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3 Ways You Can Remove Dead Skin Cells From Your Face

These simple exfoliating tricks are the key to a smooth complexion.
  • Wendy Rose Gould
April 05, 2024

When it comes to keeping your skin in tip-top shape, you likely enlist the help of skincare essentials like cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreens. However, even if you’re religiously using these skincare products, it’s still possible for dead skin cells to build up on your skin’s surface—especially during the dry, harsh winter months. When dead skin accumulates and isn’t buffed away, it can cause your complexion to appear dull, dry, and flaky with a rough, uneven texture.

If you’re wondering how to get rid of dead skin cells on your face, we have good news: There are a few simple skincare steps you can take to restore smoother, softer-feeling skin—starting with the right exfoliation routine. Follow along as we break down everything you should know about dead skin cell buildup, including what causes this skin concern and how to properly exfoliate your face for a more radiant-looking complexion.

What Causes Dead Skin Cell Buildup on Your Face?

Before we explain how to remove dead skin cells from your face, let’s cover a few basics about what causes this buildup in the first place. Normally, your skin renews itself every 28 days or so—this ongoing process (known as “skin cell turnover”) pushes old skin cells to the surface and makes room for new skin cells to take their place. In fact, research shows that the average person sheds around 50 million dead skin cells per day!

When your skin is healthy, balanced, and properly hydrated, this process is invisible to the naked eye and happens without you even knowing it. However, there are several factors that can slow down your skin’s turnover rate, causing an excess of dead skin cells to stick around on your skin’s surface. This accumulation of dead skin is often the result of dry skin, weather conditions, sun exposure, improper skincare, or certain skin conditions. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), your skin’s cell turnover rate also starts to slow down as you age.

Is Chemical or Physical Exfoliation Better for Dead Skin Cell Buildup?

When learning how to exfoliate your face, there are two exfoliation methods you can consider: physical (mechanical) exfoliation and chemical exfoliation. Whereas mechanical exfoliants (like scrubs) slough off dead skin cells via a gritty texture, chemical exfoliants leverage skincare acids (like alpha-hydroxy acids) to dissolve dead skin cells.

While both of these methods offer exfoliating benefits, chemical exfoliants are often considered the gentler option for people with dry, sensitive, or acne-prone facial skin. This is because the scrubbing action of physical exfoliants can be too harsh or abrasive for some skin types. If you’re not sure which facial exfoliation method is right for your skin’s unique needs, it’s always best to ask your dermatologist for advice.

How To Get Rid of Dead Skin Cell Buildup on Your Face

Next, let’s get to the aspect of this topic you’re probably most interested in: learning how to remove dead skin from your face. One of the most effective ways to do this is by adding gentle exfoliation to your skincare routine. When done correctly, exfoliation can buff away dead skin cell buildup and help keep your skin feeling soft and smooth.

Ahead, we’ve outlined three ways to exfoliate skin that you can utilize in order to achieve a more vibrant, healthier-looking complexion.

Incorporate glycolic acid into your routine

BMAG InArticleImagery Remove Dead Skin From Face

One of our favorite chemical exfoliants for targeting dead skin cell buildup on the face is glycolic acid. This alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) can be a game-changer when it comes to achieving glowy, smooth skin. We recommend incorporating a gentle yet effective glycolic acid cleanser into your routine to start, such as the L'Oreal Paris Revitalift 3.5% Glycolic Acid Cleansing Gel. You can use this product daily to help gently dissolve dead skin cells for a smoother and brighter appearance.

After washing your face, reach for the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 5 Percent Glycolic Acid Peeling Toner. This gentle formula is suitable for daily use and features 5% glycolic acid to visibly smooth rough texture while promoting brighter-looking skin. Plus, it also contains aloe vera to help soothe and refresh your skin. To use this exfoliating facial toner, saturate a cotton pad and smooth the liquid over your face and neck as part of your nighttime skincare routine.

Next, you can also apply an exfoliating serum with glycolic acid, such as the L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum. This resurfacing serum is a great option for anyone looking to visibly even their skin tone and reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots. Apply four to five drops onto clean, dry skin every evening before your nighttime moisturizer for best results. For those with sensitive skin, we suggest using this serum two to three times per week to start, eventually building your way up to nightly use.

Try a gentle face scrub once per week

Face scrubs are a popular type of mechanical exfoliant that can be helpful for physically removing dirt, oil, and dead skin cell buildup from your skin’s surface. These options can be useful to use periodically—such as once or twice per week—depending on the formula.

As mentioned earlier, physical exfoliants may not be well-suited for all skin types, so it’s important to read the product label carefully before adding a facial scrub to your routine. We recommend looking for gentle formulas that feature super-fine exfoliating ingredients (which may be less likely to damage your skin’s protective barrier).

Pro Tip: For your body exfoliation routine, you can consider opting for a scrub with slightly larger physical exfoliators, since the skin on your body tends to be less sensitive than your face. We suggest trying a sugar scrub a few times per week for smoother, softer-feeling skin from the neck down.

Explore exfoliating tools

Along with facial scrubs, you can also use certain beauty tools to help remove dead skin on your face. These tools can be a great way to amp up your skincare routine while adding some physical exfoliation into the mix. Here are some of our favorite ways to exfoliate with skincare tools:

  • Facial exfoliating brush: Designed to be used on damp skin with a cleanser, this tool helps you get a deeper cleanse while exfoliating dead skin at the same time. These facial brushes, which are available in electric and manual offerings, can have a big impact when it comes to achieving refreshed skin.
  • Washcloth: Washcloths are already a staple in many of our shower routines, but they can actually be used to help exfoliate your face, too. Gently rubbing a washcloth over your face in circular motions is all you need to help remove dead skin on your face.
  • Microdermabrasion: If you love the idea of at-home skin treatments, microdermabrasion should be on your radar. Microdermabrasion is a non-invasive treatment that gently exfoliates the top layer of your skin. You can find several DIY microdermabrasion tools that are suitable for at-home use. Keep in mind, however, that performing microdermabrasion at home is generally not as effective as seeing a professional.

Does Moisturizing Help Remove Dead Skin Cells?

This depends on the type of moisturizer you choose. Most moisturizers are formulated primarily to enhance your skin’s hydration levels and help lock in moisture. With that said, there are moisturizing formulas available that contain chemical exfoliants, such as salicylic acid or the aforementioned glycolic acid. In order to remove the accumulation of dead skin cells, you need to incorporate either a physical or chemical exfoliant—this can be in the form of a cleanser, toner, serum, or even a moisturizer.

When using exfoliating skincare products, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends always following up with a moisturizer. Since exfoliation can sometimes leave skin feeling dry, moisturizers can help replenish lost moisture and keep your complexion feeling hydrated and comfortable. We suggest layering on a nourishing formula daily, like the L’Oréal Paris Collagen Moisture Filler Facial Day Cream Fragrance Free, for smooth, plump-looking skin.

In addition to moisturizer, it’s also important to apply sunscreen every day, particularly when using exfoliating acids in the evening—certain chemical exfoliants may cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun. Try the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Day Lotion SPF 30, which moisturizes your skin while protecting it from the sun’s harmful rays. With this anti-aging sunscreen lotion, you can expect to see firmer, brighter, and refreshed skin in as little as one week.

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