How To Remove Dead Skin

What Is Dead Skin & How Does It Form?

The term "dead skin" may sound scary (or even a bit gross) but it's nothing to be afraid of. All you need is a little exfoliation to keep dead skin from becoming a problem. 

Cells in the body exist in a constant cycle of death and rebirth. This process is called cellular turnover. "Old" cells die and are replaced with "new" ones.

The rate of cellular turnover depends on the type of cell. Skin cells turnover approximately every 30 days.

"Dead skin" refers to the skin cells on the skin's surface (epidermis) that shed and are replaced with new skin cells. In normal skin, this process happens naturally and regularly. But for most of us, we need to remove dead skin on a regular basis to support our skin's healthy functioning.

Read on to learn the best ways to remove dead skin cells. We focus mostly on the face, but theirs tips in their for body, feet and even lips too!

How To Get Rid Of Dead Skin In 5 Easy Steps

1) Gently Cleanse Your Skin

Before you exfoliate, you need to cleanse your skin.


Cleansing first reduces the risk that you'll end up pushing makeup, oil or dirt into even deeper layers of your skin.

In the morning, opt for a super gentle cleanse. Our choice is lukewarm water! In the evening, choose an oil cleanser to thoroughly remove makeup and the day's grime buildup.

If starting with already "clean skin" i.e. no makeup and you haven't done any excessive sweating, you can cleanse and exfoliate at the same time. Do this with a mild cleanser that contains a chemical exfoliant like salicylic acid. (More on chemical exfoliation below!).

Be careful with this method: exfoliating cleansers with SA are typically foaming which can be drying to already sensitive or dry skin. That's why it's important to know your skin type before you choose a method that's best for you.

With a clean canvas, now you're ready to remove dead skin cells.

2) Exfoliate

Chemical exfoliation

Chemical exfoliants are acids that loosen the bonds between skin cells so that they can be easily removed and replaced with fresh cells on the surface.

At a dermatologist's office, this is done with chemical peels. These are pretty intense treatments as an entire layer of the skin is sometimes removed in what is called 'controlled injury' to reveal healthy cells underneath. Follow the aftercare instructions of your dermatologist closely.

Chemical exfoliants are not limited to the professionals. At home, you can use products ranging from cleansers to exfoliating acids to safely remove dead skin cells.

There are two categories of chemical exfoliants: alpha hydroxy acids (AHA's) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA's).

The most common alpha hydroxy acid is glycolic acid which you'll find in cleansers and brightening toners.

The most common beta hydroxy acid is salicylic acid, with lactic acid as a close second. SA can dissolve dead skin cells that are clogging pores and leading to acne breakouts and blackheads. LA works to exfoliate on the surface and is also known to fade dark spots and acne scars.

Mechanical exfoliation

Mechanical exfoliation - sometimes called physical exfoliation - uses friction and pressure between your skin and a "rough" surface to manually slough off dead skin cells. To mechanically exfoliate your skin, you can use:

  • a body scrub or polish containing large abrasive grains of salt, sugar or even coffee grounds
  • a body wash containing an abrasive (*products containing plastic microbeads are now banned in Canada and the USA, but these were formerly a very popular option for mechanical exfoliation)
  • a loofah
  • a dry brush
  • a textured cloth, like this natural hemp washcloth

    We'd recommend these methods on the body, not on your delicate face!

    How To Exfoliate the Lips

    Are you in an ongoing battle with chapped lips? Exfoliation will help! Here's two ways to exfoliate your lips:

    Option 1:

    A coarse physical exfoliant like a brown sugar scrub is perfect for the lips. Gently rub a pea-sized amount on and around the lips in small circles. Rinse with lukewarm water and follow immediately with a hydrating lip balm.

    Option 2:

    Use a toothbrush with very soft bristles. A toothbrush, really? Yes, really. Apply a small amount of coconut oil on and around your mouth. Then use light pressure and small circles with the toothbrush to exfoliate. Use a damp wash cloth to remove excess oil and apply a moisturizing lip balm immediately.

    How to Exfoliate the Body

    Removing dead skin cells - especially in a few hard-to-reach spots - should be a part of every body care routine.

    The most popular methods for exfoliating the entire body are body scrubs, loofahs and fibrous cloths like this hemp one. The products are easy and inexpensive to buy, and the whole exfoliation process can be done while you're in the shower. Win, win!

    Two methods gaining popularity are dry brushing and chemical exfoliation products for the body. According to this Cleveland Clinic article, dry brushing will aid with reducing dry and flaky skin as well as increase circulation. Be weary of other health-related claims with dry brushing like better digestion; these have not been proven.

