We all need to exfoliate regularly. This is because our skin can’t account for everything in its own natural cleaning process. Your skin is as much helping itself as it is hindering itself most of the time. Natural oils are useful for protecting your skin, but they can also lead to clogged pores that cause breakouts. Shedding dead skin cells is meant to help improve your skin’s overall health by ensuring it stays thick enough to protect you without being thick enough to accidentally cause issues. That works out just fine for people with average skin most of the time. The rest of us have to work for healthy skin like that. Exfoliating helps break up areas where natural oils are clumping together with debris and dead skin cells while also removing a few of the outermost layers to help encourage our skin’s natural turnover rate. Unfortunately, you can go too far when you exfoliate and encounter the risks inherent in the process.

Skin Irritation
The basic risk associated with exfoliation is simply irritating your skin. Your skin seldom believes it needs any help in taking care of itself. As a result, you can make it irritated by being just a little too overzealous when exfoliating. This typically manifests in redness and soreness to the touch. Irritated skin doesn’t last for more than a few days providing that you’re not continuing to cause irritation. Dryness can be another marker as well, but redness is the clearest indication. Skin irritation is a sign that you need to step back from exfoliating for a bit to let your skin heal. Remember that, on average, you only need to exfoliate your skin once or twice a week to keep it healthy. This can vary a little depending on the sensitivity of your skin. Consider both spacing out your exfoliating routine and switching to a gentler product to help deal with skin irritation.

Woman in the sun
Sun Damage

Not many people think about the potential impact exfoliating has on their skin’s natural defenses. In general, you want to let your skin have some downtime after exfoliating before you expose it to the sun. This is why some professionals recommend saving exfoliation for an evening routine. Exfoliation, by its nature, reduces some of your skin’s natural defenses by default. Those layers of dead skin at the outermost edges of your skin do serve a purpose beyond accidentally contributing to breakouts as they’re shed. Over exfoliating will expose far more of the sensitive skin beneath those layers. The living, healthy skin below is far more susceptible to sun damage than it would otherwise be and the damage can travel farther into the skin than it otherwise would as well. In this way, chronic over exfoliation can magnify the effects of photo-aging. Always apply sunscreen if you’re going to be outside shortly after exfoliating.

Scarring and Pigmentation Issues
In most cases, these risks are not terribly pronounced outside of the most potent exfoliating options available on the market. They do need to be highlighted though as they are also seldom thought of as potential dangers. Pigmentation issues are comparatively common as they are less directly tied to the absolute strongest products. You can accidentally damage your pigmentation with stronger chemical exfoliating products. Most of the time this will occur over repeated use of the product, but it can happen if you’re using a peel and fail to follow the instructions properly. Peels need to be used with great care and have their instructions followed exactly for the sake of your skin. Such products in particular can accidentally scar your skin if you’re not careful, but this is most commonly a problem with ones of the potency used in supervised peels. They are quite rare as far as complications go as a result.

Over exfoliating isn’t simply a matter of just using your favorite product too often. There are risks to your skin associated with it. Fortunately, most of us don’t need to worry too much about them as the signs we’re over exfoliating let us stop before it becomes too big of an issue. Remember that redness and dryness are a sign that your skin is irritated and in need of a break. That alone will often be enough to help you avoid over exfoliating your skin.

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