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Gentle Method To Exfoliate Sensitive Skin


From my last blog post about How To Get Rid Of Tiny Bumps Covering Your Forehead, I received a question about how to exfoliate sensitive skin? Specifically, super sensitive skin that is sensitive to just about everything, especially scrubs and exfoliation products.

I love this question because I have the most perfect, and effective method of exfoliation that even the most sensitive skin can do – and best of all, you’ll get great results (smooth, glowing, bright skin!).

Special story: How I discovered how to exfoliate sensitive skin

Strangely enough I came across this gentle exfoliation method after my daughter Luna Ray was born. Since Luna was a baby, she’s prone to a form of seborrheic dermatitis on her scalp (similar to dandruff or cradle cap). She pretty much gets excess sebum and dead skin cell building up in small patches on her scalp and near her forehead. It doesn’t itch or hurt her, but it doesn’t look so great (especially when she was a baby with no hair), and it’s very difficult to remove (you can’t wash it off, it’s almost glued to her skin).

I researched far and wide to find a gentle way to remove the plaques of dead skin building up on her scalp, but all the natural remedies never worked.

Then one day I was trying a method of putting oil on the scalp and washing it off with shampoo. Luna was fussing about having her hair washed, so I left the oil in her hair for over an hour without shampooing or rinsing it out. After that, she still wouldn’t let me wash the oil out, so I grabbed a soft washcloth, dampened it with warm water, and gently wiped the excess oil off her hair and scalp with the cloth. Next thing you know it, all the dead skin that was glue to her scalp prior, easily lifted up as I gently stroked her head with the soft wash cloth. I was able to remove everything just by sweeping the washcloth across her head without rubbing or scrubbing her skin, or using friction or pressure to remove the dead skin build up. It just lifted right off as I was lightly wiping the oil off her head with the damp cloth.

I have to say, I had tried other methods with oil on her scalp before, but this is the first time I left the oil on her scalp for more than an hour. This is where the magic happens (the absolute most important step), because in that hour or so that the oil is covering her skin, the oil has time to loosen up all the dead skin cells and sebum built up and adhering to her skin. If you just put oil on your skin and rinse it off right away (like I was doing to her before), you’ll clean off the dirt and debris that collects on the outer surface of your skin, but not the sticky build up of dead skin cells and sebum that’s clogging your pores and suffocating your skin (this is the difference between cleaning your skin and exfoliating).

So since discovering this wonderful way of removing build up of dead skin and sebum gently off my daughter scalp, I’ve been doing this on my own face as a gentle exfoliating treatment (you can even do full body exfoliation using this method too). Not only does it safely exfoliate your skin without the slightest irritation, but it moisturizes your skin too.

Forget the “No Pain, No Gain”

When most people think about exfoliating their skin, they often think they need to use a coarse exfoliating scrub or device to rub on their skin to remove dead skin cells and trapped sebum. This is known as “mechanical exfoliation”

Or, some of you might be using skincare products containing glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, or fruit enzymes to exfoliate your skin, which is known as an “chemical exfoliants” or “exfoliating acids.”

For many of you, one or both of these exfoliating methods could be giving you wonderful results (smooth, soft, bright skin). But, for those of you with super sensitive skin these methods of exfoliation are a definite no-go, they make your skin red, irritated, inflamed, and can even cause rashes, dermatitis, and acne breakouts.

I want to reassure all of you with sensitive skin that you can still exfoliate your skin and get all the benefits (soft, smooth, bright skin), without using anything harsh or abrasive on your skin.

I want to emphasize that you don’t need coarse scrubs or grainy cleansers to exfoliate your skin, nor are acids and enzymes your only alternative.

Instead I am going to show you how to exfoliate your sensitive skin with a super gentle, non-irritating exfoliation technique that you can team with an oil that is compatible with your skin, and get the same deep cleansing results everyone else is getting from using an exfoliating scrub or acid.

An exfoliation method for sensitive skin using oil. It's not harsh like a scrub or exfoliating acid, and it will leave your skin smooth and soft.

Oil Exfoliation For The Most Sensitive Skin

What you need:

  • A cold pressed oil (preferably organic) that is compatible with your skin (no mineral oil, no baby oil).
  • A soft washcloth / face cloth / flannel (no muslin cloths, they are too harsh for sensitive skin).

