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Signs You’re Over-Exfoliating

By Kaleigh Fasanella, she/her

Ask any dermatologist or skincare expert about the benefits of exfoliation, and they’ll likely wax on about how it can help increase cell turnover, unclog pores, stimulate collagen synthesis, and reduce acne. That’s the thing—when done right, exfoliation can really work wonders for the skin, making it appear brighter, smoother, and more even-toned. On the flip side, over-exfoliating can actually lead to big issues like heightened sensitivity, irritation, and inflammation, so it’s super important to only do it in moderation and listen to what your skin needs. 

“Properly exfoliated skin can absorb products at a higher rate and make large pores look smaller because there’s less ‘shadow’ at the pore opening,” says Youth To The People’s Director of Education, Laura Cline. “The same goes for wrinkles and fine lines.” With that said, Cline stresses how crucial it is to not get caught up in over-exfoliating, as this ultimately does more harm than good to the skin.

So how does one determine if they’re overdoing it? Great question.

“The telltale signs of over-exfoliation are redness, irritation, and an increase in oil production and breakouts,” says YTTP’s Regional Sales + Education Executive, Dee Leung. “Skin can also become leathery to the touch from repeated physical exfoliation.” Put simply: exfoliating too much can break down the skin’s protective barrier, thereby allowing in more bacteria, pollution, and other irritants that disrupt the skin from functioning the best that it can. 

“When our skin is more susceptible to bacteria and pollution, it’s unable to maintain hydration, resulting in skin that’s dehydrated, irritated, and more likely to break out,” says Leung. “Our bodies are so smart that when we damage our barrier and can’t maintain hydration, we produce more oil to try and resolve the issue.” 

As for how often you should be exfoliating, well, that comes down to two factors: your epidermal thickness, and what your skin’s telling you. 

“If you learn how to determine if your skin is thin, medium, or thick, then you can know how often it’ll be beneficial to exfoliate,” explains Cline. To figure out how thick your skin is, start by pinching your jaw, neck, and eyelids. “If the skin along your jaw feels as thin as your eyelids, then your skin is thin and you should only exfoliate a few times a month,” says Cline. “If the pinch feels roughly the thickness of a few credit cards, then your skin is medium and you can exfoliate once a week.” Lastly, you know your skin is thick if it’s bouncy and you can’t feel your fingertips when you pinch. 

This should go without saying, but if you’re experiencing signs of over-exfoliation, then it’s time to give your skin a break and show it some T.L.C. 

“Focus on repairing your barrier with antioxidants, humectants, ceramides, and lipids,” advises Leung. “And remove exfoliation products from your routine for two weeks so that your skin has the opportunity to repair itself.”

To give your barrier the love it deserves after a bout of over-exfoliation, Leung suggests sticking to ultra-gentle cleansers, such as YTTP’s award-winning and best-selling Superfood Cleanser with antioxidants and soothing agents. After cleansing, she recommends misting the skin with the Adaptogen Soothe + Hydrate Activated Mist for added calming benefits—then applying a generous dollop of the Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream to comfort and further hydrate skin. Before calling it a day, press three or four drops of the Superberry Dream Oil into the skin to lock everything in. 

Written by Kaleigh Fasanella for Youth To The People