We should all be exfoliating. It is an integral part of a skincare regime as our skin’s own exfoliation process incrementally slows down practically by the minute – that’s an exaggeration but you hear what I’m saying.
However, more and more people are coming to The Skin Nerd online consultancy with over-exfoliated skin… It’s an epidemic. People are going bananas and exfoliating far too often without even realising they’re doing it and then they ask why their skin is tender, red, flaky and bumpy.
The 2 types of exfoliation
When it comes to mechanical exfoliation at home, we are talking scrubs and physical tools. Scrubs are comprised of anything that is a gritty paste that attempts to sand off the dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin. Unpopular opinion but true – mechanical exfoliation means that you’re leaving tiny micro-tears across the surface of the skin and possibly causing long term cumulative damage.
Chemical exfoliation is when acids (such as glycolic, salicylic or lactic), enzymes or vitamin A are used to prompt the skin to exfoliate off the dead skin cells itself. These ingredients are found in smaller doses in home skincare and much higher doses in salons and clinics
From my description, you can probably tell which one I believe to be the preferable form of exfoliation… I’d usually describe the difference in mechanical or chemical exfoliants with my roof tile analogy. Mechanical exfoliation is like chipping the tiles off the roof, whereas chemical exfoliation drips through the gaps in the tiles, leaving the tiles themselves intact.
Chemical exfoliation prompts the skin to speed up its own exfoliation process so it’s nearly like a jumpstart to radiant skin.
Are you over-exfoliating?
When we’re talking about over-exfoliating, we’re talking about something I refer to as “acid load”. Many don’t realise that perhaps there is an exfoliating acid in their daily cleanser, as well as their serum and in their weekly face mask – add all that up! You don’t think about it when you’re not given a direct verbal warning about every single product.
There are a few signs of over-exfoliation:
– A shiny, polished-looking forehead is a sign that you’ve thinned out your uppermost layer of skin (in nerd speak, your stratum corneum)
– You may be suddenly oilier – over-exfoliating can damage the skin’s barrier, allowing your skin to lose moisture and thus over-produce oil to compensate for that lost moisture
– Your skin is reacting to things it never reacted to before
– Your skin is tender and red
– You have scabbing or a rash
What To Do
Stop exfoliating. You’d think this was a given but you’d be surprised. First things first, speak to your skin consultant, dermatologist or GP – or whomever recommended the product to you.
Depending on the severity, you should stop using exfoliators for a while. To generalise, if you have a little bit of flaking, a week will probably do the trick, whereas if your skin is reacting to everything, you may be looking at a full skin cycle (28 days) so that your skin can repair itself.
Add nourishing, soothing, barrier-protecting products in the interim. MooGoo is fabulous for this as they are so gentle that they are nearly edible. Their Soothing MSM Cream is a healer supreme so it is ideal for the after-effects of mild over-exfoliation.
Swap to a mild cleanser like the Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion – make sure to remove it with a wet Cleanse Off Mitt as cotton pads can leave debris on the surface of the skin that soak up its moisture, dehydrating your skin further.
Practice safe (and professionally guided) exfoliation!
Jennifer Rock is the founder of The Skin Nerd online skin consultancy and online cosmeceutical skincare store. If you’re interested in having a consultation with one of her expert Nerdettes, click here for more information.