How often should you exfoliate your face

Megan Dominion

Most of us love the feeling of our skin after exfoliating! Our skin generally looks fresh, dewy and more even after getting rid of dead skin cells, so we might be tempted to do it every day! Honestly – who doesn’t want bright, soft skin every single day? Unfortunately, it’s not something you should be doing every day and there’s a good reason behind it.

Can you exfoliate your skin every day?

No, you shouldn’t. Your skin has a 28 day cycle where old skin is shedded and a new epidermis is formed. Exfoliating helps that process along by either physically or chemically removing (or assisting to remove) dead or shedded skin. You should find out about the different ways to exfoliate your skin.

When exfoliating, you’re walking a tightrope of shedding dead skin cells (for fresh, glowing skin) or damaging your skin’s barrier. The barrier of your skin is what protects it from damage caused by the sun and also helps keep moisture locked into your skin. When your barrier is damaged or stripped, your skin would be vulnerable to things like pigmentation, photo damage, hyperpigmentation, dehydration and early ageing. As tempting as it might be to exfoliate every day; it’s definitely not a great idea for your skin!

How often should you exfoliate your skin

This depends on your skin type and any other treatments or medications you’re on. It also depends if you have any skin conditions such as rosacea or acne breakouts. It also depends on if your skin is damaged (sunburn) or ‘broken’ (microneedling).

A general rule is to exfoliate your skin (especially your face) 1 – 2 times a week depending on your skin type and the kind of exfoliator you are using. Always follow the guidelines on any products you’ve purchased to ensure that you’re following the usage recommendations and instructions.

How do you know if you’re exfoliating too much

Your skin will tell you. In fact, skincare and beauty professionals say that over-exfoliating is THE most common skin condition that they see and treat in their patients. Especially in those who have sensitive skin. Symptoms and signs of over-exfoliation include:

  • Skin inflammation
  • Redness
  • Irritated or overly sensitive skin
  • Dry and flaky skin tone and texture
  • Uneven skin tone
  • Breakouts or small bumps on the skin
  • Blotchy skin

Further to this, your skin might appear tight and almost waxy in texture and appearance. Some people might confuse this for a healthy glow, but your skin is actually hyper sensitive and essentially ‘stripped’. It happens when you’ve stripped your skin of natural oils and have essentially allowed premature (underlying) skin to be exposed. You might think that your skin is “happy and shiny” when it’s actually very dehydrated and vulnerable. To tell the difference, you need to know and understand that healthy (glowing) skin will look more plump and ‘juicy’ in appearance. It will look hydrated and almost bouncy to the touch. Stripped skin will look delicate, thin and almost wax-like in appearance.

You’ll also notice an increased sensitivity when doing your normal skin care routine, such as a burning or tingling sensation when applying your usual moisturiser, sunscreen or serums. This is especially true if you’re using other products like retinol which is known to increase skin sensitivity in early use. If you’re suddenly experiencing any tingling, stinging, redness, irritation or peeling with your usual face products, then the chances are pretty high that you’ve over-exfoliated and stripped your skin’s natural barrier.

How to fix over-exfoliated skin

It’s not a quick fix and can take some time to repair your skin’s natural barrier. It usually takes a full month (or the 28 day natural skin cycle) to get your skin 100% healthy again. The great news is that you’ll be starting with a ‘clean slate’, so you’ll have the opportunity to start fresh and adapt to a skin care and exfoliation schedule that suits your skin type. You want to get back to your ‘normal’ or ‘baseline’ texture; in other words the skin that you had before over-exfoliation or overexposure. Follow these simple steps to make your skin happy and healthy again!

  1. Stop exfoliating straight away. Your skin and the skin barrier needs time to heal and build new cells.
  2. Take a break from any retinols, peels, micro-needling, harsh chemicals or even hydroquinone products
  3. Stay away from foaming cleansers and switch to a face wash or soap made for sensitive skin. Some people love using baby products, too as they’re mostly natural and fragrance-free
  4. Keep your skincare routine as basic as possible by using only a face soap, moisturiser and sunscreen
  5. Use ceramides or a barrier repair cream before applying your moisturiser. La Roche Posay Cica Plast is a great product that comes highly recommended – I always have some handy
  6. You can treat red or raw areas of your face with a rich ointment such as a natural aloe gel.
  7. Stay hydrated and drink loads of water. You can also take a Vitamin C supplement as it’s known to assist with skin repair

Most importantly, be patient! Your skin should make a full recovery. If not, consider whether you may have rosacea in which case certain triggers could be aggravating your skin redness and sensitivity. Either way, you might want to speak to a skincare professional for a full skin assessment to rule out any underlying skin conditions that you may not be aware of.

Megan Dominion

Megan Dominion is SILKUP's Managing Editor. She's been down both the curly hair and skincare rabbit holes many times and loves that there's always something new to learn; a new science, method, product or personal experience.