August 29, 2022 5 min read

How Long Should I Leave An Exfoliant On My Face?

Most people incorporate exfoliation into their skincare routine because of the myriad benefits that come with it. However, one thing that bugs people is how long you should leave an exfoliant on your face. The article delves into exfoliation and how long you should leave your face.

No one takes pride in dull and unhealthy-looking skin; clear, glowing skin is always the dream for most people. As individuals age, the skin cells' turnover slows down, leading to dull-looking skin. But, with the right products, achieving your dream skin is only a step away. Skin exfoliation is the way to eliminate the dead cells that accumulate on the skin's surface. Investing in a proper and regular exfoliation routine will restore your skin’s natural glow.

How Long Can You Leave An Exfoliation On Your Face?

Sinclair et al. (2019) explained three ways to exfoliate the skin: physical, chemical, and mechanical. Physical exfoliants include face scrubs, washcloths, sponges, loofahs, etc., while chemical exfoliants include products that contain active ingredients. The two main chemical exfoliants are beta hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid and alpha-hydroxy acids such as lactic acid and glycolic acid. The type of exfoliant or the exfoliation process you choose should depend on your skin type. Chemical exfoliators differ from physical exfoliators because they penetrate deeper into the skin than physical exfoliators. Dermatologists advise against using physical exfoliators, especially if you have active acne or sensitive skin, because they are abrasive on the skin.

Ghadage et al. (2021) explained that physical exfoliators are designed to be massaged on the skin for a few minutes and then washed off. For example, if you use a face scrub as your go-to exfoliator, it is impossible to leave it on your face for too long. You will need to follow up with a moisturizer and sunscreen, and the particles present on the face scrub will make it hard for the moisturizer to settle on your face. The individual must wash off the face scrub a few minutes before proceeding to other facial products. Some people may need to leave the face scrubs on for a few minutes so that the skin can soak in all the benefits. However, there is no need to leave the face scrub on your face after scrubbing because it has already fulfilled its purpose on the skin.

Chemical exfoliators can be left on the skin for an unspecified duration because they are gentle on the skin. However, it is vital that you know the type of chemical exfoliator you are using and your skin type to know the period you should leave on your face. There are three chemical exfoliators; alpha hydroxy, beta, and poly hydroxy acids.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s)

Alpha hydroxy acids include malic, lactic, citric, and glycolic acids. Most AHAs are derived from fruits, but some varieties can be produced artificially. Jin & Laopanupog (2021) explained that AHAs are the go-to exfoliators for most people because they easily dissolve in water and improve skin texture by working on their surfaces.

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA’s)

Beta hydroxy acids are oil-soluble; they contain ingredients that hydrate dry skin. BHAs improve skin texture by penetrating deep into the skin. Some common examples include tropic acid and salicylic acid.

Poly Hydroxy Acid (PHA)

Polyhydroxy acids work in the same way as AHA's. The only difference is that PHAs have larger molecules, making it hard for them to penetrate deeper into the skin. Most people with sensitive skin are advised to use PHAs because they do not irritate the skin compared to other types of chemical exfoliants.

Most chemical exfoliants can be left on your skin overnight or washed off a few minutes after application. Normally, exfoliation increases your skin's sensitivity to the sun, which is why most skin care experts and certified dermatologists advise using an exfoliator at night. An example of an exfoliator that can increase skin sensitivity to the sun is lactic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid. To prevent sun damage, you should use sunscreen if you choose to exfoliate in the morning. Also, if you exfoliate at night, ensure that your morning routine includes sunscreen.

To start an exfoliation regimen, you should pick an exfoliating method that will have a calming and gentle effect on the skin. Ravikumar & Devi (2021) explained that if you have normal or oily skin, you should pick exfoliants with a mild concentration of salicylic acid. That way, you will not break your skin barrier and irritate your skin. For those who prefer professional exfoliating services, you can use chemical peels like an ultra AHA clinical pro peel which provides a host of benefits, from glowing and nourished skin to boosting the skin’s barrier.

Type Of Exfoliator To Use Depending On Skin Type

Sensitive Or Dry Skin

Beta hydroxy acids are the perfect exfoliators for people who have dry to sensitive skin. Proksch (2018) explained that polyhydroxy acids could be perfect for people battling eczema and rosacea. People with dry skin can largely benefit from AHA's because they do not penetrate deep into the skin, thus less irritation.

Acne-prone Or Oily Skin

Beta hydroxy acids, in essence, salicylic acid, are the best exfoliants for oily skin because they help clear out clogged pores that often lead to acne breakouts. However, if used for longer periods, salicylic acid can dry out the skin, which is why skin care experts advise combining it with lactic acid to boost skin moisture.


Exfoliation is using physical or chemical products to eliminate the dead cells that accumulate on the skin's surface. It is an important step in any skincare routine because it has many benefits, from getting rid of the flaky patches on the surface of the skin to reducing the signs of sun damage like sunburns. However, with all the hype surrounding exfoliation and the different products available, most people miss the point regarding exfoliation. As outlined in the article above, the duration you leave an exfoliant on your face depends on your skin type and the type of exfoliant you are using. By following the guidelines above, you are assured of a fruitful exfoliation regimen.


Ghadage, P. K., Mahamuni, S. S., & Kachare, D. S. (2021). Formulation and evaluation of herbal scrub using tamarind peel. Research Journal of Topical and Cosmetic Sciences12(1), 39-42.

Jin, C. Y., & Laopanupog, T. (2021). Protecting and Resolving Facial Skin from UV Rays and Air Pollution. Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Research2(1), 1-7.

Proksch, E. (2018). pH in nature, humans, and skin. The Journal of dermatology45(9), 1044-1052.

Ravikumar, B., & Devi, I. (2021). Role of Glycolic and Salicylic Acid Chemical Peel in the Management of Post-acne Pigmentation: A Literature Review. Annals of SBV10(1), 9.

Sinclair, R. C., Suter, J. L., & Coveney, P. V. (2019). Micromechanical exfoliation of graphene on the atomistic scale. Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics21(10), 5716-5722.