Exfoliation Skin Guide


How to properly exfoliate and care for sensitive skin types





Shedding Light on Sensitive Skin Exfoliation

How to properly exfoliate and care for sensitive skin types

In the minds of clients who suffer from sensitive skin, exfoliation is probably at the bottom of their priority list in their skincare routines. After all, when most people think of exfoliation, they envision rough particles, harshly buffing the skin to remove dead skin cells – the last thing someone with sensitive skin would want. However, there are indeed forms of exfoliation designed for sensitive skin, and when done right, exfoliation is a critical step to include in their regimens.

Proper exfoliation of sensitive skin helps increase penetration of soothing ingredients and removes irritating debris trapped on the skin’s surface. It is an essential first step to treat additional skin issues often experienced by those with sensitive skin. Additionally, exfoliation designed for sensitive skin can also help address these issues, including the treatment of hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, and breakouts.

An essential factor to consider for sensitive skin is limiting exfoliation to only one step in your routine.

[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”show” ihc_mb_who=”2,4,5,6,7″ ihc_mb_template=”3″ ]

Proper Chemical Exfoliants

Rather than using physical exfoliation to remove the dead skin cells and debris, the solution lies in using proper chemical exfoliants to encourage skin cell turnover gently. However, not all chemical exfoliants are created equal; acids vary in particle size and natural pH, affecting how rapidly they penetrate the skin and the irritation they may cause. Newer, novel acids are on the rise to exfoliate sensitive skin due to their ability to exfoliate and lower inflammation all at once effectively.

These acids include:

• Mandelic Acid – Though Mandelic Acid is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) like Glycolic Acid, they differ immensely in the potential level of irritation they create. Mandelic Acid has a larger molecule size than Glycolic and penetrates the skin more slowly, avoiding the associated irritation caused by Glycolic Acid. Mandelic Acid is sourced from bitter almonds and provides anti-inflammatory, pigment brightening, hydrating, and anti-bacterial benefits, making it an excellent choice for all skin conditions1.

• Azelaic Acid – Azelaic Acid is a Dicarboxylic Acid and is typically derived from vegetable oils or grains. It imparts anti-microbial, antioxidant, and most importantly, anti-inflammatory benefits that soothe sensitive skin while it exfoliates. Azelaic Acid is also well known for its ability to reduce redness in the skin and effectively tackle hyperpigmentation.

• Gluconolactone and Lactobionic Acids – Gluconolactone and Lactobionic Acids are some of the newest types of acids to come to the market and are considered Polyhydroxy Acids. Like AHAs, they increase hydration while exfoliating but differ by having even larger molecule sizes than all AHAs, resulting in being gentler to the skin. They also have antioxidant properties that protect the skin from free radical damage and photo-aging.


These acids can be used both in professional treatments and in clients’ home care regimens. However, the percentage of acids and pH of home care formulations is much milder than professional treatments. Regarding home care products, these acids may be incorporated into dedicated exfoliating pads or other skincare steps, such as a cleanser, moisturizer, or serum.

An essential factor to consider for sensitive skin is limiting exfoliation to only one step in your routine. Over-exfoliation can further sensitize the skin, leading to additional skin challenges. Following directions from the skincare manufacturer and exfoliating the minimum number of recommended times per week is suggested for sensitive skin.

In professional treatments, correctly formulated peels with these acids make a fantastic way to address breakouts, hyperpigmentation, and other aging signs without overly increasing the skin’s sensitivity. Traditional chemical peels are not typically associated with being suitable for sensitive skin.

The Importance of Post-Care

After exfoliating sensitive skin in a home care or professional treatment, post-care is paramount, as what is applied on the skin after a facial can provide a barrier against elements that can further sensitize the skin, especially the sun. A hydrating hyaluronic acid serum, free of artificial fragrances and colors that can be sensitizing, as well as chemicalfree SPF, are both critical steps to apply and reapply daily. The extra hydration and protection from UV-induced free radical stress will set the skin up for success and prevent further sensitization in already-sensitive skin types. Sensitive skin types should also avoid makeup usage after they exfoliate for 24 hours, as many makeup products contain ingredients that can commonly cause adverse reactions.

In summary, exfoliation is a step everyone should be performing on their skin, including sensitive skin types. Success lies in using the proper kind of exfoliation for sensitive skin (gentle, acid-based) and applying protective post-care. This protective post-care includes a hyaluronic acid serum free from artificial fragrance and color, and a chemical-free, all-mineral SPF to protect against harmful UV rays.