7 Signs You’re Over Exfoliating Your Skin

sensitive skin dry and tight acid scrub skin barrier acid mantle moisture barrier over exfoliating Signs You're Over Exfoliating YouGlowGal You Glow Gal Esthetician Sarah Payne Hiatus Spa Dallas Skincare Beauty Blogger

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 an uncomfortable and abused skin barrier.

Finding the 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 know what your limit is like. This allows you to avoid over-exfoliating and always have healthy bouncy, glowing skin.

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 below, 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 frequent exfoliation in warm, humid months and less during winter when our skin is dry and dehydrated.

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, scrubs, and other active ingredients can be too aggressive for many skin types. Pay attention to your skin and know when to cut back but know this: less is almost always more.

Everyone’s symptoms are unique depending upon your skin’s condition, products being used, and how aggressively you’ve been exfoliating. Kind of like a choose your own adventure, but less fun. Without further ado, here are the signs of over-exfoliating to look out for.


Inflammation, increased sensitivity, itching, and/or burning

Red, reactive, itchy, burning skin may be the most obvious out of over-exfoliation symptoms. This is a sign your skin barrier has been compromised, the layer that protects your skin from irritants and allergens. Be careful when using towels and wash cloths to dry your face as they can be even more irritating to your skin. Even a sweaty workout sesh can cause irritation! When your skin is in this state it’s prone to contact dermatitis, too.


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 cause inflammation in our skin, creating hypersensitivity and heat. This increase in inflammation doesn’t allow our current breakouts to heal while triggering new acne. When starting a new exfoliating regimen, be careful not to confuse this with purging. If you’ve been purging for more than two weeks, it’s not a purge, it’s actually 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 off of over-processed skin because your natural texture has been overly smoothed, creating an unnatural appearance. This is super common with prescription-strength retinoid users, like Retin-A. If this sounds like you, it may be time to reevaluate the best retinoid for your skin type.


Your skin is dry and tight

Do you feel like you can’t smile without your face cracking? Does it feel even drier and tighter after cleansing? When your skin is stripped of its natural oils, its natural lubrication has been removed causing your skin barrier to become compromised. Whether you’re dry or oily, every skin type can experience a lack of oil, becoming tight and uncomfortable.


Rough skin, flaking, and/or peeling

Yet another sign your skin barrier has been accidentally neglected and compromised.  Another side effect is your skin losing the ability to retain water. Any moisture being applied is escaping, because your skin’s protective barrier has been destroyed. The result is a rough texture, flaky patches, and peeling, leaving you to believe you need more exfoliation. In reality, more exfoliation is the last thing your skin needs.


Dehydrated, crepey skin

All skin can become dehydrated and over-exfoliation is a quick way to experience it. Dehydration can manifest as dry, rough, or crepey skin. A tall tale sign is the sudden appearance of fine lines or wrinkles, seemingly appearing overnight. If you feel your eyes suddenly appear crepey, or your expression lines are more significant, your skin is likely thirsty. Don’t go running for Botox yet, rehydrate and heal your skin first!


Your skin is more oily than usual

On the flip side of skin feeling dry and tight, skin can also overcompensate its oil production in an attempt to protect its self due to water loss. You guessed it, it’s that abused, compromised skin barrier I keep mentioning. Feel like your oil production is excessive? Can’t stop reaching for blotting papers? Your skin is probably thirsty and countering dehydration with more oil, it’s your skin’s way of attempting to self-heal.


Have you noticed the common theme around over-exfoliating? It comes down to too much exfoliation causing an abused, neglected skin barrier.

Your skin barrier is vital for achieving the beautiful skin you desire. Your barrier has a direct impact on how glowing, bouncy and healthy our skin looks and feels. No matter your age or skin type, focusing on keeping the skin barrier healthy should be the key focus of your skincare routine.

The first step toward keeping your skin barrier healthy is finding your personal Goldilocks zone for exfoliation: not too little, not too much, we want it just right. Now let’s heal your skin and get it back to a healthy, happy place free of these annoying symptoms!

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About Sarah Nicole

Sarah is a Denver based expert esthetician, known for returning abused sensitive skin back to a glowing state without harsh products while boosting her client's skin confidence and self-worth. Sarah has been featured in Allure, New Beauty, Greatist, NBC News, and D Magazine among others. You can follow her on Instagram @sarahnpayne.

7 thoughts on “7 Signs You’re Over Exfoliating Your Skin

  1. My skin is really flaky and has been for quite a while. I have a dermafile and have been using it when it’s worse than other times because the flaky skin shows thru my makeup no matter how much moisturizer I use. I have been using Yeouth Day/night cream w/hyaluronic acid morning and night. How can I get it normalized. My skin is also dry and sensitive to heavy creams which cause cholesterol deposits.

    1. If you don’t believe it’s from overuse of products I would suggest going to a dermatologist or working with a doctor to rule out any deficiencies or underlying health issues.

  2. I dont know if Im mixing too many things on my skincare. Wash my face twive a day eith Foreo Luna, dermaroll once a week (0.5 mm), use a glycolic acid toner every other night, clay mask once a week and want to start using The Ordinary retinoid in squalane once a week. Im terrified i might be over estimulating my skin.

    1. It’s very possible, I think for most your routine may be pushing the limits but everyone’s skin is different. If you’ve read the article and can relate to any of the symptoms, step back a little bit and see how your skin feels.

    2. Thank you so much for this article Sarah!! I have recently introduced bha, aha and vitamin c to my skin and noticed sudden wrinkles/crepey skin almost overnight and thought I was paranoid until I came across your article!
      I only started this new exfoliation for less than a month. Do you think these new sudden wrinkles and crepey skin can be reversed? I’m really upset at this because I had smooth skin before and now I’ve made it worse 🙁
      Any help would be much appreciated!

      1. Hi Sam! Your skin likely just needs some time to heal–I would avoid using any exfoliants and minimize vitamin c use for a few weeks. While your skin is a healing, the texture from a washcloth should be enough exfoliation. Don’t worry too much, it’s highly likely the new lines/crepiness is temporary 🙂

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