Are You Exfoliating Too Much?

scrubIllustrated by Sydney Hass.
Ah, exfoliation. It's one of those skin-care steps everyone knows they should be doing, but most are clueless about how to actually do it correctly. This point became abundantly clear in the comments section of one of our recent posts, when a handful of you started asking how much is too much scrubbing and how to tell if you have, in fact, overdone it.
Now, we're not here to point fingers, but there is a lot of conflicting information about this integral skin step, so confusion is only natural. It seems like every doctor has a different opinion on when, where, and how much exfoliating the average woman needs. Pair that with the fact that there are so many different types of exfoliants — chemical versus mechanical and so on, each with its own issues — and we can't blame you for scratching your heads in confusion. We're right there with you.
So, the big question: How often should we be exfoliating? Some dermatologists will say twice a week. Just today, Beyoncé's dermatologist Dr. Lancer claimed daily exfoliation is key. But, is the process one-size-fits-all?
"That answer completely depends on the individual," says Dr. Douglas Altchek, a NYC-based dermatologist. In other words, different skin types and textures will have different needs. His best advice is to ease yourself into any new exfoliating regimen. "Start by testing any new product on a small section of your face," he says. "If your skin reacts positively, start by using it once or twice a week, and work yourself up [to more frequent use]." If your face isn't freaking out and you're exfoliating daily, then don't pull back — that may be what's right for you.
"The skin has an amazing ability to adapt to what we put on it," Dr. Altchek says. So, for everyone out there complaining that their Clarisonic stops being effective after a couple of months, you're sort of right. But, Dr. Altchek notes, the solution to this isn't to exfoliate harder if you're looking for that same result — it's to change up the scrub. "Some people have been using the same products for years and are happy — it's all individual," he says. "But, if you want to change things up, give a product at least two to three months to see how it works."
"A proper exfoliation makes your skin feel smoother, refreshed, and invigorated," Dr. Altchek says. "You will see a sort of glow and radiance to your skin." Imagine it like a teeth-cleaning — you know how squeaky-clean your mouth feels post-appointment? That same feeling should come after every exfoliation.
But, don't let that big payoff allow your technique to get overzealous. "For most patients, over-exfoliation results in a little redness, flaking, or peeling of the skin," Dr. Altchek says. That's right: That mild redness you sometimes get after a particularly good scrub-down is a definite no-no in the world of dermatology. He stresses that regular, excessive exfoliation can actually lead to a breakdown of the stratum corneum, your skin's outer layer. "The stratum corneum is really quite important because it protects against pathogens," Dr. Altchek explains. "The immune system is regulated through this outer layer."
And, if you do exfoliate to the point of redness and flaking? Put down the product! Dr. Altchek recommends pausing on the buffing part of your routine until your skin clears up — this will usually happen in three to four days. "However, if you exfoliate to the point of blistering and bleeding, get yourself to a dermatologist as soon as you can," he advises. "This has to be handled by a professional." And, just like that, you've gone pro with exfoliation.


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