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How to Exfoliate as a Man and Why You Totally Should

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David has been covering men's style and grooming topics for The Adult Man as a writer and photographer since 2020. We asked David to sum himself up in four sentences, and here it is. Serial learner. Aspiring wordsmith. Bourbon enthusiast. Jack of some trades. Read full bio.


Last Updated: Feb 16, 2024
13 min read
How to exfoliate as a man Black man with Multiple Beauty Objects near his face with look of concern

At one point or another I’ve dealt with just about every skin ailment under the sun.

High school was riddled with pimples and enough oil to call the Environmental Protection Agency, while college went as far as possible in the opposite direction to dry, papery skin. 

Post-college, my skin normalized to a certain extent, but then came signs of premature aging and giant, black pores. 

I had a decent skincare routine at this point, but knew it was lacking some crucial element. We all have that one friend with skin that’s clear, bright, and enviably young, so I asked my token friend what his secret was.

His answer was simple: exfoliate. 

I’d seen this 4 syllable word more times than I cared to admit, and like most of you, chose to ignore it and its potential benefits. At this point, I knew I needed to plug an exfoliator into my existing skincare routine, so I did some research to find the best possible product.

Want to find out how to exfoliate and which exfoliator you should be using? In this article, I’ve put together five reasons why men should exfoliate, and a few simple tips for how to do it right.

What Is an Exfoliator?

Model Wearing Geologie Micro Exfoliator and 3 Minute Clay Mask
Wearing Geologie’s Micro Exfoliator & 3 Minute Clay Mask

Before we look at why it’s essential for men to exfoliate, let’s first get an understanding of what exfoliators are. 

Exfoliators are face and body products that are designed to remove dirt, debris, and dead skin from targeted areas. These products are generally separated into two camps: mechanical exfoliators and chemical exfoliators. 

Bathing Soaps

Mechanical exfoliators are often referred to as face scrubs, which you’ll often see on a product’s label. Face scrubs are made with slightly abrasive materials which, when applied to your face, gently scrape off dead skin cells and dirt. 

These abrasive materials are often plastic micro-beads, oatmeal, crystals, or some other type of grit, and when they’re rubbed onto your skin the friction removes dirt and unwanted particles. Hence, the designation as a ‘mechanical’ exfoliator. 

Homemade facial mask with oats

Chemical exfoliators rely on gentle acids to strip away dead skin cells and debris, and I have to emphasize the fact that these are gentle. When my wife first told me she was basically pouring acid on her face to remove old skin, I can’t say that sounded like a fun time.

But don’t worry, you’re not going to end up looking like the Joker after he falls into a vat of hot acid. Chemical exfoliators are super effective at removing unwanted debris from the surface of your skin and promoting new, healthy skin growth.

There are some exfoliators that combine the best of both worlds and act as both a mechanical and chemical exfoliant. One such example is Geologie’s Micro Exfoliator and 3 Minute Clay Mask, which uses microcrystalline cellulose and a variety of gentle acids to clean and nourish your skin.

Our Favorite Exfoliator
Geologie Micro Exfoliator & 3 Minute Clay Mask

My guy, there's absolutely nothing wrong with using a mask on your face as a guy. In fact, it's a total insider secret. This one from Geologie is our favorite---it contains microcrystalline cellulose and a variety of gentle acids to clean and nourish your skin to give you a brighter mug in just three minutes.

Check Price

5 Reasons Why All Men Should Exfoliate

1. To Remove Dirt and Debris from your Pores

The primary reason to use a chemical or mechanical exfoliator is to remove dirt and debris from your pores. While most of this happens at a microscopic level, sometimes it gets so bad that your pores can become enlarged and unsightly. 

I’ve got a cartilage-heavy nose, and my pores used to be easily viewable because of the black gunk blocking them up. An exfoliator makes quick work of this issue. 

If you struggle with frequent blackheads, exfoliators will help to break these open and clean away the dirt and oil. Even better, exfoliators prevent the formation of blackheads in the first place since your pores will be regularly scrubbed out.

2. It Helps Remove Dried, Dead Skin

Young man in bathroom

Similar to dirt and debris being removed from your pores, it’s also important to remove dead skin particles from the surface of your skin. Not only can dead skin clog up your pores, it can also block moisturizers and serums from penetrating deep through the layers of skin to have the maximum positive effect.

Once you scrub away these dead skin cells, your skin is primed to absorb serums and moisturizers with maximum efficiency. 

Additionally, dead skin often has a rough, dry texture. By removing these old skin cells, your skin will look clearer, less rough, and have a smoother texture. 

3. Fewer Ingrown Hairs and Razor Bumps

Body care

If you’re like me, getting a close shave always comes at the risk of ingrown hairs and annoying razor bumps. Lucky for us, exfoliating can help with this too. 

