At-home exfoliation is often relied upon as a simple way to improve skin texture, radiance, and complexion, and it is an essential part of any skin care regimen. It helps clear pores and promotes skin cell turnover. But too much of a good thing can push your exfoliation routine from helpful, to harmful. So how much exfoliation is the right amount? Well, that depends on the type of exfoliant you’re using and the type of skin you have.
Exfoliants are designed to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. There are two different categories of exfoliants: chemical and physical. Physical exfoliants are often referred to as “scrubs” and contain granules that can be made from a variety of materials (e.g., sand, sugar, salt, micro-beads, etc.). The course nature of scrubs buffs off the dead skin cells, physically removing them from the facial surface.
Chemical exfoliants remove dead skin cells in a gentler manner. Made up of alpha-hydroxy acids or “AHAs” (e.g., citric acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid) and beta-hydroxy acid or “BHA” (i.e., salicylic acid), chemical exfoliants slough away the dead skin cells by breaking down the sugars in the skin and loosening the bonds between cells. Basically, chemical exfoliants dissolve the dead skin cells, allowing them to be washed away.
If you are asking yourself this question, odds are you need to cut back on your exfoliation. If you are exfoliating too much, your skin will tell you! Signs of over-exfoliation include redness, irritation, acne breakouts, dryness, flaking, and increased oil production. When you remove too much from the surface of your skin, you reduce your natural moisture barrier which can cause you skin to become overly dry and sensitive. Your skin will try to combat this dryness by producing excessive amounts of oil. This overcompensation of increased oil coupled with a weakened skin barrier often clogs pores. Your weakened skin also becomes more susceptible to acne-causing bacteria.
Generally, we recommend using physical exfoliants no more than twice a week, and for some even that is too often! Chemical exfoliants usually can be used more regularly. No matter what, pay close attention to your skin and how it reacts to each step of your skin care regimen. Even if the exfoliant itself doesn’t immediately bother you if any subsequent products are irritating to your skin only after exfoliation, your routine needs to be reevaluated. It is most important to keep your skin balanced and healthy.