Does exfoliating help with acne?

No matter what your skin type, exfoliating regularly will keep your skin healthy and radiant. The process helps to slough off dead skin cells from your epidermis, (the upper layer of your skin), unclog your pores, and improve your skin’s tone and texture. Getting rid of that layer of dead skin also allows for your treatment products and moisturizers to work more efficiently and absorb better. Hello, glowing skin!

Even though we know exfoliating is an important process in your weekly skincare regimen, it’s still important to learn more about your skin type, condition, and the types of exfoliators on the market. This way you can use the type of exfoliator that’s right for you.

So, does exfoliating help with acne? This seems to be the million-dollar question and there’s a lot of contradicting information about this. In short, the answer is – yes! Exfoliating does help with acne, but the catch is, you need to use the right type of exfoliator for your skin type. Read on to help you determine the recommended exfoliator for your skin type.

Benefits of exfoliating acne-prone skin

There are many benefits to exfoliating acne-prone skin, including a reduction in acne. Whether you experience blackheads, whiteheads, or other types of pimples on your face, removing dead skin cells and excess oil through exfoliation will help to unclog your pores and clear up your skin.

What’s the difference between physical and chemical exfoliation?

Let’s break this down. There are two types of exfoliators – chemical and physical – that basically have the same job, but act in different ways. Chemical exfoliators include acids such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) to aid in cellular turnover. They’re effective, because they break down the "glue" that holds your skin cells together to rid dead skin cells, dirt, and oil.

Physical exfoliants show up as the gritty stuff in our face wash and in facial cleansing tools. If using a face wash with tiny beads or grains, the best way to exfoliate your face is to rub them in a circular motion at least weekly to help literally slough off dead skin cells.

How should I exfoliate for my skin type?

All skin types can suffer from acne and just like treatment for acne, exfoliating isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. To find out your skin type, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and don’t apply any of your other skincare products. Wait a while after washing and examine your natural skin texture and tone closely. If you look in the mirror and see that your skin is shiny, you have oily skin. If your face is flaky, tight, or irritated, you have dry skin. If you find you have patches of shine and patches of irritation, then you have combination skin.


If you have oily, acneic skin, look for an exfoliator with BHAs like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid in them.


It’s important to exfoliate dry skin to keep a radiant complexion, but dry skin isn’t as prone to breakouts as oily skin.


The best way to exfoliate your face is you have combination, acneic skin is to use a combination of chemical and physical exfoliators.

What should I watch out for?

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as over-exfoliating. If you begin to see redness, dryness, irritation, or additional breakouts, you need to reanalyze they type of exfoliant you’re using and how often you’re using it. We know it mentally feels good to "scrub away" acne, but less is more to avoid backlash.

If you find you’ve over-exfoliated, allow your skin to heal by letting it return to its baseline. Begin using a mild cleanser and fragrance-free moisturizer and skip any chemicals, treatment products and exfoliators until signs of irritation are completely gone. (Be patient. This can take a while.). Then, start introducing your exfoliator and treatment products slowly over time.


Exfoliating acneic skin is a crucial step in skin health. Once you understand your skin and what to watch out for, it’s time to take the next step and add an exfoliant to your regimen. One of the best exfoliants for acne can be found in our Proactiv®+ Acne Treament System. This three-step-regimen is designed to work together to help clear up your skin and keep it clear. The exfoliator contains benzoyl peroxide, which helps kill acne-causing bacteria, while the beads and glycolic acid in the product help exfoliate skin. Step 3 of Proactiv®+ Acne Treament System contains salicylic acid which also helps clear up acne and prevent new blemishes from forming.