Oily Skin 101: Exfoliating (Part 3 of 4)


Happy New Year!

This is the third installment in my series on caring for oily skin. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

I am a big believer in regular exfoliation as part of an effective skin care routine. My biggest skin care concern, aside from oiliness, is clogged pores and breakouts. What causes this annoying problem? Lazy skin cells that don’t slough off the way they’re supposed to. They get trapped in all the excess oil, cause a backlog inside the pores and ultimately lead to bumps and blemishes.

Fear not! There is something you can do to get rid of those dead skin cells and, thus, greatly reduce bumps and blemishes. Exfoliate! I’m convinced that this is the most important step in my routine and the one that does the most to improve the texture and clarity of my skin.

There are two types of exfoliation: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical exfoliation involves physically buffing away dead skin cells by using something abrasive like a scrub or a washcloth. Chemical exfoliation involves the use of skin care products containing alpha-beta hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid. I do both.

In the morning, after cleansing, I use an acne treatment product containing 2% salicylic acid: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control 3-in-1 Hydrating Acne Treatment. I’ve written a full review of this product here.


Sadly, this product has been discontinued. It truly is a shame, because there aren’t a lot of well-formulated salicylic acid treatments on the market in Canada. Most contain irritating ingredients like alcohol, have a concentration of salicylic acid that is too low to be effective, or the overall formulation of the product results in a pH that is too high for exfoliation to occur. When I use up my stash of this, I’ll be switching to the only suitable alternative I could find: Smashbox Photo Finish More than Primer Blemish Control.


This product is very similar to the Neutrogena. It also contains 2% salicylic acid and has the correct pH for exfoliation to occur. The only noticeable differences are that it has a slightly thicker consistency and is….ten times the price! It will have to do until I can find a cheaper alternative.

In the evening, after cleansing, I use a treatment that contains 10% glycolic acid: NeoStrata Glycolic Renewal Smoothing Lotion.


This product was the game changer for me. The salicylic acid treatment definitely helped, but it wasn’t until I started using this that I really started to feel like I was getting the upper hand over clogged pores. It took me a long time to figure out that glycolic acid was the missing link in my routine. It’s usually marketed as an anti-aging ingredient rather than an acne treatment. It is an effective treatment against the signs of aging, but it’s also an awesome pore cleaner-outer. It eats away dead skin cells, so there are fewer of them hanging around to clog pores. So simple!

A word of caution: glycolic acid is pretty potent stuff. This NeoStrata product is actually sold in different concentrations (5% and 10%). Go easy until you see how your skin tolerates it. My skin can handle the 10% no problem, but that might be too irritating for some folks.

Now, the chemical exfoliation takes care of bumps and blemishes, but I still get a bit of flakiness and gunky build-up around my mouth and nose. I find mechanical exfoliation is the best way to tackle this problem. About once a week I use an exfoliating mask:


I’m partial to the Cleanance mask from French brand Avene. It exfoliates without stripping or irritating the skin. This mask offers both chemical and mechanical exfoliation. It has tiny scrubby beads AND alpha-beta hydroxy acids. I like to apply this by massaging it over my skin like you would a scrub. Then, I leave it on for about 15 minutes and then gently remove it with a warm washcloth. I use the washcloth to buff away dead skin around my mouth and nose. I love this stuff. It makes my face feel like a baby’s butt.

In summary, my exfoliation routine involves the following steps:

AM – 2% salicylic acid treatment
PM – 10% glycolic acid treatment
Weekly – Exfoliating scrub/mask

I’ve been doing this for about six months, and my skin is looking the best it has in a long time.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

1) Everyone’s skin is different, and my routine might be too strong/irritating for some people. If you’re going to start experimenting with exfoliating products, add them into your routine one at a time, and give your skin time to adjust. If you experience excessive redness or a burning sensation, then you might not be able to tolerate exfoliating acids. Proceed with caution.

2) Exfoliation leaves your skin more vulnerable to UV damage. Make sure you wear SPF at all times!

Whew! That was a long post! If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with me!

Any questions? Ask in the comments.

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