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Facial peelings: How do you properly exfoliate your face?

Gesichtspflege 15.06.22 10 min. read

Every day, every minute you lose about a million dead skin cells from the epidermis. Young skin can quickly replace these cells. Over the years, however, the regeneration or skin renewal process becomes increasingly slower. Facial peelings can help to accelerate this process. Ideally, after treatment, a dull, pale, flaky and/or blemished complexion is transformed into skin that glows with rosy freshness, vitality and smoothness. The right facial exfoliant (also known as an abrasive in technical jargon) acts like a spring clean and conjures up a remarkable youthfulness in your face. At least, that's how these cleansing products are advertised. We wanted to know: Is this really so, and if so, what must good exfoliators contain, how often should they be used, for which skin types are they suitable and can they also be made yourself? You can find the answers to these questions in the following article.


Facial peelings: How do you properly exfoliate your face?

An exfoliation procedure (peeling or exfoliation) is a strong incentive for your facial skin to renew itself. Its goal is to revive its ability to regenerate, repair and renew itself, while at the same time ridding it of old toxins. A skin peeling does all this, it removes dead skin cells (skin flakes) from the top layer of the skin ( corneal layer or stratum corneum) and thins the epidermis, unclogs pores and removes impurities.

This process stimulates the basal layer to form new cells in the fastest way. At the same time, skin circulation is stimulated so that cells are supplied with fresh nutrients, oxygen and energy for metabolic, repair and reconstruction processes. Afterwards, your complexion will appear much rosier and overall finer. All exfoliations have the common effect that your face is then more receptive to the active ingredients of the following care.

Which facial exfoliators are available on the market?

In your search for a suitable product, you have probably already noticed that there are many different types of exfoliators. Not all peels are the same. They differ essentially according to the ingredients and the effect they have. In general, they are divided into mechanical, enzymatic, chemical or combined peels. 

Mechanical facial peels (Scrub)

Mechanical facial peels contain microscopic particles that exfoliate the skin –– surface similar to sandpaper of various grain sizes. This can rid your skin of dead skin cells, calluses and blemishes, stimulate their circulation, metabolism and regeneration of the epidermis and elastin and collagen fibers, reduce fine lines, prevent blackheads and pimples and refine your skin texture. The particles can be made from natural or synthetic ingredients and can be for example made of:

  • crushed seeds or shells (such as from olive, apricot or walnut),
  • almond meal,
  • quartz sand,
  • clay (such as medicinal clay), but also
  • synthetic polyethylene.


    The irregularly shaped abrasive particles of natural ingredients have a more effective effect, but can also cause micro-injuries and thus irritation. This risk is less with the artificially produced particles, which tend to have a more uniformly rounded shape [1]. Alternatively, mechanical facial peels are also possible with special gloves, pads, brushes or cloths.

    Enzymatic facial peelings

    Enzymatic facial peels use plant enzymes (mostly protein-cleaving proteases) instead of abrasive particles to dissolve the corneal cells from your top skin layer. The enzymes come from fruits such as papaya (papain) or pineapple (bromelain). They break down the proteins that are connected to the topmost corneal cells in the face, so that you can wash off the skin flakes more easily. At the same time they have the following properties

    • stimulate cell renewal,
    • rid your sebaceous glands of excess sebum,
    • unclog pores and unblock skin cells,
    • prevent new skin impurities such as blackheads and pimples,
    • reduce the size of enlarged pores and refine the appearance of your skin,
    • lighten age spots and
    • even out irregularities on the skin [1; 2].


      Cleansing with enzyme peels is gentler than with mechanical face peels, but can go deeper and therefore be more profound. You should be careful if you experience unpleasant itching or severe redness on your face. In this case, it is possible that you may not tolerate one of the ingredients. If so, you should wash off the facial scrub immediately. 

      Chemical facial peelings

      Chemical peels can penetrate deeper into the skin than the mechanical ones. They are usually performed with low-dose (about 10%) alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), somewhat milder salicylic acid (BHA), glycolic acid from grapes, almond, lactic or fruit acids (such as citric acid).

      The treatment with the acids loosens the connection between the corneal cells (keratolytic effect) and thus ensures that the skin scales together with pore plugs, excessive sebum and impurities can be removed more easily. The acids can also


      • cell metabolism, collagen formation and skin renewal stimulated and the skin tightened,
      • the skin is thickened and wrinkles smoothed (anti-aging),
      • improves the water-binding capacity of your skin,
      • reduces inflammation and excessive melanin formation and thus pigment spots or age spots,
      • reduces pores,
      • acne is prevented and scars are reduced, and
      • Your overall skin texture will be refined.


        However, the treatment may cause a slight burning sensation on your face, which indicates its effectiveness. If your face starts to flake or even blister, the acid was definitely too strong. Facial peels with strong acids should only be performed by experts [1; 2; 3].

