Too much of anything can be bad – no matter how good that thing is! The same is true for exfoliation as well. According to dermatologists, exfoliation is necessary and great way to remove dead skin cells to reveal the new and fresh skin sitting underneath the surface. This recent popularity of beauty products such as cell-scrubbing toners, cleansers, serums, and grains, only means that there many of the products you use today are exfoliating your skin whether you want to or not – and sometimes it can prove to be too much for your skin. But is there really such a thing as over-exfoliation? Let’s take a look at the signs of over-exfoliation and how to fix over-exfoliated skin.
Exfoliation involves the removal of the dead skin cells present on the outermost surface of your skin. There are many products on the market today that help with exfoliation; however, with so many products having exfoliating properties, it can be possible that you are actually over-exfoliating your skin.(1)
But the confusing part is that many of the significant problems that indicate over-exfoliation are also the main issues exfoliation is supposed to treat. These include dry and peeling skin, as well as breakouts. So how do you determine whether you need to take a break from exfoliation or if you need to exfoliate to clear away at all this buildup?
What are the Signs of Over-Exfoliation?
One of the biggest skincare mistakes you could be making is that of over-exfoliation. You should typically exfoliate your skin only once or twice in a week so that it helps speed up the process of skin cell turnover but at the same time, does not cause any damage to your skin.
If you have been using exfoliating acids on a daily basis, then there is a good chance that you need to take a break from all the exfoliation you have been doing.
It is quite easy to tell whether you are overdoing on the exfoliators. Some of the classic signs of over-exfoliation include:
- Irritation, peeling or burning of the skin
- Inflammation of the skin
- Breakouts including small pimples
- Increased sensitivity to the other products you use in your daily skincare routine
Over a period of time, your complexion will eventually become flaky and dry, and you might even start to develop a rash-like texture. This can cause you to develop an uneven skin tone that may appear like patchy, red blotches. Breakouts are also a common reaction, and this is usually observed in the form of small, bumpy, and rough pimples.
Apart from all these, there is one classic symptom of over-exfoliation that is a bit harder to pinpoint. You might notice that your skin starts to develop a tight and wax-like texture. Many people confuse this with a healthy glow on their skin, but in reality, it is anything but healthy.
The reason your skin appears to be waxy is that the wiping away of the skin cells along with the skin’s natural oils starts allowing the premature exposure of the underlying layer of skin. The skin looks like it has a radiant shine, but in reality, it is a very dry and an exposed layer of skin that you are seeing.
Overexposure to exfoliants can also lead to painful cracks and peeling of the skin. For reference sake, you need to keep in mind that a healthy glow on your skin will make it look plump and moisturized, and not thin, dry, and waxy.
You will also experience increased sensitivity to application of any subsequent skincare products that you use during your regular day-to-day routine. This means that the other remaining products you use in your skincare routine will suddenly start causing burning, redness, or peeling on your face. However, this is not the cause of the products you are using – it is the fault of the exfoliators you are using.
While these symptoms might make you feel like you need to exfoliate, even more, you need to resist falling into that trap.
How To Fix Over-Exfoliated Skin?
If you are noticing any of the signs mentioned above after you have been exfoliating your skin regularly, then this is an indication that you have over-exfoliated your skin. In this case, the first thing you need to do is to stop exfoliating and give your skin the time to heal and allow it to get back to its baseline texture.
The skin’s baseline texture differs from person to person, and it refers to the texture of your skin that was there before the overexposure to exfoliation. If you always had acne-prone skin, then that skin type will be your baseline texture.
All you need to watch out for is the signs of over-exfoliation to disappear, that is, signs of inflammation, redness, and peeling.
Here are some steps you can follow to recover from over-exfoliation:
- Stop using all types of foaming cleansers, any retinol products, and also any physical or chemical exfoliators.
- Start using a mild cleanser followed by a fragrance-free moisturizer.
- If there are any extraordinarily red or raw areas on your skin, then spot treat them with a rich emollient. Aquaphor or Aqua Veil are some excellent examples. You can also opt for using an aloe vera gel or a hydrocortisone cream.
