Skin Care Guides

Are You Over Exfoliating?

6 minute read

Now that the weather is warmer, we're packing away the long pants (except sweats) and breaking out shorts and skirts, we're exfoliating, exfoliating, exfoliating! Scrubbing away our dead skin cells from head to toe.

When we exfoliate our body, we tend to be rough and scrub until all the dirt and grime comes off. So, the same routine goes for when we scrub our face? No!

We must be gentle when we exfoliate or scrub our faces. The skin on our face is more sensitive than on our bodies.

Exfoliating products come in many different shapes and sizes. From over the counter products to prescription medicated creams and ointments, exfoliating products can be chemical and physical. With the surge of at-home skin care due to the pandemic, TikTok, Instagram, and digital marketing, new skin care trends pop-up faster than a zit after greasy fast food.

Usually, exfoliating happens after the cleanse and before any essences or toners. It's recommended to only exfoliate two or three times per week. Exfoliants help remove dead skin cells and build up that your regular cleanser cannot wash off.

There are different types of ways you can exfoliate your face:

  • Manual Exfoliation
  • Physical Exfoliation
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Chemical Exfoliation

However, a problem that skin care experts are facing now is people are over-exfoliating. Nowadays, beauty's expectations call for flawless, glowing skin; people strip their skin of their natural oils and actually damage their skin barrier.

Some of the most popular skin care products on the market are at-home chemical peels. For years, chemical peels were exclusive to the dermatologist's office or expensive facial treatments at a spa. Now, thanks to direct-to-consumer brands like The Ordinary, The INKEY List, and Good Molecules, consumers can purchase low doses of a chemical exfoliant affordably. From AHA, BHA, to PHA and Bakuchiol, DIY acid treatments are easier to get than an invite to Clubhouse.

The Ordinary's AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is uber aesthetic, and deep burgundy color (which comes from the Tasmanian pepperberry) has caught the attention of influencers and millions of Millennials and Gen Z for its exfoliating properties. What's important to know is that skinfluencer or beauty gurus often aren't certified dermatologists or estheticians—which is why TikTok or Instagram beauty hacks can sometimes be more harmful than beneficial to your skin.

Another trendy product is retinoids. A popular misconception about retinoids is that they are exfoliants—they are not. Applying retinoid products like retinol, tretinoin, or adapalene doesn't mean it's rubbing away dead skin cells. In fact, it's an antioxidant and contains anti-aging properties. The market for retinol products targets an older demographic to as young as Millenials.

No matter which variant of—exfoliation, exfoliating, exfoliants and chemical, physical, manual, or microdermabrasion—over-exfoliating has become an unhealthy habit. Our skin barrier is what keeps our skin healthy and protected from harmful elements, such as environmental and microbial organisms and antigens. When we over-exfoliate, our skin barrier becomes damaged.

On top of the damaged layer of skin, the ramification of over-exfoliating may include:

  • Prolonged redness
  • Irritation
  • Inflammation
  • Acne breakouts

People who classify their skin type as 'sensitive' may have over exfoliated skin. In an interview with The Cut, Tatcha founder Vicky Tsai notes:

We often hear from clients who say they have sensitive skin. They have often over-exfoliated the skin, chemically or physically, which is very punishing and causes inflammation. - Vicky Tsai, Founder of Tatcha

So, what happens if you over exfoliated and have a damaged skin barrier? In the same interview with The Cut, celebrity dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank says

There's no proof that over-exfoliating messes up your skin for the future. It messes it up only for the time you're messing it up. - Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, Dermatologist

The first step to strengthening your skin barrier again is to stop exfoliating! Stop with the acids, microdermabrasion, and scrubs—let your body heal itself. When your skin is over-exfoliated, it's continuously in healing mode. Once you stop stripping your skin of its natural oils, it will begin to repair itself.

The second step is to lock in your skin's natural moisture. Moisturizers and serums with niacinamide, squalene, glycerin, or hyaluronic acid. If you want to use more natural ingredients, look for coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter, aloe vera extract, and oat extract.

Finally, the third and last step is to give your skin time. Like any cut or wound, your skin needs time to heal. If you absolutely must exfoliate, choose a gentle exfoliant like a wash off mask. Remember to keep up with a gentle skin care routine with emphasis on extra hydration, and always use sunscreen!

Our Picks

Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask, $65

Province Generating Exfoliator + Resurfacing Mask, $36

Kravebeauty Great Barrier Relief, $28

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, $5.90

Three Ships Radiance Grape Stem Cell + Squalane Day Cream, $32