Exfoliating is a crucial beauty regimen step, but what happens if you overdo it? Not enough and your products can’t penetrate rough, dull skin. Too much and you could be dealing with uncomfortable, unhappy skin. Finding a delicate balance between over exfoliating and getting just the right amount is unique to your skin. If you have an arsenal of acids, scrubs, and exfoliating tools it’s important to become familiar with reading your skin, so you can avoid over exfoliating and always have that glow.
How often you should exfoliate varies from person to person. Start by adhering to the instructions label on your exfoliant of choice and build up from there. If you feel any of the symptoms mentioned, cut back on frequency. Thin, sensitive, and reactive skin should build up gradually while thick, oily skin can typically handle more. You may find your skin can tolerate more in warm, humid months and less in the winter when skin is drier and more easily irritated.
If you use multiple exfoliating products be cautious of how many you’re using in your routine. Whether you’re layering exfoliants in your evening routine, or splitting them up between morning and night, combining AHA’s, BHA’s, Retinol, or scrubs can be too aggressive. Pay attention to your skin and know when to cut back.
Everyone’s symptoms are unique depending upon skin type, products being used, and how aggressive you’ve exfoliated. Kind of like a choose your own adventure, but less fun.
Inflammation, increased sensitivity, itching, and/or burning
Red, reactive, itchy, burning skin may be the most obvious out of the symptoms. This is a sign your barrier has been compromised, the layer that protects your skin from irritants and allergens. Be careful when using towels and cloths to dry your face as they can be even more irritating to your skin, even a sweaty workout sesh can cause irritation. Skin in this state is prone to contact dermatitis.
Your breakouts aren’t getting better or are worsening
When your skin’s barrier has been broken down bacteria is allowed in, turning your face into a breeding ground for pimples. Excessive exfoliation can also cause hypersensitivity in the skin, triggering acne. This can sometimes be confused with purging. If you’ve been purging for more than two weeks, it’s not a purge. It’s inflammation.
Skin appears shiny and artificial
The appearance of shiny, artificial skin is common from over exfoliating with acids or retinol. By artificial, I mean your skin looks waxy or like plastic. Light reflects easily off of over exfoliated skin because its natural texture has been overly smoothed, creating an unnatural appearance.
Your skin is dry and tight
Do you feel like you can’t smile without your face cracking? Maybe more so after cleansing? When your skin has been stripped of its natural oils, its lost its natural lubrication. Every skin type can experience a lack of oil, whether you’re dry or oily, and become tight and uncomfortable.
Rough skin, flaking, and/or peeling
Yet another sign your barrier has been compromised. Another side effect is your skin losing the ability to retain water. Any moisture being applied is escaping, because the acid mantle is destroyed. The result is a rough texture, leaving you to believe you need to exfoliate more, and the last thing you should be doing.
Dehydrated, crepey skin
Dehydration can manifest as dry or rough skin, but a tall tale sign is the sudden appearance of wrinkles. If you feel your eyes suddenly appear crepey, or your expression lines are more significant, your skin is thirsty. So don’t go running for Botox yet.
Your skin is more oily than usual
On the flip side of skin feeling dry and tight, skin can also overcompensate it’s oil production in an attempt to protect its self due to water loss. You guessed it, it’s that compromised barrier I keep mentioning. Feel like your oil production is excessive? Can’t stop reaching for blotting papers? Your skin is thirsty, again.
Have you noticed the theme? A healthy acid mantle, aka your skin’s barrier function, is vital in balanced skin. So how do you restore it? First, step away from your exfoliants. It’s time to take a break, let your skin heal, and breathe. It can take 4-5 days and up to a few weeks for your skin to return to normal, depending on how severe the damage is. Next up, repair. Use a basic, gentle cleanser and a nourishing moisturizer without exfoliants. Double check your labels as many products include gentle exfoliants. Keep it simple. Adding an additional moisturizing oil and hyaluronic acid serum isn’t a bad idea either. If you feel you did a number on your skin and the barrier needs some extra TLC, Skinceuticals Epidermal Repair will soothe and heal your skin. This replaces your moisturizer! Finally, even if you haven’t accidentally overdone it, remember to use sunscreen often to avoid burning.
When you start back on your exfoliation grind follow up using products with anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredients, and maintain using nourishing moisturizers afterward. Proper exfoliation creates smooth, refreshed, glowing skin. If you continue to have issues reevaluate your exfoliation step, this is a sign your product may be too aggressive for your skin type.