Top Ways to Get Rid of Dead Skin on the Face

Everyone has dead skin cells on their face. In fact, the top 18 to 23 layers of your skin are made of dead cells. Skin cells are removed and replenished with new cells every month. Your body gets rid of 30,000 to 40,000 old skin cells every day. New skin cells form at the bottom of the epidermis, the top layer of your skin.

Exfoliation is an effective way to make sure you get rid of dead skin cells, but each skin type needs different kinds of exfoliation to avoid irritation or clogging pores further.

How to Get Rid of Dead Facial Skin - Illustration by Jessica Olah

Verywell / Jessica Olah

What Is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is a way to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. There are two ways to exfoliate your skin at home: chemical or mechanical.

Mechanical exfoliation uses a tool, such as a brush or sponge, or a scrub to physically remove dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliation uses chemicals, such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids, to gently dissolve dead skin cells. The method you choose should be guided by your skin type.

Exfoliation leaves the skin soft and glowing, but shouldn't be overused. If you exfoliate too much, you may harm your skin instead.

Exfoliation and Skin Types

There are five skin types: sensitive, normal, dry, oily, and combination. Each is suited for a different kind of exfoliation. Choosing the right exfoliation method for your skin type can avoid skin irritation, dryness, and redness.

Sensitive Skin

People with sensitive skin are prone to inflammation or reaction to chemicals or fragrances. Usually, people with sensitive skin will experience itching, burning, stinging, tightness, and dryness.

People with sensitive skin can still exfoliate, but they should be mindful of the products they use. Mechanical exfoliation may be too harsh for people with sensitive skin. It's recommended that they use a washcloth and a mild chemical exfoliator. To avoid intolerance and adverse reaction, consider mandelic acid for gentle exfoliation and products with few ingredients.

Normal Skin

Exfoliation for a normal skin type is more straightforward, and people with normal skin can use chemical or mechanical exfoliation. People with normal skin are considered to have balanced skin without a compromised skin barrier or a low risk of adverse reaction to products.

Dry Skin

Dry skin is the result of weather, age, and other environmental and genetic factors. Dry skin can be lifelong or appear only sporadically.

Dry skin usually presents with tightness, roughness, itching, peeling, and redness. Exfoliation of this skin type should be approached carefully. To avoid increased dryness, worsening symptoms, or skin irritation, opt for gentle products. It's also recommended that people with dry skin exfoliate with a washcloth and a gentle chemical exfoliator.

When choosing an exfoliator, look for ingredients like lactic acid. These products can help loosen dead skin cells without further irritating the skin.

Oily Skin

People with oily skin have excess sebum on their face. Exfoliating oily skin is a key part of skin care for this skin type. Not only can exfoliation help with dead skin cells, but it can also prevent acne and spots.

Oily skin results in a buildup of dead skin cells blocking pores, which often leads to breakouts. People with this skin type can opt for mechanical exfoliation or use a stronger chemical exfoliator. Look for products that contain salicylic acid.

Combination Skin

Combination skin refers to when the skin is oily in some spots and dry or sensitive in others. If the main concern of combination skin is oil, address it with salicylic acid. If sensitive skin is the main concern, opt for lactic acid.

How to Get Rid of Dead Skin on the Face: Types of Exfoliation

Chemical Exfoliators

Chemical exfoliators are tolerated by most skin types. These exfoliators dissolve dead skin cells with chemicals. They can be found in cleansers, toners, creams, masks, or chemical peels.

Gentle chemicals used in chemical exfoliators include:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids
  • Beta hydroxy acids
  • Retinoids

Some chemical options use low-pH ingredients to loosen dead skin cells on the face and minimize skin irritation. You can also use a stronger chemical exfoliator if you have oily or thicker skin.

If you use a scrub or chemical exfoliator, apply the product gently using small, circular motions. Do this for about 30 seconds, and then rinse off with lukewarm, not hot, water.

Some medications and even over-the-counter products may cause your skin to be more sensitive or peel. These include prescription retinoid creams and products containing retinol or benzoyl peroxide. Exfoliating while using these products may worsen dry skin or even cause acne breakouts.

Mechanical Exfoliators

Also referred to as physical exfoliators, mechanical exfoliators can be a washcloth, sponge, or face scrub.

You should avoid strong chemical or mechanical exfoliation if you have a darker skin tone or notice dark spots on your skin after burns, bug bites, or acne breakouts. For some people, especially those with darker skin tones, more aggressive forms of exfoliation may result in dark spots on the skin.

Exfoliating can be drying to the skin. Apply moisturizer immediately after exfoliating to keep your skin healthy and hydrated.

How often you exfoliate depends on your skin type and exfoliation method. Generally, the more aggressive the exfoliation, the less often it needs to be done. Be careful not to over-exfoliate, as this could lead to skin that is red and irritated.


Your skin gets rid of dead skin cells and generates new ones regularly. When there is a buildup of dead skin cells on your face, it can lead to problems like clogged pores. You can try exfoliation at home to remove dead skin cells, using either a mechanical or chemical method. Mechanical exfoliation is harsher on your skin and not recommended for people with dry or sensitive skin. Check with your dermatologist if you're not sure which exfoliator is best for you.

A Word From Verywell

Skin concerns can be stressful and even embarrassing. To keep skin looking its best while helping with its natural processes to get rid of dead skin, try exfoliation. Depending on your skin type and needs, you can find the best exfoliant that will help remove excess dead skin cells on the face without causing issues for your skin.

If you're not sure what your skin type is or have questions about exfoliation in general, talk to a dermatologist. They will be able to help you figure it out and recommend the best products for your skin type.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will dead skin stay on my face?

Skin cells regenerate every 30 days. If there is a problem with shedding skin cells, they can attach to the face and result in dry patches or clogged pores. This dead skin can stay on the face until it is properly exfoliated.

What is the best way to get rid of dead skin on the face at home?

Successful exfoliation of the face is possible at home with targeted practices and products for your specific skin type. Once you've determined if your skin type is normal, sensitive, dry, oily, or combination, choose an exfoliation method or product that's best for your skin type. Avoid mechanical exfoliation for dry or sensitive skin.

Why does dead skin stick to your face?

If your skin is producing too many skin cells, it can lead to a buildup of dead skin on the skin's surface. This may be from lack of moisture or the skin cells' inability to break away from the skin.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home.

  3. Farage MA. The prevalence of sensitive skin. Front Med (Lausanne). 2019;6:98. doi:10.3389/fmed.2019.00098

  4. Rodan K, Fields K, Majewski G, Falla T. Skincare bootcamp: the evolving role of skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2016;4(12 Suppl):e1152. doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001152

By Kimberly Charleson
Kimberly is a health and wellness content writer crafting well-researched content that answers your health questions.