfoliants.

Skinstitut Glycolic Scrub 14% is a deep and invigorating cleanser, formulated for use on the face and body. Enriched with Glycolic Acid, Jojoba Beads, and Tea Tree Oil, this exfoliating cleanser clears and brightens the complexion. Glycolic Scrub 14% also treats acne, congestion, and pigmentation concerns.

Alpha-H Micro Cleanse Super Scrub

Combining the groundbreaking properties of both manual and chemical exfoliants, Alpha-H Micro Cleanse Super Scrub is a superior facial exfoliator to refine skin texture and clarity and rid skin of clogged pores and impurities. Using resurfacing Alpha-H signature Glycolic Acid and eco-friendly, biodegradable Jojoba Wax Beads, this high-performance face scrub helps stimulate skin cell renew whilst refreshing skin with a cocktail of soothing botanicals.

Alpha-H Micro Cleanse Super Scrub

Should I use an exfoliator before or after cleansing?

You should absolutely use an exfoliator after cleansing and never before. Cleansing directly afterwards would wash the exfoliant from your skin before it has a chance to work. The biggest risk would be to your wallet, as you'd be wasting money by adopting this skincare strategy.

What are the best cleansers for dry skin?What are the best cleansers for dry skin?

What about 2-in-1 products that both cleanse and exfoliate?

This is why the question of which product should come first can be so confusing. If you should definitely cleanse before exfoliating, then why are there products that combine the two steps? Let's take a look at each kind of combo product.

1. Cleansers that contain chemical exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants work very effectively when left on the skin. However, cleansers are quickly rinsed off. Therefore, the amount of exfoliant that can penetrate your skin during cleansing is very limited.

Allowing the cleansing product to remain on your skin for a little longer may help. But this may seem counterintuitive, as the main point of a 2-in-1 product is to speed up your skincare routine.

2. Cleansers that contain physical exfoliants

Exfoliating granules work just as effectively in a cleansing product as they do in a separate facial scrub. Alpha-H Micro Cleanse Super Scrub combines gentle cleansing with biodegradable jojoba beads for added physical exfoliation.

The downside of scrub cleansers is their potential to cause irritation by rubbing impurities into skin. For this reason, we recommend using these products as part of a double-cleanse routine.

First, remove makeup and impurities with a mild, non-exfoliating cleansing oil or cream. Quickly follow this step with your choice of cleansing exfoliant.

Since you're still following two steps, you may prefer to simply use a separate cleanser and scrub. Ultimately, it's up to your personal product preferences.