Is Your Exfoliation Routine Damaging Your Skin?

Ahhhh … exfoliation. Is there anything better than scrubbing off gross dead skin? Sure, it *feels* like you’re doing your skin a great service by sloughing off these old skin cells that are past their prime, and it can be very beneficial. More on that later. But overdoing it can cause harm to facial skin which is so so delicate (I think it’s easy to forget that sometimes)! Today, we’re going to talk about how to know when you’re overdoing it, what to do instead, and some of my favorite ways to get that new skin glow.

First thing’s first, if you’re struggling with dryness, irritation, broken blood vessels, bruising, and/or sensitivity, over-exfoliating shouldn’t be ruled out as the cause if it’s a regular part of your routine. Dermatologists recommend exfoliating 2-3 times a week, depending on how sensitive your skin is. If you’re curious if this is the culprit of any of the symptoms I described above, cut your exfoliation routine in half for 2-3 weeks and see if there’s a difference, or even better, talk to a dermatologist about your routine.

Did you know that cleansing brushes like Clarisonic are considered exfoliation tools? When I got mine years ago, I used it twice a day, which I thought was how it should be used. Had I done my research I would have known this wasn’t it, sis. At first, my skin looked great, but as the days went on, I noticed I was really breaking out and my skin looked dull. What I didn’t realize was that I was breaking down my skin’s natural barrier and it was having a hard time keeping bacteria out, hence the breakouts and dryness. When I was trained in skincare by Sephora years later, I became a lot more educated on this method of exfoliation and was able to use it with much better results when I used this tool sparingly.

So we know that overdoing it can cause problems, but the type of exfoliant you’re using can also be the source of skin woes. One example is nut shell scrubs, which have been vilified in the greater beauty community over the past few years. I know, I know, St. Ives Apricot Scrub has been the standby for A LOT of us, especially growing up, but hear me out. It’s been found that the nut shells used to make scrubs like these can’t be ground fine enough to create a round edge, which means you could be scrubbing jagged pieces made from a very hard material onto one of the most delicate areas of skin on your bod. These jagged pieces can create micro-tears in your skin, leaving it susceptible to bacteria and scarring (flashback to me scrubbing this stuff so hard into my skin it was beet red—ah, middle school skincare).

Speaking of scrubs, they are considered a “physical exfoliant” in the two main classes of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliants use a substance (like a scrub, oats, a sponge, etc.) and friction to remove dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants use things like acids and enzymes that react with the skin to break down and remove dead cells. There are products in both of these categories that can be used safely and with A LOT of benefits, including a more even skin tone, cleaner skin, smaller pore appearance, and better absorption/function of other skincare products since you’re essentially clearing off a layer of dead residue, leaving new skin ready to take in the good stuff like essences, serums, and hydrating products.

If you’ve never used a chemical exfoliant before, it can sound a little scary. Acid? Dissolving skin cells? Sounds like a Samantha Sex and the City situation. BUT, it doesn’t have to be scary! This method of exfoliating is ever increasing in popularity because it’s very effective and a lot of times is easier on the skin than a physical exfoliant, leaving you with all the benefits. Occasionally, you may feel tingling or experience a flush when using chemical exfoliants—this is natural and normal and lets you know the exfoliant is working. What is not normal is experiencing major facial redness or feeling a burning sensation. As long as you follow directions carefully and pay attention to what you’re feeling, you’ll be good to go.

Here are a few of my favorite physical exfoliants (be sure not to “grind” the scrub into your skin—gentle circular motions will do the trick!):

1. Ground up oatmeal and mix with honey to create a paste—gentle AND inexpensive!

2. Zen out of Ten Bamboo Detox Scrub from Eight Saints.

3. Honey Love exfoliator from Leahlani.

Here are a few of my favorite chemical exfoliants (make sure to read the instructions thoroughly before starting a chemical exfoliant; usually they recommend starting off with less time and building up to more time):

1. Facial Radiance AHA Intensive Peel by First Aid Beauty.

2. Bioactive Rose Gommage from Odacite.

3. Blue Tansy AHA+BHA Resurfacing Clarity Mask by Herbivore.

xo, Keely

Credits//Author and Photography: Keely Rust. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • Thanks to the tips! It actually happened to me once and I stopped exfolliating for good. I should try again!
    xx

    Eli

    www.curly-style.com

  • So helpful! Thank you!! I’ll definitely be cutting back on my exfoliation. I’ve had skin problems carrying over from teenage years well into adulthood. I needed to hear this. Thsnks again!

  • I used to use a physical exfoliator but have changed to a gentler chemical one – what a big difference! Great post! ❤️✨

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

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