There is a common misconception that the more you exfoliate, the better off your skin is. However, there are some very serious consequences if you are exfoliating too much for your skin. For example, redness, irritation, dryness, and inflammation could all be caused or made worse by over exfoliating. This leads to the question of how do I know if I'm exfoliating too much? We will explore these questions along with some guidance for correct exfoliation for your skin type.
First, let's start with some definitions and basics to make sure that we are all on the same page.
Exfoliation = the removal of build up debris and skin from the skin's surface
Manual Exfoliation = use of a physical tool to remove build up debris and skin from the skin's surface
Chemical Exfoliation = use of an exfoliating product that gets absorbed and works on a cellular level to remove build up debris and skin from the skin's surface
Oily skin = This is skin that produces an excess amount of sebum. Oily skin can feel a little greasy and probably looks shiny.
Dry skin = This is skin that produces not enough sebum. Dry skin can feel flaky and rough and probably looks dull.
Normal skin = This is skin that has the best balance between oily and dry. Meaning it doesn't feel too much one way or the other.
Combination skin = a combination of both dry skin in parts and oily skin in other parts. Could be an oily t-zone, but dry elsewhere, etc...
Sensitive skin = This type of skin is most vulnerable. While you could have oily sensitive skin or dry sensitive skin, this type of skin is easily irritated by a variety of different things, whether it is the environmental factors, fragrances, dyes, specific ingredients.
Now that we've got the basics covered, let's talk about the benefits of exfoliation before we get to the warning signs of too much exfoliation. One of the biggest benefits of exfoliation is that it prevents acne by unclogging pores. The removal of debris, oil and dead skin from the surface of the skin allow for the best chances of reduced acne. This is really the gateway to all the other benefits to the skin, without clogged pores, debris, oil, and dead skin; products can penetrate deeper, and we see a more even skin tone due to the breakdown of dry and dead skin being removed. We also see an increase in our circulation which helps our lymphatic system drain things we don't need. And finally we experience increased cellular turnover and simulated collagen improving skin texture and producing a more glow-y appearance. Exfoliation is best done on your entire body including your face. Frequency of exfoliation is determined by your skin type. And the best time of day to exfoliation is in the evening, provided your work a daylight schedule. Your skin needs time to rest and recoup after exfoliating and sleep is the best way to achieve that without exposing yourself to too many environmental factors. Regardless of the method of exfoliation you choose, moisturizing directly after exfoliating is absolutely crucial. You need to protect the skin you just exfoliated. No matter your skin type, proper moisturization is the only way to protect your skin once you exfoliate it. And just because you have oily skin, does not mean you don't need to moisturize, you ABSOLUTELY do.
There is a right way and a wrong way to exfoliate your skin, especially depending on your skin type. Oily skin will be best served by exfoliating 3-4 times a week with some form of manual exfoliation. Oily skin can be at a bigger risk for additional debris and oils trapped in the pores, thus more frequent and manual exfoliation is best. Dry skin is best served by exfoliating only 1-2 times a week with a chemical exfoliant. Chemical exfoliants can include naturally occurring AHA's and fruit enzymes. Manually exfoliating dry skin can cause additional friction and further dry out the skin. Sensitive skin folks need to be extremely cautious about their exfoliating habits. They need the most gentle form of exfoliation. Manual and excessive scrubbing will be detrimental to the skin, but some specific chemical peels for sensitive skin or a bamboo mask can do wonders. Combination skin will be served best by a blend of manual and chemical exfoliation, which an esthetician can help you determine a personalized combination for you.
How do we know if we are exfoliating too much? And why does that matter?
There are some common signs, regardless of skin type, that would begin to tell you that you are exfoliating too much. Raw feeling skin, a stinging / burning sensation when you put on any type of product, environmental sensitivities, as well as visible irritation, redness and dryness are some of the symptoms you may experience with too much exfoliation. Why does this matter? First of all, any of the above symptoms are uncomfortable and don't leave anyone's skin feeling its best. Secondly, by exfoliating too much we are removing our skins natural protective barrier. While is it important to remove the dead skin, excess oil and debris we do not want to remove live and healthy skin. It's important to pay attention to all of our skin as well, not just our face. Facial skin can be more thin and sensitive than the rest of our body, so it is very important to protect it, but our bodies should not be ignored. Any issue we may experience on our face we can experience elsewhere on our bodies. In general it can take longer to see any issues from over or under exfoliation on our bodies due to the skin being a little thicker, which also means it can take longer for them to be healed.