Especially in the case of mechanical exfoliators, the abrasive material helps to soften rough, hard skin that’s keeping hair trapped. Without these tough spots that keep hair below the surface, you should have noticeably fewer instances of ingrown hairs. 

This isn’t exclusive to the face and neck region, either. Many exfoliators are meant for use on the face and body, so this benefit can be applied to ingrown hair problem areas anywhere you shave.

4. It Encourages the Growth of New, Healthy Skin

Man touching his face after shaving

Another significant benefit of exfoliating is the growth of new, healthy skin. Clearing away dead skin cells doesn’t just help to unclog your pores and improve the texture of your skin, it also triggers the skin’s regeneration process.

In many cases, this can mean clearer, younger-looking skin and the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. Exfoliation is basically a manual kick to speed up our skin’s cellular turnover process, and these new skin cells help to soften signs of premature aging.

When you combine these benefits with the optimized serum and moisturizer absorption that exfoliating also offers, it’s hard to pass up. 

5. Men’s Skin is Thicker and Rougher than Women’s

man washing face with warm water

As we’re all aware, men have this fun little hormone called testosterone that enables us to do really cool things like lift cars and look like muscular Greek statues, but also sometimes causes us to partake in acts of sheer stupidity. Case in point: the entire Jackass movie series.

When it comes to skincare, testosterone actually leads to thicker, rougher skin. On average, a man’s skin is 25% thicker than a woman’s, which can explain the greater prevalence of ingrown hairs.

Exfoliating helps to break down unnecessarily rough, thick skin, leaving you smooth, softer skin that your partner will have a hard time keeping away from.

How to Exfoliate as a Man

Young man washing face with soap near mirror

Now that we know the host of benefits from scrubbing some abrasive and/or acidic substances on our face, let’s talk about the best way to do it. 

If you take away one thing from this article, it should be this: when it comes to exfoliating, less is more. There can easily be too much of a good thing with exfoliating, which can lead you to have irritated, sensitive skin.

In other words, don’t exfoliate every day, ever. I recommend exfoliating once per week, and twice at most. 

Step 1:  Wash Your Face or Body with a Gentle Cleanser

Portrait of asian man washing in bathroom

It’s a common misconception that an exfoliator or facial scrub is also a cleanser, but the two serve different purposes. A cleanser clears away surface dirt, and oil from the skin, while an exfoliator scrubs deep into your pores.

Even though an exfoliator might lather, that doesn’t mean it can be used in place of a cleanser. 

Also, the order in which you use these two products is important. Always cleanse before you exfoliate. 

If you were to exfoliate before cleansing, the dirt and grease on the surface of your skin can get into the pores you just cleaned out, effectively doing nothing for your skin. 

When you cleanse first, you remove surface-level dirt and debris, which gives the exfoliator better access to your pores and dead skin cells. 

After this, you basically have a clean slate for the rest of your skincare routine to be maximally effective.

Step 2: Apply Your Exfoliator

Man washing face with soap scrubbing

Now that you’ve cleansed your face, it’s time to exfoliate.

The method of using chemical and mechanical exfoliators differs slightly, so I’ll cover the mechanical side of things first.

Since mechanical exfoliators rely on friction to remove dirt and dead skin cells, you’ll need to gently scrub the exfoliator across your face. I like to squeeze a dime or nickel-sized amount of exfoliator onto my fingertips, spread it between all my fingers, and then gently rub it onto my face in small circles. 

The key here is to be gentle. You don’t need to press the exfoliator in or apply lots of pressure; a light scrub is all the exfoliator needs to work.

In fact, if you apply too much pressure you can give yourself micro cuts and abrasions that dirt and grease can get trapped in, leading to acne and irritated skin.

Keep the amount of time you’re scrubbing in small circles short, no more than 15 or 20 seconds. Then, rinse your face.

Man washing face with facial cleanser

In the case of a chemical exfoliator, which relies on gentle acids to remove dead skin cells and dirt, you want to give it some time to work. These exfoliators can be applied to your fingertips and spread across your face, or you can use a cotton swab for application.

Give the exfoliator 15-30 minutes to melt off any unwanted gunk, and then rinse your face. 

In the case of a mechanical and chemical exfoliator, like our favorite option—Geologie’s Micro Exfoliator and 3 Minute Clay Mask, you can use either method. If you’re in need of a good scrub, gently apply the Micro Exfoliator in small circles.

Model Holding Geologie Micro Exfoliator and 3 Minute Clay Mask

If you want to leverage the potent lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acid in Geologie’s formulation, apply the Micro Exfoliator without rubbing it in small circles, and let it sit for at least three minutes.

The gentle acids strip off the dead skin cells and dirt, while the Kaolin and Bentonite clays in the Micro Exfoliator absorb excess oil and help to detoxify your skin. 

