5 Signs You’re Over-Exfoliating Your Face

Because you can buff too much, but the new wave of gentle fixes promise smooth skin minus any irritation.

Exfoliating is a wonderful thing. A good buffing session can leave your skin satin-y soft and glowing for days, and as an added bonus, help the ingredients in your products absorb better. It’s such an important ritual that our bodies are designed to do it naturally. As Los Angeles dermatologist Kelly Bickle, M.D., points out, “[We] are constantly making new skin cells and getting rid of old ones. We get rid of 30,00 to 40,000 old skin cells every day.” In fact, she adds, “The skin you see now will be gone in about a month.” Fascinating, right?

But when you combine natural with on-demand exfoliating from products (scrubs, masks, toners), it’s very possible to overdo it. And here’s the surprising thing: you might be over-exfoliating your face right now and not even realize it. That’s because dryness and flaky skin are not the only signs of too much buffing.

Here, Dr. Bickle enlightens us on five signs of over-exfoliating, and how to strike the right balance to keep your skin super smooth — and happy.

You look like you got a sunburn.

Redness and puffiness are inflammatory responses, signaling that your skin is in distress. When you strip your complexion’s top layer too much, your immune system kicks in and “sends cells to repair the area of injury,” says Dr. Bickle. “Blood flow is increased to help carry these inflammatory cells to the needed areas.” The result: a swollen, blotchy face.

You have “crepe-y” skin. 

Not sure why your face feels like tissue paper? “If too much of the protective layer of dead skin cells is removed, our bodies cannot help our skin to retain water as well,” explains Dr. Bickle. This causes that crinkly, dehydrated effect. Mystery solved.

Everything you apply tingles.

If the go-to products you normally apply suddenly start to sting, pause right there. “If part of your protective layer of skin is removed, your skin may be more sensitive to the environmental elements, allergens and irritants,” not to mention “the ingredients in topical preparations,” says Dr. Bickle. “If the skin is becoming too irritated, a balance needs to be found.”  

You’re breaking out all the time.

Wearing away and disrupting that outer protective barrier that helps to seal in moisture “may confuse your skin,” says Dr. Bickle. “For people with oily skin, their bodies may sense dry skin and send signals to up-regulate oil production, making skin oilier than before and more prone to breakouts.” Weakening this defensive barrier can also let in blemish-causing bacteria. Not good.

Your face is too shiny.

Over-exfoliating can lead to skin that is essentially “too smooth,” (yes, there is such a thing). All of this can make your skin appear ultra-reflective, says Dr. Bickle, or like it’s greasy when it’s actually not.

The bottom line:

Stick to exfoliating once a week or month, depending on your skin type, and consider switching up your method. Dr. Bickle points out, “it’s possible that the particular exfoliant you are using is too strong for your skin type.” In that case, try one of the new kinder, gentler skin-refining fixes.

Meet the New Generation of Gentle Exfoliators

We like Juice Beauty’s Exfoliating Cleanser with pineapple enzymes calming aloe and hydrating glycerin. Or Grit & Grain Gentle Cleansing Exfoliant, which combines purifying tea tree oil with cooling peppermint.

Masks: Dr. Alkaitis’s Organic Enzyme Exfoliating Mask can be mixed with yogurt or honey as a buffer to provide extra soothing (also, don’t leave it on for longer than 7 minutes). Or try Living Libations Green Papaya & Lime AHA Mask, which relies on fruit-derived acids to clean out your pores without stripping your skin. Also gentle but effective: Pai Rosehip BioRegenerate Rapid Radiance Mask, which has a creamy texture and lifts dead skin cells with lactic acid and seals in moisture with glycerin.

Peels, pads and more: Juice Beauty’s cult-favorite Green Apple Peel also comes in a sensitive version that’s rich in alpha hydroxy acids plus hydrating botanical oils to minimize any redness. Sea2Skin Active Hydration Mask, meanwhile, clings to your face to seal in exfoliating ingredients (marine collagen, algae) and moisturizing hyaluronic acid. Or try an old-school method—a simple washcloth. Biodara’s Eco Cleansing Cotton Cloths are carefully woven with muslin to slough the skin without causing any irritation. Just add water and (gently!) buff away.  

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Good to know I don’t over-exfoliate! Thanks for the article!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

3 years ago

Love this post!

I definitely think I’ve over-exfoliated with just using a washcloth… my forehead can get very shiny sometimes. Great info, thanks for sharing!

3 years ago

Whats the lipstick she’s wearing?

3 years ago

Wow! I was juuuuuust thinking about this a week ago.

3 years ago

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