What Is Exfoliating? Discover the Skin-Smoothing Benefits of Exfoliator

What is exfoliating and how do you exfoliate your face? Discover everything you need to know about exfoliator including how to exfoliate skin and the smoothing-effect benefits of exfoliation.

Darlings, exfoliation is the secret to smoother-looking skin that looks reborn! In this guide, I’m sharing everything you need to know about exfoliator and answering frequently asked questions like what is exfoliating and what are the benefits of exfoliation? As well as breaking down how to exfoliate your skin to get the iconic Tilbury glow!

Watch my magical niece Bella Tilbury and celebrity aesthetician Sadaf Jaffari share all of my exfoliator skin secrets in my NEW! Tilbury Tell All skincare series, then discover more magic + science, below!

What Is Exfoliating?

Exfoliating is a skincare step designed to remove dead surface skin cells to reveal rejuvenated, smoother-looking skin. Our bodies are constantly generating new, healthy skin cells to replace old, damaged skin that has been exposed to environmental stressors like air pollution and sun damage. Skin cells have a natural turnover of around 30 days, and when older cells die off, they can appear as coarse, dry, flaky patches on the face. An exfoliator helps to resurface your complexion to create a smoother-feeling skin texture that appears refreshed and reborn.

What Do Exfoliators Do?

Exfoliators have many benefits for your skin which all depend on which type of exfoliator you use; the part of your body you’re exfoliating; and the ingredients in your chosen exfoliator.

The main benefit that all exfoliators have in common is that they help to exfoliate dead surface skin cells to reveal the softer, smoother skin beneath. After exfoliating, skin looks revitalised and rejuvenated with a renewed, natural glow. Some exfoliators can also help to refine and unclog the look of pores; hydrate skin; make your skin appear brighter; and even reduce the appearance of wrinkles. My Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial is expertly formulated to exfoliate and resurface the look of skin while providing heaps of hydration to make your complexion look glowing!

What are the Benefits of Exfoliating?

Darlings, exfoliating is a smooth-effect step that belongs in every skincare routine. Exfoliation has a whole host of skincare benefits and can help your skin to look its smoothest and most radiant!

Benefits of Exfoliating


Exfoliating helps to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the face to reveal a fresher, more healthy-looking complexion with smoother-looking skin texture. Dead skin on the face can result in dry patches and flakiness; using an exfoliator helps to remove these cells which can improve the appearance of texture and make skin feel smoother and more supple.

Discover how to remove dead skin on face


Dead skin cells and build-ups on the skin can lead to clogged pores. Using an exfoliator helps to remove dead skin and therefore can have an unclogging effect, especially when your exfoliator is infused with beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) like my Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial. By unclogging pores with an exfoliator, you can help to prevent the emergence of breakouts and blemishes as well as reduce the appearance of pores.

Discover how to unclog pores


When skin is exfoliated and dead skin cells are removed, your complexion can appear brighter and softer. Freshly exfoliated skin appears healthier and more youthful, and regularly exfoliating skin can help to reduce and prevent the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Discover my anti-ageing skincare routine


If your skin is dull and rough, it can be difficult for it to properly absorb hydrating skincare products. Exfoliating away the top layer of damaged skin cells allows your skin to absorb hydrating products like Charlotte’s Magic Serum Crystal Elixir and Charlotte’s Magic Cream more effectively which in turn helps their potent skincare ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin for greater effect.

How Do You Exfoliate Your Face?

The skin on your face is different and more sensitive than the skin you might exfoliate on your arms, legs, or feet. When exfoliating your face, you should use a dedicated face exfoliator to ensure your complexion receives targeted exfoliation for best results. I recommend using my Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial to exfoliate and hydrate in one step.

Discover how to exfoliate your face with Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial to resurface your complexion and boost skin radiance!

How To Use Exfoliator on Face

Step 1. Choose an acid-based exfoliator

Acid exfoliators that are bead-free that won’t scratch or scrape your skin are best for exfoliating your face. My Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial is a 2-in-1 face exfoliator that gently yet effectively exfoliates, resurfaces, hydrates and adds radiance to your skin with the power of expertly blended AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs.

Step 2: Apply a pea-sized amount of exfoliator to the back of your hand

Once you’ve cleansed your skin and gently towelled it dry, squeeze your exfoliator onto the back of your hand ready to apply onto your face. You only need a pea-sized amount of exfoliator to resurface your entire complexion.

Step 3: Smooth evenly onto your face with your fingers or a brush

Exfoliator can be applied with your hands or with a brush like my Magic Complexion Brush. To apply exfoliator with your hands, massage the formula between your fingers then gently glide it onto your face starting with your cheeks and forehead then working it into the rest of your complexion. To apply exfoliator with a brush, choose a dense complexion brush to lightly brush exfoliator evenly onto your face.

