Exfoliation Questions

Are Cleansing and Exfoliating the Same Thing? (Explained)

Written by: Anastasija

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If you’re familiar with both processes of cleansing and exfoliating your skin, you may be wondering whether there’s really much difference between them. It’s no secret that they’re both similar to each other, but what the differences? Let’s read on to find out.

What is cleansing?


Before we start to take a look at the differences between clean sing and exfoliation, it’s important to confidently establish what each of them are, and exactly how each process works. Although it’s something most of us do every day, many people aren’t aware exactly how cleansing works, so it’s time to discover the answer now.

When you cleanse your skin, you are generally removing any of the surface oils, dirt, and other debris from above the skin, which can be rinsed off without the need for the penetration of any product. In other words, a cleanser simply works on top of your skin to remove anything there and doesn’t work any deeper than surface level.

Cleansing MethodDescriptionExample Products
Face WashLiquid or foaming cleanser for cleansing the faceGel cleansers, cream cleansers
Cleansing BalmSolid, oil-based formula that melts into the skinBalm cleansers, oil cleansers
Micellar WaterWater-based cleanser that uses micelles to remove dirt and impurities from the skinMicellar water solutions, cleansing wipes
Cleansing MilkGentle, lotion-like cleanser for sensitive skinMilk cleansers, cream cleansers
Table 1: Common Cleansing Methods and Products

Cleansing is important to your daily skincare routine as it’s responsible for removing all the grime that builds up throughout the day which would otherwise result in clogging the pores if it’s not cleansed. Consequently, this can help to reduce and prevent breakouts, as well as blackheads and other skin concerns.

Of course, there are lots of different cleansing methods available, from products such as butters and waters to gel and traditional bars of face soap, and each brings its own benefits to work for different skin types and requirements. Regardless of the product you decide to use, a cleanser will always do the same job.

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What is exfoliation?

exfoliation acne

On the other hand, it’s time to take a look at what exfoliation is, as we’ve already established cleansing. Unlike cleansing, exfoliation is a slightly more complicated process, and we’ll discuss the other differences between the two a little later on. For now, let’s discover the world of exfoliation.

When it comes to using a scrub or other exfoliating product or tool, the aim is to remove the upper layer of dead skin cells from the skin. These skin cells are present as a result of natural cell turnover, and they can cause the skin to appear dull and less glowy before they’re removed.

As mentioned, these cells are left by the process of cell turnover, as the skin is continuously regenerating itself, and producing fresh skin cells to replace old ones or lost ones as a result of wounds and damage. When these new cells are created, the old ones are pushed closer and closer to the surface, until eventually they’re on the outermost layer of the skin.

Exfoliation MethodDescriptionExample Products
Physical ExfoliationUses physical particles or tools to manually scrub away dead skin cellsFacial scrubs, exfoliating brushes, exfoliating gloves
Chemical ExfoliationUtilizes acids or enzymes to dissolve and remove dead skin cellsAHA (alpha hydroxy acids) exfoliants, BHA (beta hydroxy acids) exfoliants, enzyme masks
Table 2: Common Exfoliation Methods and Products

This is where exfoliation comes in, and any product or tool will be designed to loosen the bonds between these outermost skin cells and the rest of the skin to help remove the cells and speed up the entire process.

Not only does this reveal a fresher, brighter and glowier complexion as a result, as your skin is now made up of younger cells, but it also comes with additional benefits such as the deeper cleansing of your skin and unclogging of your pores.

Also read:
Best Facial Exfoliators for Dry Skin (5 Best Ones)
Does Exfoliating Help with Acne? (Tips That Help)

Are cleansing and exfoliating the same?

Are Cleansing and Exfoliating the Same Thing featured

Now that we’ve gotten a clear understanding about what each of the two are, it’s time to find out about the exact differences between cleansing and exfoliating your skin.

It’s first important to acknowledge that no: cleansing and exfoliation aren’t the same at all, and you definitely shouldn’t think about them in the same way or rely on the to do the same jobs as each other.

PurposeRemoves dirt, oil, and impurities from the skin surfaceRemoves dead skin cells and promotes skin cell renewal
MethodUses cleansers, soaps, or face wash to cleanse the skinUtilizes physical or chemical exfoliants to slough off dead skin cells
FrequencyCan be done daily as part of a regular skincare routineTypically done 2-3 times a week depending on skin type
TextureGentle and non-abrasive on the skinMay have a slightly rough or gritty texture
BenefitsCleanses the skin, unclogs pores, and prepares it for further skincare productsImproves skin texture, enhances product absorption, and reveals a brighter complexion
Suitable forAll skin types, including sensitive and dry skinGenerally suitable for most skin types, but caution should be exercised with sensitive or inflamed skin
Table 3: Key Differences between Cleansing and Exfoliating

As we mentioned earlier, cleansing is the removal of grime and dirt from the surface of the skin and doesn’t usually have much to do with anywhere deeper throughout the layers of the face or body. This contrasts to exfoliation in the sense that it usually works deeper into the layers of the skin, pulling out debris from inside of pores, and cleaning more thoroughly in general.

Of course, another obvious difference is the matter of an exfoliant removing the dead skin cells, whereas a cleanser doesn’t do this at all. Instead, it does exactly as it says, it cleanses, and nothing more. This means you should expect to see the same results of glowy, dewy skin after cleansing like you would post-exfoliation.

At the end of the day, cleansing is usually more of a preventative measure, keeping the skin clean and limiting the chances of developing acne and similar concerns, but exfoliation is more of a cure, treating skin which has already been damaged or affected.

Final thoughts

In the end, it’s clear that cleansing and exfoliation are two different processes and, when you really look into them, they’re not quite so similar. There are a variety benefits that come with each, but these vary slightly as both processes take place slightly differently, too.

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