Skincare is not all about acne. Although in a weird way, today’s topic of over-exfoliated skin is still connected to getting rid of acne. Generally speaking, exfoliation is a skincare treatment that is used both to prevent acne and reduce its scars. But sometimes, exfoliation can be too much of a good thing, making you end up with over-exfoliated, sore skin. So what are the dangers of over-exfoliated skin and how to treat it?
First things first - let us offer you a brief overview on the whole phenomenon of exfoliation. For example, did you know that our skin exfoliates itself naturally? Scientists call this natural process desquamation, and it takes around 28 days for the natural exfoliation cycle to complete. During desquamation, our skin cells become born, grow, mature, reach the cellular equivalent of “old age” and die. Our body manages to do this in almost a month, and when this process works optimally, your skin maintains itself.
This is why some people have no need to exfoliate at all - their skin just looks healthy and smooth thanks to their efficient desquamation cycle.
But, what happens when our natural exfoliation procedure, the so-called desquamation, just isn’t working? In this day and age, when a lot of people live in polluted, urban areas, there are many factors that can affect your skin in such a way so as to interrupt the natural exfoliation process. The harmful UV radiation from the sun, free radicals from air pollution, and random particles of dust and dirt can throw your skin’s healthy maintenance cycle out of whack. This, in turn, leads to the premature aging of your skin and increases the risk of acne.
When that happens, you end up with plenty of dead skin cells, sebum (skin oil), dust and dirt all over your face. This layer of debris then clogs your pores, making your skin unable to breathe, and causes the appearance of whiteheads and blackheads. Which, in turn, if left untreated, can progress to full-blown acne inflammation.
So, what to do, then? Of course, many of us do whatever they can to restore their skin’s health, and one of the ways we do that is by scrubbing our face or using exfoliating products. But as we mentioned in the introduction, we can sometimes overdo it, and end up over-exfoliating our skin. Let’s see how to tell when you’ve done that.
When exfoliation is done right you won’t even notice it. Yes, your skin will feel a bit smoother, cleaner, better… In a word, younger. A healthier, slightly more glowing look will present itself. But if you use an exfoliator that’s a bit rough on your skin, or apply it too much or too often, or, even, if you combine two or more exfoliating substances, it’s very likely that you will overdo it and over-exfoliate your skin. How to tell if you’ve done that?
Well, you won’t be able to miss the signs of over-exfoliation - most of them are too apparent to overlook. Besides the irritation, and a feeling of soreness and possibly some redness, the explicit signs of over-exfoliation are the following:
It sounds like over-exfoliation is something you’d really want to avoid, doesn’t it? Instead of making your skin look better, it can make it look worse. And oftentimes, over-exfoliation can make your skin look (and feel) a lot more terrible than whatever it was that you wanted to treat. But take heart because there are easy ways to avoid this.
It is no accident that doctors and dermatologists recommend exfoliating once, or at most, two times a week. Yes, you read that right - you should exfoliate either once a week, or at most, two times per week. It sounds too little, doesn’t it? Yes, and for good reason - you don’t want to burn your skin with too much scrubbing and exfoliation. Using exfoliators on a daily basis, or even every other day will cause over-exfoliation and is simply looking for trouble.
Additionally, another way to avoid over-exfoliating your face (or another part of the body) is by simply following the instructions. Too often, we tend to rush things, overlooking any safety precautions or instructions that came with the product. I, as much as anyone else, is guilty of this. It wasn’t that long ago when a skincare balm caused my pores to clog, giving me a surprise visit of acne. And it all happened thanks to the lack of my own due diligence. I failed to read the label on the thing and notice its exceptionally oily composition. And here I am now, trying to weed out all those weird, persistent pimples that weren’t there before. Sigh.
So, don’t be me, and read a product’s label carefully. If it comes with a user’s manual, or instructions on how to use it, read those and follow them to the letter. You don’t want to mess with your exfoliator, and put too much of it on your face, or use it too often. If you want to avoid over-exfoliating your face, read the instructions carefully and stick to them.
Finally, if you’re not sure how your skin will react to a given substance or, in this case, an exfoliator, it is always wise to perform a patch test first. Sometimes, the exfoliant you’ll be using is completely fine, but your skin may still over-react. This is especially the case for people with sensitive skin, as they may experience irritation or an allergic reaction when using a product they haven’t used before.
So, let’s do a recap. There are several things you can do in order to avoid over-exfoliation. First, you need to stick to a schedule when it comes to exfoliation. Ideally, you should exfoliate either once a week, or at most, twice. If you exfoliate more frequently than what the medical professionals recommend, you may end up with the unpleasant after-effects of over-exfoliation.
Secondly, you should use any product, including exfoliants, responsibly. Read their label, check if there are any ingredients your skin doesn’t like, and use the product in accordance with the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
And thirdly, you should always perform a patch test. If your skin is fine, and you experience no unpleasant or adverse reactions, you can continue using the product. But if you experience redness, itching, irritation, an allergic reaction or other side-effects, you should discontinue immediately. Talking about this with your doctor and dermatologist can also help.
But life isn't so simple, is it? If you’re already here, reading this article, chances are you didn’t know how to prevent over-exfoliating your skin. And here you are. You’re looking for a solution, not a lesson.