    Body care is an emerging niche in today's skincare market. New specialized products are coming out all the time, including for exfoliation. Not surprising, chemical exfoliation scrubs to be used pre/in-shower are now widely available.

    Lesser known and newer to the scene are leave-on products, like creams and lotions, containing chemical exfoliants. In addition to leaving you with soft, smooth skin, these products aim to prevent or reduce crepey skin on the arms, legs and body.

    How To Exfoliate the Feet

    Your feet need some attention too! You can remove dead skin from your feet in a few ways:

    1. Foot Peel - Just like a mask for your face, you place a sock or boot onto your feet that is saturated in chemical exfoliants like AHA's. Follow the package directions for how long to leave on - usually 30-60 minutes. Remove, rinse and expect that dead skin cells will continue to shed for a couple of days. Do not use foot peels if you have open wounds or blisters.
    2. Foot Scrub - The physical exfoliation for feet, foot scrubs use course grains like salt and sugar. The skin on our feet is a bit tougher than than the rest of the body, but still take care when scrubbing to remove dead skin cells and always apply to damp skin.
    3. Callus Removers - These specialty products target thick, hardened skin that has accumulated in one spot on the foot. Common examples of callus removers are pumice stones, foot files and shavers. The first two operate just like sandpaper and should be rubbed back and forth on damp skin. The final option, shavers, look like a cheese grater and provide a more intense approach to dead skin removal. Take care when using these tools!

      3) Steam Your Face

      This step is optional. Actually, we'd say proceed with extreme caution and get advice from your dermatologist before steaming your face at home.

      Try this gentle solution instead: soak a clean, soft washcloth in lukewarm water. Then gently wipe over your face after cleansing and exfoliating. This will help remove any product residue and leave your skin damp and ready for serums and moisturizers.

      4) Use A Facial Mask

      Using a facial mask after you exfoliate is an optional, but potentially very beneficial step. Of course this applies to exfoliation of the face, but can also be applied to the feet and hands.

      Choose a facial mask with ingredients to calm and hydrate the skin. Avoid masks with strong active ingredients like vitamin C or retinol. The process of exfoliation and treatment with these actives should be done on different days in what is sometimes called "skin cycling".

      5) Apply Moisturizers

      Follow facial exfoliation with an oil-based moisturizer. Apply to damp skin. Facial oils absorb better than creams/lotions so it's the perfect time to hydrate your skin deeply.

      This is particularly important if you have acne prone skin and have just used an exfoliant like SA to unclog pores. A cream will block pores that have 'opened up' whereas an oil serum with non-comedogenic oils like hemp seed oil will moisturize without blocking pores.

      Important safety tips

      You've heard of 'too much of a good thing', right?

      It's been said about ice cream. Now we're saying it about exfoliation.

      Our #1 tip to safely exfoliate, is to not overdo it.

      Why? Well let's go back to the beginning of this article. We explained that our skin has its own natural process for shedding dead skin cells, about every 30 days. Any additional exfoliation should be to support that process, not override it.

      The thicker the skin, the less dangerous it is to over-exfoliate. Your heels for example, can be buffed up a lot before irritation occurs. The delicate skin on your face however - that's where you need to take caution.

      Possible side effects from over-exfoliation include:

      • Dry skin
      • Flakiness
      • Irritation and redness
      • Burning sensation
      • Compromised skin barrier

        Our best advice is to include exfoliation as part of your skin cycling.


        To recap: regularly removing dead skin cells from your face and body is an important part of a well-rounded skincare routine. Dead skin accumulation can lead to clogged pores and acne and/or flaky ad textured skin.

        While the skin does renew its cells every 30 days, choosing an exfoliation method that's right for your skin type is a great way to support healthy skin functioning.

        Regardless of your skin type, don't overdo it. Removing dead skin too often can disrupt your skin's natural oils and ultimately damage your skin barrier.

        You can consider a professional treatment like a chemical peel to get rid of dead skin, but at-home options work just as well too!

        If you're dealing with any serious skin conditions, speak with your doctor or dermatologist before trying a new exfoliation method.

        You Are Loved. 

        Jennifer Grant with Hemp Roots


        Author Bio: Jennifer is the president and founder of empyri.  Jennifer’s passion for formulation and product development was set ablaze in 2019, when she incorporated the healing power of cannabis roots into her long-standing three-step skin care system. Armed with scientific evidence on the actives in cannabis roots and seeds, a clean and conscious brand was born. Using her masters degree in bio-chemical engineering, Jennifer is forging a path to ...READ FULL BIO