Should You Be Exfoliating In The Morning Or At Night?

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
There are certain parts of our skin-care regimen that aren't really up for debate. We cleanse and moisturize in the morning and at night, and keep our more intensive treatments for right before bed. But I recently got into a heated debate with a friend about where exfoliation fits into the equation. I've taken to scrubbing in the morning (after an editor mentioned it helps her makeup sit better). My friend told me I was crazy, and that I should be exfoliating at night, since that's when the bulk of skin care is "supposed" to take place.

So, I did what any beauty editor would do: I polled some experts. And, it turns out, even they aren't 100% aligned on the topic. "Many people ask for specifics on the best time to use a physical exfoliant, but it really is dependent on the individual's habits and lifestyle," says dermatologist Harold Lancer, MD. "If someone wears makeup on a daily basis, exfoliating at night would help to lift any remaining makeup particles from the skin and ensure that your products are penetrating properly," he adds. But Dr. Lancer goes on to say that if your face is dull in the morning, or if you have oily skin, exfoliating in the a.m. may be best.

Dermatologist Karyn Grossman, MD, however, has a bit of a stronger stance. She typically prefers her patients to exfoliate in the morning. "In general, patients should focus on protection in the morning and correction in the evening," she says. "I find that most patients will tend to use stronger, more irritating products in the evening. Thus, adding exfoliation to this can cause or increase the potential irritation." So, if you use a stronger product, like a Retinol, make sure you space out its application from your exfoliating products. Since Retinols and the like tend to be used at night, an a.m. scrub might be better for you.

But, regardless of when you exfoliate, both derms agree on the type of exfoliant you should use: "[It] should always be gentle, with vibrating or ultrasonic brushes, super-fine scrubs, etc.," Dr. Grossman says. "Never use large, jagged particles that can cause micro-tears in the skin." Dr. Lancer agrees and adds that you should always follow with a good moisturizer. Scrub on, people!

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