Selecting the right cleansing oil to exfoliate sensitive skin:

The oil you use to exfoliate and cleanse your skin must be an oil you’ve used on your face before that doesn’t cause any irritation, breakouts, or rashes.

Oils I recommend for cleansing sensitive skin or acne prone skin are:

  • Jojoba Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Sunflower Oil

I don’t recommend coconut oil for acne prone skin, unless you’re already using it and have no adverse reactions to it.

For this type of exfoliation, I recommend using one plain oil, not an oil blend or an oil that contains any essential oils or other ingredients. Just a plain, one ingredient oil for exfoliating sensitive skin.

Never use mineral oil or baby oil on your skin.

Selecting the right washcloth, face cloth, or flannel for sensitive skin:

Selecting the right washcloth for your face is extremely important. If you have sensitive skin or acne prone skin, you MUST use the softest washcloth you can find.

There are many varieties of washcloths, face cloths, and flannels. They come in different sizes, textures and compositions (cotton, bamboo, hemp, microfibres, synthetic fibres, blends, etc). You might have to try a few before you find the perfect one for your face (I’ve tried loads!!!).

I have sensitive skin, and I find the best wash cloths for my face are actually baby cloth wipes! (My personal favourite is Grovia Cloth Wipes). Baby cloth wipes are just smaller washcloths made for babies. They’re gentle and soft, and I find the smaller size to be the perfect size for washing your face and neck (regular washcloths are too big and bulky).

When selecting a wash cloth for your face, make sure it’s really soft, not only when it’s dry, but when it’s wet. When you use the wash cloth, it should never tug or pull your skin, and never feel rough; instead it should softly glide across your skin, sweeping the oil or cleanser off.

You would know your wash cloth is too harsh for your skin if your skin gets pink or red when using it, or it feels too rough or abrasive on your skin.

The only washcloths I don’t recommend for sensitive or acne prone skin are muslin washcloths (especially on your face), because they can be just too rough.

Lastly, always make sure to use a fresh washcloth when you clean or exfoliate your face. Never use a dirty or used washcloth on your face. (I have a stash of 12 baby washcloths I use on my face. Whenever I use one, afterwards I rinse it out, hang it to dry, and toss it in the laundry basket for cleaning. I like baby cloth wipes because they are small, they don’t take up much room in the washing machine, and can line-dry or dry in your dryer very quickly).

And remember, don’t be washing your wash cloths in any bleach or harsh detergents because residues can linger on the wash cloths and irritate your skin – always best to use an eco fragrance-free laundry detergent, and no fabric softener.

How to exfoliate sensitive skin with oil:

1- Remove all makeup and/or sunscreen

2- Apply a thin layer of oil on your dry face and neck.

3- Leave the oil on your skin for at least 1 hour.

4- Dampen a clean washcloth with warm water and wring out excess water.

5- Using the damp washcloth, gently wipe the oil away from your face and neck using a light downward sweeping motion (do not rub or scrub your face and neck with the wash cloth, try to be as gentle as possible). As your wiping the oil off your face and neck, rinse your washcloth as often as needed.

6- Once all the oil is wiped off your skin, allow your skin to air dry before applying any skin product or makeup (never use a bathroom towel to dry your clean face).

Frequency of exfoliating with oil

Start exfoliating with oil once a week to see how your skin responds. If all is good, you can continue doing it once or twice a week. As your skin adjusts to more thorough cleansing, your can increase the frequency as often as you like (you can exfoliate your skin with this gentle oil exfoliation technique every day, it’s that gentle!)

With this method of exfoliation, you’re not stripping or scrubbing your skin. Instead, you’re applying oil to your skin, letting it soak into your skin and loosen up all the hard build up of sebum and dead skin cells, and then gently sweeping everything off with your soft washcloth.

It’s that simple, and so effective!

And, not only are you clearing away pore-clogging build up from your skin, the oil will automatically soften and moisturize your skin as well.

About the Author
Hi, I’m Natasha St. Michael, Founder of Inspire Beauty. I’m also a Certified Holistic Health Coach and Natural Health Educator accredited by the Institute For Integrative Nutrition. I’m obsessed with skin care and self-care. I’m 47 years old, struggled with adult acne until I was 30, and now I’m all about preserving the youthfulness of my skin (and sharing all my tips and tricks). If you have a question about a product or need a recommendation, feel free to contact me anytime.


