The Inside Scoop on Exfoliation: How Often Should You Really Be Exfoliating?

Exfoliation. It’s touted by celebrities as a glowing skin secret and beloved by pros for its ability to effectively address just about every skincare concern under the sun.

It’s no secret that exfoliating is a key component for creating smoother, softer and overall more radiant youthful skin. But did you know that the real trick to reaping all the benefits is striking the right frequency for your skin’s unique needs? It’s true.

In a recent news article, board-certified dermatologist Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, explains:

"Exfoliation may help dull or mature skin appear more rejuvenated. It can help to prevent breakouts in acne-prone skin, and it can facilitate the absorption of moisturizers in dry skin,” she said. “However, excessive exfoliation can wreak havoc on the skin.”

If you’ve ever felt confused about how often you should be fitting exfoliation into your skincare rituals, you’re not alone. Over-exfoliating, under-exfoliating (or not exfoliating at all!) are some very common skincare mistakes.

Not to worry. To help you out, we’ve compiled all the answers to your common questions and then some. Read on for everything you need to know.

Best Practices: Exfoliate Right For Your Type

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, how often you need to exfoliate will depend greatly upon your skin type and the method used. The AADA notes that there are two types of exfoliation - manual and chemical.

Manual exfoliation options include brushes, sponges, scrubs and other mechanical devices, while chemical exfoliation uses an enzyme, salicylic acid or alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic, lactic, malic and mandelic acid.

Manual and chemical exfoliation both work to remove unwanted buildup of dead cells on the skin’s surface, and the strength of these methods can vary greatly. It’s important to know that the more aggressive an exfoliating treatment or product is, the less often you need to use it.

As a general rule, estheticians, dermatologists and other skincare professionals recommend exfoliating up to three times per week, for your happiest, healthiest skin. Any more than that is likely to be too much for most skin types.

If you have sensitive skin or are new to exfoliating, it is a good idea to start with just once per week and see how your skin tolerates treatment. If your skin responds well, you can then increase the number of times that you exfoliate up to two or three times per week. However, if your skin doesn’t respond well or shows signs of over-exfoliation you may need to adjust and cut back.

Too Much of a Good Thing: How To Know When You’ve Over-Exfoliated

Skin that is well-exfoliated is easy to spot. When you’ve been exfoliating correctly, you’ll notice that your skin feels balanced - not too oily, nor too tight or dry. Your complexion should feel healthy - hydrated, soft and smooth - and you should experience fewer breakouts. Your skin will even appear more vibrant, as proper exfoliation helps combat dullness.

Likewise, when the skin has been exfoliated too much, it will also signal to let you know. Some common signs of over-exfoliation include: redness, itching, flaking, excess oiliness, breakouts, irritation, as well as skin that appears shiny or tight. Your skin may also react or feel sensitive to other products after too much exfoliation.

To avoid these common over-exfoliation woes, it’s a good idea to check in with your skin daily and adjust your routine as needed. Dermatologists say ignoring the telltale signs can lead to more serious problems and can even cause permanent damage to your skin. Experts at the International Dermal Institute note that over-exfoliation can be especially damaging for mature skin as it exacerbates inflammation, a common root cause of premature aging.

Healing The Skin After Over Exfoliating

Despite our best efforts, it can be easy to make an error in judgement and end up exfoliating too much. If you’ve made the mistake of overdoing it, the good news is that your skin can still bounce back. In the meantime, it’s important to immediately stop your use of exfoliating products and focus instead on supporting your skin’s recovery.

This is one instance where pain does not equal gain. Too much exfoliation can disrupt the skin’s natural protective barrier, so you will want to treat it delicately. Use only gentle products that soothe, hydrate and repair, and temporarily avoid any other aggressive active ingredients that might further irritate your skin.

Once signs of over-exfoliation have subsided, you can resume your regular routine. However, you will want to reduce the number of times that you exfoliate weekly and perhaps even use a less aggressive product, to avoid further damage to your skin.

Other Things to Know

For best results, you should perform any exfoliating rituals at night. This allows the skin time to repair and recover while you sleep. Because certain exfoliants can increase sun sensitivity, it is a good idea to avoid excess UV exposure following treatment. Daily sun protection is also a must!

Dermatologists at the AADA note that some exfoliating products and ingredients can be drying for the skin. To avoid moisture loss, experts recommend always applying moisturizer following exfoliation. You could even incorporate a hyaluronic acid-based hydrating serum post-exfoliation for an extra boost for your skin.

Putting It All Together

Although the process of finding your perfect exfoliation routine can seem intimidating, it only takes a bit of trial and error to find what works. It’s okay to experiment a bit. Just always be sure to listen to your skin and proceed with caution when using a new exfoliating treatment.

Once you find the right exfoliator and a consistent schedule that works for your skin, you’ll quickly see results and be hooked on your new routine.


Dermatologists Rank the 4 Worst Exfoliating Mistakes By Sarah Yang

How Often Should You Actually Exfoliate Your Face? By Lauren Sharkey Medically, reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, FAANP

Exfoliation: When is just enough… enough? By Annet King, International Dermal Institute

How to Safely Exfoliate at Home by The American Academy of Dermatology Association

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