Beauty 101

All About Overexfoliating Your Face

Rachel Gibbons Beauty Expert
All About Overexfoliating Your Face

There is such a thing as you can have too much of a good thing for your skin.

While dermatologists say that exfoliation is great, and highly necessary to remove dead skin cells, and reveal the fresh, radiant skin sitting below the surface,  the recent popularity of cell-scrubbing cleansers, toners, grains, and serums means that many beauty enthusiasts are exfoliating a bit too much and a bit too often.

Signs you’re over-exfoliating 

“Over-exfoliating is one of the biggest mistakes we see people making,” says Dr. Aanand Geria, a dermatologist with Geria Dermatology. “Generally, skin should be exfoliated only one to two times per week to help expedite skin cell turnover without causing damage.” If you've been slathering on the exfoliants daily, your skin is highly likely begging for a break. 

Some classic signs of over exfoliating skin includes: 

  • Irritation
  • Redness
  • Inflamed skin 
  • Burning 
  • Peeling 
  • Breakouts, especially small pimples
  • Increased sensitivity to other products in your skincare routine 

Eventually, your complexion can become dry and flaky. You may even develop a rash-like texture, leading to uneven tone (like patchy, red blotches). Breakouts are another common reaction, especially small, rough, bumpy pimples.

There is one symptom of overuse that’s harder to pinpoint: The skin may develop a tight, wax-like texture, which — get this — can be confused for a healthy glow. In reality, it’s anything but. “It can look waxy from wiping away skin cells and natural oils, allowing premature exposure of underlying skin,” Geria says. “The skin appears as if it has a radiant shine. However, it is in fact very dry and exposed.”

“You may also see increased sensitivity to application of subsequent products in a regular daily regimen,” says Dr. Craig Kraffert, a board-certified dermatologist and the president of Amarte. In other words, the remainder of your skin care routine may suddenly cause redness, burning, or peeling. And overexposure can devolve into painful cracking and peeling, explains Geria. For reference, a healthy glow will always look plump and moisturised, not dry, thin, or waxy.

But don’t blame it on your other products! It’s (probably) all the exfoliator’s fault.

What to do if you’ve over-exfoliated

If you note any of the above reactions after exfoliating, whether from an overzealous face-scrubbing session or an application of acids, Geria advises the first thing to do is stop exfoliating until your skin has healed and is at its baseline texture. “Baseline texture” will differ from person to person; in general, it just means the texture your skin had before overexposure. If you’ve always been acne prone, that will be your baseline texture. You’re really just waiting for the signs of over-exfoliation — redness, inflammation, peeling — to fade.

Some tips that could help you are:

  1. Stop all foaming cleansers, retinol products, and physical or chemical exfoliators.
  2. Switch to a mild cleanser and a fragrance-free moisturiser.
  3. Spot treat extremely red or raw areas with a rich emollient. You can also use a hydrocortisone cream or aloe gel.

It could take as long as a month — aka, the entire length of a skin cell cycle — for your skin to get back on track.

Basically, exfoliation can deliver clearer skin when done correctly… but if you mix and match different types of exfoliators or use a single product too often, your favourite exfoliants have the potential to do more harm than good. The moral of this skin care story? It’s one beauty category where less really is more.

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