        How to do a facial peeling at home

        The products that you can buy in drugstores, perfumeries, pharmacies or other stores are formulated so that you can do them yourself at home, provided that your skin condition allows it.

        Below you can find out for which skin types or skin conditions conventional facial peelings are not recommended. Medical facial peels should only be performed by an expert. They require a precise skin analysis and special preparation and post-processing of the skin.

        Application of facial exfoliators

        If you want to do a facial peeling at home, then you should first start with a thorough cleansing of your skin. Using warm steam or a warm compress on the skin will help to open your pores for the following treatment.

        Mechanical facial peelings are massaged into the still damp skin in circular movements and then rinsed off with plenty of pure, lukewarm water. For enzyme peels, ideally use a (mask) brush and apply a thin layer to damp skin. After the application time, remove them as described above.

        Chemical peeling treatments are available in the form of gels, pads and leave-on products such as masks and sprays. Here, the application is based on the manufacturer's instructions. The preparations contain an acid content of 6 to 15 percent, which do not require any special pre-treatment of your skin.

        In any case, you should avoid the eye and mouth area when applying the facial peelings and pat your face dry after washing so as not to irritate the skin even more. After the treatment, your skin will be free of oils. Therefore, you should apply a rich and soothing skin care after all treatments and UV protection during the day [1; 2].

        How often should you use a facial exfoliator?

        How often you should use a facial peel depends on your skin type and condition, as well as the ingredients of the products. In general, the rule for mechanical peeling cures is: 


        • Oily skin can be exfoliated up to three times a week.
        • Normal skin or blemished skin can be exfoliated once or twice a week.
        • Dry and sensitive skin can be exfoliated once or twice a month [6].


          It is important to apply an extra amount of moisturizer after each treatment to support the regeneration of your skin.

          Cosmetic/Medical Facial Peeling

          Cosmetic or medical peels often use stronger active ingredients that can penetrate deep into the skin (more precisely: into the reticular layer), such as phenol peels. In any case, they belong in the hands of an expert. Here, the epidermis is completely detached and the dermis is partially damaged in a controlled manner [5].

          Frequently, a fruit acid peeling with, for example, an acid content of up to 70 percent, i.e. an extremely low pH value, is used. Therefore, your skin must be prepared for the application by getting it used to the treatment step by step at home. This is usually done by acidifying your skin with acids in increasing concentrations according to the doctor's instructions.

          After the treatment by the expert, your synthetically irritated facial skin is neutralized and eventually treated with a wound ointment or intensive care. Due to the highly thinned corneal layer, the treatment requires a daily UV blocker.

          Such minimally invasive peeling cures are used to treat for example


          • Pigment abnormalities,
          • scars and inflammatory diseases,
          • deeper wrinkles,
          • skin diseases and abnormalities, such as precancerous lesions and keratoses [5].


            Dermatologists or estheticians sometimes combine the peeling treatments with various techniques such as laser treatment or exfoliation of the skin by dermabrasion. Mechanical facial peeling by a dermatologist or esthetician is also possible. In this procedure, known as dermaplaning, the top layer of skin, including hairs, is gently removed with a scalpel.

            Tips on ingredients in exfoliators 

            Some ingredients of facial peels can help to cause a specific effect in the skin. In the case of enzyme peels, for example, this is the enzyme bromelain, which helps inflammation to heal more quickly thanks to its antiseptic effect.

            Chemical peels that act on the surface of the skin to combat dry skin often contain so-called alpha-hydroxy acids such as urea, glycolic and lactic acid, which have a moisturizing effect in low concentrations and an exfoliating effect in higher ones.

            Glycolic acid has the benefits of increasing cell division by over 40 percent and collagen production by up to 130 percent. Like lactic acid, glycolic acid penetrates deeper into the skin due to its short chain length and therefore has a more intense effect [4].

            Mandelic acid and poly-hydroxy acids such as gluconolactone are suitable for rather sensitive skin. Oily, blemished skin and those with acne are preferably treated with beta-hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid, while mature skin is stimulated with retinoids to re-synthesize collagen.

            Be sure to look at the ingredient information on the packaging when purchasing a product, or consult an expert for advice on which product may be suitable for your skin type.

            Which facial peels are suitable for which skin types?

            You want to do regular peels now, but you might be wondering which type might be suitable for your skin type? Of course, it also depends on the ingredients of the products. According to the recommendations the following are suitable: 


            • Mechanical peels for dry, blemished and dull skin.
            • Enzyme peels for all skin types, including those with dilated veins and mature skin, although they tend to be milder for dry and sensitive complexions and should not contain abrasive particles [1]. Enzyme peels can also gently cleanse your face if you have acne.
            • Chemical peels are suitable for all skin types, depending on the type and concentration of the acid.

              Who should not use any peel in all cases?