View this post on Instagram

The sheer number of benefits Geologie packs into this exfoliator is impressive. This little bottle of goop has enough bells and whistles to give Santa’s sleigh a run for its money.

After at least three minutes of letting the Micro Exfoliator and 3 Minute Clay Mask do its restorative work, rinse your face and pat it dry. 

Our Favorite Exfoliator
Geologie Micro Exfoliator & 3 Minute Clay Mask

My guy, there's absolutely nothing wrong with using a mask on your face as a guy. In fact, it's a total insider secret. This one from Geologie is our favorite---it contains microcrystalline cellulose and a variety of gentle acids to clean and nourish your skin to give you a brighter mug in just three minutes.

Check Price

Step 3: Apply a Moisturizer

At this point, your face is in a squeaky clean, vulnerable state. You’ve just removed the oil, dirt, and dead skin cells from your skin surface and pores, which is great, but those were also keeping additional dirt and debris from getting into your skin.

Thus, it’s time to moisturize and restore the skin’s natural barrier. Since your skin is a blank slate at this point, if you have a serum in your skincare routine, this is the time to apply it. 

Geologie Vitamin C+E Ferulic Serum
(Get 20% off with code TAM20)

Geologie takes the already-impressive potency of a basic Vitamin C serum and turns it up to 11. Considering the high-quality ingredients used throughout, the serum is easily affordable and is a great place to start leveling up your skincare routine.

Check Price

Serums penetrate deep through the layers of skin and moisturize, nourish, and rejuvenate the skin. These benefits are even more effective now that your pores are cleaned out and dead skin cells are removed.

If you don’t have a serum, at the very least apply a gentle moisturizer that will nourish your skin and help restore the skin’s natural barrier to keep out excess dirt and debris.

4 Key Mistakes to Avoid When Exfoliating

Black Man With Multiple Beauty Products Near His Face

1. Always Cleanse Before you Exfoliate

Your face needs to be clean before you exfoliate. Otherwise, excess dirt, oil, and dead skin cells can get trapped in the pores you just cleaned out and cause acne breakouts or irritation.

2. Scrubbing too Hard

Many mechanical exfoliators are referred to as “face scrubs”, which gives the impression of a forceful scouring of your delicate visage. Don’t do this!

When you apply the exfoliator to your face in gentle, small circles, you don’t need to press at all. The abrasive material in the exfoliator will clear away unwanted particles just through the circular motion during application.

Scrubbing too hard can cause small cuts across your skin, which can lead to irritation and acne breakouts.

3. Exfoliating Too Often

Since exfoliating is a slightly rough process, you only need to do it once a week, or twice a week at most. Any more than this and you run the risk of damaging your skin, causing acne breakouts, or making your skin overproduce oil.

4. Avoid the Eye Area

When applying the exfoliator, avoid the eye area. The skin beneath your eyes is super delicate and can become easily irritated by exfoliation. Also, getting acid or microbeads in your eyes sounds like the opposite of fun.

Get Scrubbin’

Now that you know the massive benefits of exfoliating and the best ways to do it, there’s nothing standing between you and the youthful, glowing skin you’ve always wanted. 

While adding an exfoliator to your skincare routine makes the whole routine longer, it’s well worth it, and you only have to do it once per week. 

If you’re eager to get exfoliating but don’t know what product to start with, I highly recommend Geologie’s Micro Exfoliator and 3 Minute Clay Mask. You get the benefits of a mechanical and chemical exfoliator and detoxifying face mask wrapped up in one simple product, not to mention the high-quality ingredients used that will help nourish your skin.

Our Favorite Exfoliator
Geologie Micro Exfoliator & 3 Minute Clay Mask

My guy, there's absolutely nothing wrong with using a mask on your face as a guy. In fact, it's a total insider secret. This one from Geologie is our favorite---it contains microcrystalline cellulose and a variety of gentle acids to clean and nourish your skin to give you a brighter mug in just three minutes.

Check Price

If you know a guy who needs that extra boost in his skincare routine, share this article with him! He’ll thank you when his skin is glowing like the new moon.

FAQs

What does exfoliation do for men?

Exfoliation clears away dirt, debris, and dead skin cells from men’s skin and pores, leaving your skin more clear, vibrant, and healthy.

How do men exfoliate at home?

Men can exfoliate at home by applying an exfoliating scrub in gentle circles or spreading a chemical exfoliator across their skin after they’ve cleansed their face.

Should men exfoliate after shaving?

Men should exfoliate before shaving. Exfoliating will remove dirt and dead skin cells that could clog up your razor, and relax the skin for a closer, more even shave.

Should you exfoliate your face in the morning or night?

You should exfoliate your face in the morning if you’re using a mechanical exfoliator, or face scrub. If you’re using a chemical exfoliator, which will leave your skin more sensitive to UV rays, exfoliate at night.