Well, you may find it disappointing, but also perhaps comforting, that treating over-exfoliation is less about doing this or that, and more about not doing. If you’ve already over-exfoliated your skin, the first step - and the solution for a quick recovery - is to stop exfoliating. And the second step is to leave your skin alone. It will heal, all by itself, but it needs time and proper care, which in this case means not doing much to it.
In order to help your skin regenerate faster, you would be wise to follow the following advice:
Okay, that’s what you need to stop doing. But is there anything you can do to help your skin recover? Well, in case your face is really bad due to being over-exfoliated, and there are patches of skin that are especially raw, red, and sore to the touch, applying certain kinds of skincare treatments will help.
For starters, it is recommended that you should apply a cold compress to your over-exfoliated skin as soon as possible. You can do this in any way you wish, from applying ice cubes to using ice packs or cold bags. Cooling down the affected area can make it hurt less, and besides, it will reduce the possibility for inflammation.
For example, you could treat these patches with spot treatments that contain emollients. Emollients are substances that are designed to make your skin softer, more elastic and more lubricated. Additionally, using hydrocortisone cream, or products based on aloe vera can also be very helpful. Finally, adding a Vitamin C based serum, or cream, to the formula can improve your skin’s recovery even further. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and it will protect your new skin cells from damage and premature deterioration.
However, you need to be aware that this is not a fast process. Patience is key here, because your skin can really take its time. Full recovery can sometimes take an entire month, or in some cases, even longer. You need to be patient, avoid things that can irritate your skin and slow down its recovery, and aid it at every step to make that recovery easier and possible. Sooner or later, your skin will return back to normal, and you can exfoliate again.
Just because you over-exfoliated once or twice (or, hey, three times) doesn’t mean you should abandon exfoliation forever. For what it’s worth it, it’s a very efficient, and valuable skincare treatment that - when done correctly - actually aids your skin’s health instead of hampering it.
If you’ve over-exfoliated yourself in the past but have overcome your exfoliation fear, most doctors and dermatologists say that it’s safe to exfoliate once a week. However, it is best if you take it slow this time. Remember, do a patch test if necessary, see how your skin reacts. And if you feel stuck between choosing more exfoliant, or less exfoliant, always go with the second option. Better safe than sorry, you know.
Additionally, you will need to stick to one type of exfoliant. If you mix physical exfoliant with chemical ones, chances are you’ll overload your skin again and end up over-exfoliating yourself.
In case you need a reminder, physical exfoliants usually contain small granules, that - when rubbed over your skin - act like small rakes that chip away at your skin’s surface layer and collect the dead skin cells. Most homemade exfoliants and scrubs are technically physical, although they’re based on coffee, rice, sugar and so on. That doesn’t mean they can’t irritate your skin. Most exfoliation or scrubbing products that you can buy in the store contain other substances, based on corn powders, milled rice, and other surfactants.
Chemical exfoliators, on the other hand, don’t require rubbing in order to work. The most popular are salicylic acid (also known as beta hydroxy acid, or BHA), and a group of alpha hydroxy acids (shortened to AHAs, these include glycolic acid and lactic acid). BHA and AHAs share some similarities, but differences as well. They both work by dissolving the “glue” that holds dead skin cells, and surface skin cells together. They can both make your skin sensitive to the sun, though, and their main difference is that AHAs are water-soluble, while BHA is oil-soluble.
While this may mean that people with oily skin can find BHA to be more efficient, and AHAs more suitable for people with dry skin, that’s not always the case. Skin types, and using the appropriate skincare treatments for your skin type is important, but at the end of the day we are all individuals and our reactions are sometimes different from the norm. You can try both (but not mix them!) and see which one works for you. Remember - always perform a patch test first, and don’t mix BHA or AHAs with physical scrubs and exfoliators.
Our skin exfoliates itself naturally in a process known as desquamation. However, there are plenty of factors that complicate, slow down, and sometimes completely disable this process. This is why exfoliating once in a while is good and healthy for your skin. Exfoliation, however, shouldn’t be overdone, with doctors and dermatologists recommending doing it once or at most, two times a week.
Overdoing exfoliation, or mixing different physically-based with chemical exfoliants can cause over-exfoliation, leaving your skin sore, bruised, red and irritated. Signs of over-exfoliation include excessive smoothness and shine of your skin, redness, peeling and flaking, and sometimes even an acne inflammation.
If this happens, and you are suffering from over-exfoliation, the first step is to apply some ice or a cold compress over the affected area. This will soothe the burning sensations, calm down your skin, and prevent inflammation. Additionally, applying aloe vera gel, hydrocortisone cream or a Vitamin C serum over the affected areas can help and help your skin heal faster.
You should stop using any foaming cleanser or moisturizers, stop taking any retin-based products, and stop exfoliating until your skin recovers fully. The recovery process can take at least a month.
Remember, patience is a virtue, and when done right, exfoliation will make your skin healthier and look better, not worse. After a full recovery, you can start exfoliating again, but this time, avoid mixing chemical and physical scrubs together, and don’t do it more than once a week. If you have any doubts about a certain product or a substance, perform a patch test to check how it will affect your skin. If you experience any pain, injuries, or your skin isn’t recovering itself as expected, you should consult a doctor or dermatologist immediately.
This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.