              In general, if you have persistent skin problems, you should consult your dermatologist or cosmetician before using peelings to find out whether a peeling can really be beneficial for your skin type. However, there are also some criteria that rule out exfoliation from the start, at least if you do it yourself. Exclusion criteria for peelings are for example:


              • In case of allergy to proteins of foreign species: an enzyme peeling.
              • For sensitive skin types, fresh skin infections such as herpes, couperose (as the acids stimulate blood flow to the skin), excessive scarring (keloids), vitiligo (white spot disease) and fresh wounds, during pregnancy and breastfeeding: chemical peels.
              • In case of chronic inflammatory skin diseases such as neurodermatitis or psoriasis, purulent pimples, eczema or radiation treatment: peelings in general.
              • Taking isotretinoin for acne in the last six months before the planned treatment or antibiotics (tetracyclines) that can greatly increase the photosensitivity of your face: chemical peels.
              • Tendency to excessive scarring, poor wound healing, e.g. diabetes or immunosuppression.
              • Sunburn [1; 4; 6].

                DIY Facial exfoliators 

                You can easily make a mechanical peeling yourself. Various natural ingredients are suitable for this purpose, such as:


                • finely ground seeds, such as poppy seeds, or ground rice
                • Coffee grounds
                • bran, oatmeal or cereal flour such as oatmeal for irritated and sensitive skin
                • healing earth, natural clays like bentonite
                • Silica
                • Cinnamon, fine salt
                • Sodium hydrogen carbonate (baking soda) for oily skin


                  In no case should the abrasive particles be too coarse or sharp-edged, so as not to injure the sensitive facial skin. Sugar is therefore not suitable for peeling.

                  If you would rather make a gentle chemical face scrub, you can make a paste from fruits such as papaya, kiwi or pineapple, or simply mix apple cider vinegar 1:1 with water. You mix the other substances to a paste, ideally with a high-quality nourishing oil such as avocado oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, olive oil or grape oil, which keep the moisture in the skin. Yogurt, whey, buttermilk, egg yolk or honey are also good for supporting the moisture balance and regeneration of your facial skin at the same time.


                  Which peeling is suitable for the face?

                  From the selection of exfoliating products, it is not always easy to find the right offers or the right product for you. First of all, you need to know whether you have dry skin, impure skin, oily skin, sensitive skin or combination skin. This way, you can primarily choose a peeling that also brings the desired effect to your face. For dry or impure skin, you can choose between mechanical, enzyme or chemical peels. Pay attention to which additional substances are contained, so that your skin problems are also treated at the same time. Enzyme peels are suitable for all skin types, but should contain milder substances if your complexion is particularly dry or sensitive. The same applies to chemical peels.

                  Is exfoliating good for the skin? 

                  A facial peeling is always a good choice for otherwise healthy facial skin, as it removes dead skin cells and impurities. After the peeling, however, you need a care that provides a lot of moisture and protects your sensitive facial skin from harmful UV rays in particular. If your skin type is more mature and dull, then the treatment offers the advantages that nourishing and moisturizing products can be better absorbed, your complexion refreshed and wrinkles smoothed. In the best case, you can then do without make-up. Impurities can be eliminated from otherwise impure or oily facial skin and it can be protected from new blackheads and pimples. The prerequisite for a healthy beauty effect of the products is that the cosmetics are free of artificial additives such as perfume, which can unnecessarily stress your face.

                  Which face peeling for mature skin?

                  If you have a rather mature skin type and dry skin, you can conjure up new freshness and youthfulness in your face with all categories of facial peels. The products remove dead skin cells and can make your skin look fresh, rosy and smoother. However, you should treat your facial skin with an extra portion of moisture and lipid-rich care afterwards and protect it from UV light in particular. In case of severe signs of fatigue, it may make sense for you to have the peeling done by an expert. He will use more concentrated products that will penetrate deep into your facial skin and set repair and renewal mechanisms in motion.

                  How often should you exfoliate your face?

                  How often you treat your face to a peel depends on your skin type, your current skin condition and the products in question. In general, it is recommended: Up to three times a week for an oily skin type. Once or twice a week for a normal or blemished skin type. Once or twice a month for a dry and sensitive skin type. In any case, after each treatment, it is important to pamper your face with extra rich care that will replace the lost lipids and moisture and support regeneration. After the facial peeling your face is more sensitive than normal. Therefore, the following products should not contain additives such as artificial preservatives or perfume, as they can cause skin irritation. 

                  1. Wolf, Elke, Peelings: Spring Cleaning for the Skin, 23.04.2018 in PTA Forum More Info
                  2. Naumann, Martina, Enzyme peeling: ingredients, effect and application, 26.01.2019 in Utopia. More Info
                  3. Gilbrich, Chantal: Fruit acid peeling: effect, benefits and risks of the treatment, 19.01.2019 in Utopia. More Info
                  4. Wolf, Elke, Fruit acids - AHA effect for the skin, 13.02.2017 in PTA Forum. More Info
                  5. Peeling cure, what is it? Procedure, types and advantages, magazine X115 More Info
                  6. Make your own natural face scrub: simple tips and tricks, Smarticular More Info