Is Exfoliating Bad?

The good, the bad, and the ugly truth about exfoliating.

The fresh-skin feeling you get from exfoliating feels clean, but could it be doing more harm than good? Here’s what you need to know.

Woman face with coffee scrub on cheeks

If you’ve been using Layers products for your skin, then it’s very likely that you’re hip to the microbiome by now. You know that it’s your defense ecosystem and that our job is to support it. So, when it comes to intense scrubs, we naturally start to question whether or not exfoliating is doing more harm than good.


Exfoliating products serve a single purpose, and that is to slough away dead skin cells. Once those cells have been gently (hopefully!) washed away, you’ve effectively uncovered a fresh, new layer of skin. They can also make skin appear softer and smoother, but that all depends on how happy your microbiome was before being exfoliated. Because the alternative could look more like a hot mess.

Rupal drag looking in mirror with bad makeup job

There are 2 types of exfoliation:

  • Physical Exfoliator

These are all of those scrubs that contain bits and pieces of fine, sand-like granules. They are usually made from crushed and pulverized bits of walnut shells, apricot pits, or pumice. Through a very physical process of massaging these particles over your skin, dead cells detach and wash away.

  • Chemical Exfoliator

This category of exfoliators replaces those tiny granules with chemical substances that dissolve the bonds between dead skins cells and your face. So, rather than being pulled and scrubbed away, dead skin cells are weakened to help them break away more gently. This mimics the natural process but speeds it up.


The best skin products are those that disrupt the skin’s natural process the least, and instead help to promote a healthy microbiome. And there’s nothing natural about harsh scrubs. You can get the same results from chemical exfoliators as you get with physical ones, the difference is whether or not your face will thank you or punish you after being scrubbed with micro-granules. For anyone with sensitive skin or skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, or acne, physical exfoliators are a hard “no”. Not only can granules and scrubbing further irritate your skin, but they can disrupt the microbiome and throw things further out of whack. 

Exfoliating is great, but there’s no need to go overboard with physical exfoliators. Our natural ally in the fight for cell turnover is Alpha-Hydroxy Acid. Commonly referred to as AHA’s, these are naturally occurring acids found in milk and fruit.

Grapefruit and Glass of Milk


The great thing about AHA’s is that they do the same job as physical exfoliators, but with a gentler hand. Plus, they offer significant microbiome benefits that can’t be matched by harsh scrubs. Not only do they gently and effectively slough away dead skin cells, but they also:

  • Smooth and even out skin tone
  • Increase collagen production
  • Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles


One of the most common AHAs comes in the form of lactic acid, a byproduct of natural sugars that have been fermented.  Unlike scrubs, products that exfoliate using lactic acid are gentle enough for sensitive skin, and they can be used daily. Lactic acid supports your microbiome by regulating the skin’s pH levels.

Our Balancing Milky Cleanser is a non-foaming cleansing milk that was designed for all skin types. It effortlessly lifts away dirt, makeup, and environmental impurities, while gently washing away dead skin cells. Prebiotic yogurt powder stimulates good bacteria and decreases harmful bacteria, all while firming and conditioning. Vitamin B and riboflavin hydrate and soften to reveal a fresh, smooth layer of skin. We love this cleanser because it also contains carrageenan from Irish moss, a substance known for its ability to hold moisture and improve skin softness.

Lactic acid is gentle enough to wear, too. If you want to keep that cell turnover momentum strong all day long, our Renewing Probiotic Serum will help you stay fresh-faced and hydrated. It can be applied once or twice per day, morning and night.  The lactic acid component keeps skin firm, minimizes fade spots, and smooths fine lines and wrinkles.


Overall, skin doesn’t love harsh scrubs, and skin conditions don’t respond well to physical exfoliators. But that doesn’t rule out exfoliation altogether- it just means you want to do it differently. Alpha-hydroxy chemical exfoliators lead the way, and anyone can use them. They offer visible results without irritating your skin or disrupting the microbiome.

And that’s a win-win in our book.