This blog is for information purposes only. The content is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Should you have a medical or dermatological problem, please consult with your physician. None of the information or recommendations on this website should be interpreted as medical advice.

All product reviews, recommendations, and references are based on the author’s personal experience and impressions using the products. All views and opinions are the author’s own. 

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11 Responses

  1. I actually do this with raw, organic honey because, for me personally, any oil on my face (even my own natural oil) makes my facial seborrheic dermatitis go crazy! It seems to feed on oil and the plaque-flakes just multiply. So raw, organic honey seems to be the best way for me to go. And I can’t use a washcloth because I have rosacea as well and even just the gentlest touch will make my face even more red than it already is. So I apply the honey to damp skin (so it glides over my skin), let it sit for a while, then simply just rinse the honey off with warm water and let my face air dry. It’s more red after I rinse (just the nature of rosacea), but it soon calms back down because of the calming properties within the honey. I also notice that even without the washcloth, my face feels gently exfoliated … again, from the properties within the honey.

    1. Hi Sheri!
      Thanks for sharing your awesome technique. Yes, honey is fantastic. It’s the enzymes in it that gently exfoliate your skin. I love using honey, and I’m happy you’ve found something that works for your skin 🙂

  2. I have been doing exactly this for past 5 years now but didn’t know it was exfoliating my skin. I do 2 things differently though, 1 I use 3 different cold pressed organic oils which are avocado, sweet almond, jojoba all mixed together and 2 instead of a face cloth I use an already damp natural facial cleansing cloths with a lot of skin soothing and good for skin ingredients within itself. Thank u for the beauty share.

    1. Hi! I stumbled upon your site a week ago and hVe been sharing it with my friends! I have oily, acne prone, dry sensitive skin! With hyperpigmentation, melasma, dark spots and some acne scars. I had been trying diffurin for about 11 weeks not loving the results. I’ve now switched and ordered jojoba oil and your face cloths. For a week I’ve washed with just water in the morning but then I need a little moisture so I have put a little jojoba oil on. Then I have been washing after my work out with jojoba oil and a cloth and then same in the evening but then in the evening I put more jojoba oil on for moisture after cleansing. I also apply Barbara strum eye cream. My face is looking great. Oh and I have been using the spot treatment you recommend the zap one. It’s been great. I have some questions though. One is there anything I can use as a mosturizer other than oil or should I stick with the oil? Two, now that I have cleared up the breakouts is there a different thing you would add to this regime to help clear the melasma and scarring? Third my chest acne doesn’t seem to be improving yet I am doing the oil cleaning there too, any suggestions? Lastly, the day before finding your blog I ordered Vintner’s daughter essence and serum. Have you ever tried it? Could I try adding to my skin care routine? Many many thanks!

  3. If i only have a few face cloths, is it okay to boil them or is there another method without a washing machine?

    1. Hi Ellen,

      I think if you boil them they will fall apart quite easily (the boiling water will destroy the fibres). Instead, just wash your washcloths by hand with water and detergent, and dry them fully in the sun.

  4. hye, after the exfoliation can i wash my face with cleanser or just let it dry without applying other products?

  5. I bow down to you Natasha! This simple technique is a revelation for my uber hypersensitive menopausal skin. I chose jojoba oil as it is the nearest to natural sebum. I have struggled to find an exfoliator that doesn’t cause more problems than it solves for the last four years which has cost me a small fortune, not to mention sore, burning, tight, itchy and very red skin. I always check all ingredients but to no avail so I decided to give up. Then I stumbled upon this article. So I owe you a heartfelt thank you. One product I have discovered that is a super calming cleanser is Votary Super Seed Cleansing Oil. Now my skin feels exceptionally soft, almost congestion free, smooth and no longer do I look like I have been out in the sun for hours without sunblock, which I would never do anyway!

    1. I’m so happy this technique has worked for you! It’s the best! It’s so simple, but exceptionally effective. I truly believe “less is more.” And I believe this cause I’ve made all the hard core skincare mistakes of going in too strong and too much, which always made everything worse!
      You’ve peaked my interest in the Votary Cleansing Oil. I’ve heard of their line, and I believe some of their serums they mix actives with oils to buffer them, which is smart. I will definitely put your recommendation on my list of things to try. Thank you!

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