- It can take some time, even as long as a month or two, for your skin to recover and get back to its normal texture. It basically takes the entire length of one skin cell cycle for the skin to heal.
How to Calm the Irritation?
If you are experiencing irritation on your skin following an episode of over-exfoliating, then you should apply a cold compress to the area for getting relief from the burning. A hydrocortisone cream can also help with alleviating the redness and inflammation.
Aloe Vera gel is also known to have healing properties, but in some people, it might cause further irritation depending on how raw and open the areas on the skin are. In such cases, you can apply the actual gel derived directly from the actual aloe plant.
In the following days, you will need to readjust your whole skincare routine. Cut out all foaming cleanser because these can cause drying and further aggravate your existing skin issues. Eliminate retinol products as these are too harsh for use on skin that is already compromised. Keep your skin care routine as simple as possible.
You can think about adding a vitamin C or ascorbic acid serum to your routine to soothe and expedite the process of healing.
You must remain patient. Remember that you are experiencing irritation because you have removed more skin cells than what your body can replenish during that much time. But before you know it, your skin will be healed completely. Avoiding some of the common exfoliating mistakes and not going overboard on the exfoliation will help you keep your skin in a good condition.(2)
Can you Exfoliate Ever Again?
Of course, you can start exfoliating again. Just because you have experienced some sort of irritation and your skin got compromised does not mean that you need to stop exfoliating. Once your skin heals, you can reintroduce exfoliation, but go slow and preferably start by exfoliating just once in a week.
Try it out once a week, and if you don’t experience any other issues, you can then work on increasing it further. However, it is best if you stick to using either a chemical exfoliant or a physical exfoliant. Steer clear of mixing both of these on the same day as that will lead to problems.
Physical exfoliants are best for removing dead skin cells from the outer skin layer by using light surfactants and water. These light surfactants can include natural items such as corn powders and milled rice. Grains, scrubs, and the gentler ‘eraser peel’ gommage treatments all fall under the category of physical exfoliants.
Chemical exfoliants, on the other hand, use ingredients that work by reacting with the surface of the outer skin layer. They separate off the outermost layers of the skin cells. Chemical exfoliants include alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the most common types of AHAs that are used, while salicylic acid is the most popular BHA.(3)
It is recommended that you try both BHAs and AHAs one by one to see which product works best for you and then stick to using that product in your daily routine. It is essential that you remember that combining both these products is what leads to over-exfoliating, especially since many exfoliating products tend to have shared properties.
A little known fact that may surprise you to know is that your skin exfoliates itself. This natural exfoliation process is known as desquamation, and it generally takes around 28 days for the cycle – from start to finish.(4) During this time period, new skin cells begin to develop, mature and then shed. This means that if you follow the correct routine and maintain your skin properly, you might not even need to exfoliate at all.
However, in an urban environment, pollution and exposure to UV rays slows down the skin cell turnover process and leads to a weakened skin barrier as well as an imbalanced oil production.
In such scenarios, exfoliating products can be helpful, but you should choose one product that suits your skin type and then stick to it. Using a wide variety of products and exfoliating more than two times in a week can lead to over-exfoliation.
- Health, W. (2019). The Importance of Exfoliation – Women’s Health. [online] Women’s Health. Available at: https://mavendoctors.io/women/skin-beauty/the-importance-of-exfoliation-8WdqitUFP0uO9GWwIOf-Kw/ [Accessed 26 Jul. 2019].
- indiatimes.com. (2019). Trending stories on Indian Lifestyle, Culture, Relationships, Food, Travel, Entertainment, News & New Technology News. [online] Available at: https://www.indiatimes.com/health/healthyliving/common-exfoliation-mistakes-to-avoid-240891.html [Accessed 26 Jul. 2019].
- Major Mag. (2019). Physical and Chemical Exfoliation: What’s the difference – Major Mag. [online] Available at: https://www.majormag.in/physical-vs-chemical-exfoliation-peels-and-scrubs/ [Accessed 26 Jul. 2019].
- Milstone, L.M., Hu, R.H., Dziura, J.D. and Zhou, J., 2012. Impact of epidermal desquamation on tissue stores of iron. Journal of dermatological science, 67(1), pp.9-14.