This article has been reviewed by Dr. Meg Sison, a board-certified dermatologist practicing both medical and cosmetic dermatology.
As the skincare lovers that we are, it’s really no surprise we’re always down to make efforts for our skin to stay radiant and flawless. But what if we’re trying too much? Like many other situations, there’s a pretty high chance you can do too much of a good thing. Touché. Exfoliation is one of them, and while it brings a bunch of benefits to the skin, overdoing it comes with a lot of unpleasant outcomes.
What is exfoliation?
Exfoliation is my favorite boon, a real gift. It’s a vital step in any skincare routine, no matter the skin type, as it’s a form of resurfacing the skin’s outermost layers. Exfoliation is the process that helps us get rid of dead cells buildup, pollution, excess oil, cleanses pores, makes them look smaller, eliminates the chances of breakouts, and increases products’ absorption.
Yes, exfoliation does all that. But only if you find the proper frequency for you. While some can exfoliate three times a week, others go into over-exfoliation if doing it more than once weekly.
What is over-exfoliation?
Over-exfoliating is when you strip away the skin of moisture and natural oils, making it get dry, irritated, flakey, or red. This can happen when you’re exfoliating too often, using a highly concentrated product that your complexion can’t handle, or you’ve made aggressive skincare cocktails (think AHAs plus retinol).
Signs you’re over-exfoliating your skin
It’s tricky, but your skin can only benefit from the exfoliation process once you get it right. Few signs tell you if you are over-exfoliating or not, and tracking them is vital since over-exfoliation often leads to increased sensitivity, dryness, and irritations.
Your skin barrier weakens
A damaged skin barrier is often a sign of overdoing exfoliation. Unless you’ve added a new product to your skincare regimen and you observe your complexion getting irritated, peeled, or red, there’s a good chance you’re over-exfoliating. In a word, this is called hypersensitivity. Once you notice that, reconsider how many times you exfoliate and what type of exfoliator you use. Opt for enzymatic exfoliants if your skin is sensitive, as these are the gentlest. The rest of the skin types can use chemical exfoliants, while everybody should leave physical exfoliants for the body.
Your skin is too oily
Overdoing exfoliation may lead sebaceous glands to go into overdrive and secrete too much oil. Because over-exfoliation has drying effects, your skin will produce more sebum in an attempt to replenish that moisture loss. So, next time you wonder why your skin is oily all of a sudden, consider over-exfoliating as a reason.
Suddenly, you’re covered in pimples
If your skin starts to break out too often, it might be a sign you’re over-exfoliating. When exfoliating too much, sebum — which has a role in protecting the skin and keeping its barrier integer — strips away, leaving the skin unshielded. That’s how bacteria, pollutants, and other irritants wreak havoc on your skin, making breakouts appear. On the other hand, related to what I’ve said above, over-exfoliating may induce excess sebum production, which clogs pores and make pimples appear.
Your makeup flakes away
Since over-exfoliation often leads to dry and flaky skin, it’s no surprise you don’t get to have the perfect canvas for makeup. When skin is dry and peels off, it’s difficult for your makeup products to layer smoothly and stay put throughout the day. Many times you could blame the foundation or your primer when it could just be you over-exfoliating.
What can I do if I over-exfoliate my skin?
Have a break. Steer clear from all exfoliants, no matter how gentle they are, quit using potentially harsh ingredients such as retinol, L-ascorbic acid, AHAs, BHAs, alcohol, fragrances, or SLSs. Instead, add to your messed up my skin routine regenerating, calming, and hydrating ingredients. The best examples are hyaluronic acid, ceramide, CoQ10, peptide, squalane, shea butter, and glycerin in gentle pH-balanced products. Also, arm yourself with patience. Don’t try to speed things up as it can take up to one month or more for cells to regenerate.