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Cleanse or Exfoliate First

Cleansing and exfoliating are both important parts of a healthy skincare routine, but there are a surprising number of people that aren’t clear on the differences them or if you should cleanse or exfoliate first.

What does cleansing do?

Cleansing involves the removal of any excess makeup, sweat, dirt, oil, and even dead cells from your skin. The goal of cleansing is to remove any potential pollutants so that your skin has more room to breathe. It feels refreshing and makes your face a clean slate that can be used to apply other products such as a moisturizer or makeup.

Photo: HconQ / Getty Images

What does exfoliating do?

Exfoliating involves removing excess dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. This is usually done with some kind of chemical, a scrub, or some kind of exfoliation tool. Although we naturally shed skin cells every day, there are some situations where those dead skin cells aren’t removed quickly enough. This leads to patches of dry skin and clogged pores. Exfoliating can help remove these excess dead skin cells to clear your pores and polish your skin.

Should I cleanse or exfoliate first?

Most of us are told to cleanse before exfoliating. The idea behind this order is that you clean away any impurities on your face before you polish it by removing dead skin cells.

However, there is an increasing number of people that seem to prefer exfoliating before they cleanse. The idea of this order is to first remove excess skin cells so that they’re washed away during the cleansing process. This should, in theory, provide a smoother skin surface that absorbs your moisturizer more easily.

But is there a definitive choice that is better or worse? Here are some of the benefits of both these methods.

Photo: flickr

Benefits of cleansing first

Cleansing first means that you clean away all of the dirt, debris, sweat, and other things on your face that could be clogging pores and getting in the way of your moisturizer. This can be a lot more important for people that wear makeup on a regular basis because it tends to stick to our skin and requires removing before we decide to exfoliate or add moisturizer.

People often find that cleansing their face properly means they don’t need to exfoliate as often. Experts tend to recommend that we exfoliate between two to three times per week assuming our skin can handle it. Since everyone’s skin type and health is different, this recommendation can change. We typically need to try out each method for ourselves to determine which one is the better option.

So to summarize, here are the benefits of cleansing first:

  • Regular cleansing often means you don’t need to exfoliate as often, but your mileage may vary depending on your skin type and health
  • Cleansing away pollutants will prepare your skin for exfoliation
  • If you wear makeup on a regular basis, then removing this before exfoliating is a must

Benefits of exfoliating first

Exfoliating first isn’t as common as cleansing first, but there is an increasing number of people who are trying this skincare order. The idea behind this is that you can exfoliate your skin to remove excess skin cells before washing it all away with your cleanser. If you consider that exfoliating creates dead skin cells, then it makes sense to cleanse as the last step to ensure that every pollutant is thoroughly removed.

If you want to try exfoliating first, then we suggest taking some initial steps to remove any dirt, makeup and oil on your face before you scrub or use a chemical exfoliant. This is because you don’t want to be scrubbing makeup and dirt into your pores as you exfoliate. This adds an extra step to your skincare routine which can be a downside for some people.

After exfoliating, the final cleanse should make your skin feel even smoother and cleaner. This makes it easier for your moisturizer to absorb into your skin.

Here’s a summary of the benefits of exfoliating first:

  • It can make your skin feel much smoother and cleaner at the end of your routine
  • It ensures that your cleansing process removes all pollutants after the exfoliation process
  • It helps your skin absorb your moisturizer more quickly

The final verdict

So what’s the final verdict? What’s the better option for a modern skincare routine? Unfortunately, there’s no real clear answer when it comes to cleansing or exfoliating first.

Most of us are told that cleansing first is the best option, but that’s just because everyone is accustomed to it. Some people find that exfoliating first is better for their skin and makes it feel softer, smoother, and more absorbent of their moisturizer.

The reality is that everyone’s skin is different and finding the right routine involves a bit of experimentation. Whether you should cleanse or exfoliate first can depend on a number of different factors. Some people find that exfoliating first is best because their skin grows back a lot quicker, resulting in dry patches due to the weather or their own genetics. Others find that cleansing first is important because they spend a lot of time outside in busy workplaces, meaning their face catches a lot more oil and dirt.

Why not try both?

We highly recommend that you give both of these orders a try. If you’re currently cleansing first, then try to go a week with exfoliating first and vice versa. You might be surprised to find that your products work better in reverse order, or you might feel that your skin is much smoother and more supple by switching your routine around.

There’s really no rule on whether you should exfoliate or cleanse first. More and more people are open to trying out different things with their skincare routine, and this is a great sign that we’re more willing to experiment to break the traditions that we’ve been following. Since everyone’s skin type is different, there’s no telling what benefits you might discover by making a simple swap in your skincare routine.