Step 4: Massage into hard-to-reach areas

Dead skin cells can gather in hard-to-reach areas like around the nose, eyebrows, and corners of the mouth, so be sure to take extra care to apply exfoliator to these parts of your face. Use gentle massaging motions to gently exfoliate these areas for a skin-smoothing effect.

Step 5: How long should you exfoliate for? Leave on for 5-20 minutes.

Acid exfoliators that contain AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs should be incorporated slowly into your skincare routine to train your skin and gradually build up its tolerance.

If you have used acids in your skincare routine before, go ahead and leave your exfoliator on your face for the full recommended 20-minutes.

If you have not used skincare powered by AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs before, I recommend leaving exfoliator on your face for 5 minutes the first few times you use it, then increasing over time as your skin gets used to the formula.

Tilbury Tip:  Work up to exfoliating for 20 minutes in total for the full, red-carpet facial effect.

Step 6: Rinse off with lukewarm water.

Wash off your exfoliator to reveal smoother-looking, resurfaced skin that glows! To remove your exfoliator, gently rinse it off using lukewarm water and a clean, soft facial cloth. Always use gentle, swiping motions to remove your exfoliator and avoid tugging or rubbing.


Exfoliating is an essential skincare step that can be performed in the morning to start your day with refreshed, reborn skin, or an evening skincare ritual that lets you wake up with rejuvenated, smoother-looking skin. It’s best to exfoliate after cleansing and before serums, masks, and moisturisers to ensure the product is absorbed by the skin before you apply any other skincare products.

Click here for my full guide on when to exfoliate

What is Exfoliating? More FAQs

What is Exfoliator

Who Needs an Exfoliator?

The short answer is everyone needs an exfoliator in their skincare routine! Our skin cells have a natural turnover and dead skin cells are left on the surface of the face, so it’s important to remove them with a gentle exfoliator so that skin can look fresh. As we age, our cell turnover gradually slows down, so it’s especially important to exfoliate mature skin to help aid the turnover process and reveal smoother, more youthful-looking skin.

Tilbury Tip: Exfoliators can be used for prevention and correction, darlings. Whether you’re exfoliating to prevent skin from becoming dry and textured, or you’re exfoliating to help resurface textured skin, exfoliating is a skincare step that can benefit every skin tone, type, and texture.

Shop Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial

How Do You Exfoliate Without Using A Scrub?

Exfoliating scrubs can be abrasive on skin; if you want to exfoliate without using a scrub, reach for an acid exfoliator to resurface the look of skin without the use of bead exfoliants. Acid-powered exfoliators deliver AHAs, BHAs, and/or PHAs to exfoliate dead skin cells without scratching, scrubbing, or rubbing at skin which can cause irritation.

What are AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs?

AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs are types of hydroxy acids and their main purpose in skincare is to exfoliate skin.

What are AHAs?

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are water-soluble acids made from sugary fruits. Popular AHAs in skincare include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid.

What do AHAs do in skincare?

AHAs help to exfoliate dead skin cells and to reveal new cells underneath which can help to even the appearance of pigmentation and skin tone.

Learn more about glycolic acid

What are BHAs?

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are oil-soluble acids that can penetrate more deeply into pores. Popular BHAs in skincare include salicylic acid and certain citric acids.

What do BHAs do in skincare?

BHAs can penetrate deeper layers of the skin thanks to their smaller molecular structure. They can help to unclog pores which is particularly beneficial for oily skin types.

What are PHAs?

Poly hydroxy acids (PHAs) are chemical exfoliants with larger molecular structures than AHAs and BHAs. Some popular PHAs in skincare include lactobionic acid and gluconolactone.

What do PHAs do in skincare?

PHAs are best used for surface-level exfoliation as their larger molecules don’t penetrate as deeply into the skin. This can result in more gentle exfoliation which is easier for the skin to withstand.

Learn more about acids in skincare

Why Is Exfoliator Necessary for Skin Prep?

Exfoliators belong backstage at every red carpet, darlings! Using an exfoliator like Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial is the secret to skin that looks instantly rejuvenated. I advise my celebrity clients to start using exfoliator about a week before I’m doing their makeup to help train their skin, then I apply it backstage as a radiance-boosting, resurfacing, red-carpet facial to make skin glow before the show!

I always pair my smoothing-effect exfoliator with my magic icons like Charlotte’s Magic Cream! When skin is newly exfoliated, my hydrating mists, serums and moisturisers can work even more effectively to give your skin the best glow of your life!

By pairing Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial and Charlotte’s Magic Cream, you can unlock a red-carpet glow every day of the week!

Discover my pre-party skin prep guide

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Author Details

Charlotte Tilbury

Founder, President, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Charlotte Tilbury Beauty

With over 30 years experience, Charlotte Tilbury MBE is the world's number 1 makeup artist and British beauty entrepreneur. Charlotte established Charlotte Tilbury Beauty in 2013, which is now a record-breaking beauty brand that has won over 400 awards.

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