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  • August 29, 2022 5 min read


    Cleansing a face is vital to everyone. Some people find it difficult to cleanse a face and scrub at different times. This article discusses cleansing, exfoliating, and scrubbing before cleansing.

    Excessive sun exposure, pollution, hormonal changes, fatigue, and stress can make your skin dull, dry, and prematurely old. While cleansing can reverse the conditions and make your skin brighter, going further and incorporating exfoliation into the mix can do wonders. That is because exfoliation removes all the dead skin, creating a space for younger, healthier, and brighter skin to grow. However, although cleansing and exfoliation are vital steps in a skincare routine, the question is, which one should come first? Some dermatologists recommend cleansing before scrubbing the skin, while others suggest that cleansing after exfoliation removes all the debris and leaves the skin nourished. While the debate about the two processes has never reached an agreed conclusion, people shall try to answer it by focusing on the individual process, its benefits, and why it should come first.

    Differences Between Cleansing and Exfoliation

    People need to understand each term and how it works on your skin to understand why cleansing or scrubbing should come first. Some people think that cleaning and scrubbing or exfoliation are the same process. However, these are two different processes that work in their unique ways, although they leave your skin clean. here is how both processes work:

    What Is Cleansing?

    Blume‐Peytavi et al. (2010) stated that cleansing involves thoroughly washing the skin and face using a recommended product. The product is formulated to remove debris, makeup, and oils from the skin and open the pores. The product, called a skin cleanser, is also formulated based on the skin type and removes all the sebum, leaving the skin healthier and nourished. Also, most dermatologists recommend using a specially formulated skin cleanser instead of regular soap and water since some soaps are too alkaline and can scrape away healthy moisturizing oils.

    Skin cleansers have vital ingredients removing all the chemicals and pollutants your skin collects during the day. They also penetrate deeper into skin pores and dig out accumulated oils. However, they do not scrape away dead skin cells and harsher debris; exfoliating after cleansing removes all the dead skin cells and harsh chemicals on the skin.

    Benefits Of Skin Cleansing

    Cleaning the skin regularly, especially in the evening, has the following benefits:

    • According to Zhou et al.(2020), cleansing the skin helps remove all the surface debris and excessive skin oil and kills all the bacteria, leaving the skin healthier.
    • Cleansing helps lower the acne breakouts on your skin, especially because clogged pores can cause excessive skin oil and pus formation.
    • Patil et al. (2017) noted that foaming cleansers could also purify your skin by reducing toxicity and boosting vitality and nutrition.

    What Is Exfoliation

    Exfoliation is close to skin cleansing but works comprehensively to scrub away the topmost skin layer and the nearby hard dirt. Unlike cleansing, which only removes accumulated dirt and oils on the external skin layer, exfoliation penetrates deeper to scrape away debris and dead skin cells hidden in the pores. For instance, dead skin cells accumulate over time and are vital in protecting your skin pores and keeping them moisturized. However, although most cells fall off naturally, those remaining can clog the pores, making the skin dry and rough.

    Exfoliation, therefore, comes in handy in removing the remaining dead cells and leaving your skin looking younger, brighter, and smooth. It also removes harsh chemicals and debris that a gentle cleansing product cannot remove because most chemical exfoliants have tougher ingredients such as salicylic or glycolic acid. In contrast, physical exfoliants have potent ingredients such as jojoba beads. These ingredients scrape away dead skin, creating a space for younger skin to grow.

    Benefits Of Exfoliating Your Skin

    According to Sen (2009), removing dead skin cells allows your younger and healthier skin to be sufficiently oxygenated. An oxygenated skin can absorb more active ingredients from your skincare product, such as serums, lotions, and moisturizers. Liu et al. (2014) noted that exfoliation removes all the blemishes and blurring wrinkles lines, improving your skin's color, tone, and surface appearance. The skin will look softer, younger, and healthier.

    A Cleanser and An Exfoliator: Which One to Come First?

    A person may ask about the right way to go after understanding the difference between cleansing and exfoliation. Should you cleanse or scrub first?

    Cleansing removes dirt, debris, and excessive oil from the topmost skin layer. An exfoliator digs deeper into the skin to remove dead skin cells and debris that a cleanser cannot remove. However, although both steps are crucial in your skincare routine, here is why a person should cleanse before scrubbing and vice versa.

    Cleansing Before Scrubbing

    Most skin therapists recommend cleansing the skin thoroughly before scrubbing to remove all the sweat, dirt, skin oil, and remaining makeup. The step leaves the skin clean, fresh, and with open pores. After cleansing, you can apply the scrub that penetrates and removes all the dead skin cells beneath the skin. In this routine, an exfoliator can work effectively on dead materials and harsher chemicals that hide below the skin without necessarily starting with dirt and gunk on the topmost layer. According to Demo (2020), cleansing before scrubbing prepares the skin for moisturizers, oils, and serum by opening pores and cleaning them thoroughly.

    Scrubbing Before Cleansing

    While cleansing before scrubbing is the common skincare routine, other people also report better results when they exfoliate before cleansing their skin. In this case, the exfoliant first penetrates and digs out dead skin cells, harder residue, dirt, and debris. Therefore, finishing the routine cleansing removes the remaining dead cells and dirt that might stick behind after being loosened by the exfoliant. However, finishing by rinsing the skin with lukewarm water is advisable.

    Final Bottom Line

    There is no ultimate decision on whether you should cleanse or scrub first. That is because both steps are vital and depend on each other. While cleansing removes topmost particles and leaves the skin ready for exfoliation, scrubbing first can also act as a skincare shortcut routine and make your skin ready for makeup application. However, people should consider their skin type and choose the best exfoliants and cleansers that do not cause skin sensitivity and scrape away healthy bacteria.


    Demo, E. M. D. R. (2020). Preparing Your Skin For Light Therapy. Red.

    Liu, Y. Q., Chen, Z. D., Mao, J. W., Han, D. D., & Sun, X. (2019). Laser Fabrication Of Graphene-Based Electronic Skin. Frontiers In Chemistry, 7, 461.

    Sen, C. K. (2009). Wound Healing Essentials: Let There Be Oxygen. Wound Repair And Regeneration, 17(1), 1-18.

    Patil, M., Sahoo, J., Kamalanathan, S., Selviambigapathy, J., Balachandran, K., Kumar, R., ... & Ajmal, K. (2017). Assessment Of Insulin Injection Techniques Among Diabetes Patients In A Tertiary Care Center. Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews, 11, S53-S56.

    Zhou, N. Y., Yang, L., Dong, L. Y., Li, Y., An, X. J., Yang, J., ... & Tao, J. (2020). Prevention And Treatment Of Skin Damage Caused By Personal Protective Equipment: Experience Of The First-Line Clinicians Treating SARS-Cov-2 Infection. International Journal Of Dermatology And Venereology, 3(02), 70-75.