The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, which is why I’m here to say that I love to exfoliate and I cannot lie. At the height of my insanity, I once did a non-abrasive peel, scrub and applied a refining micro-peel concentrate, all in one night. You can probably guess how red and inflammed my complexion looked the morning after.
But the thing is, I’m not alone in this. Having been a beauty editor for almost a decade, I’m constantly bombarded with questions on how to soothe over-exfoliated skin. One of my closest friends regularly goes for chemical peels at a dermatologist, while secretly applying home peels without her doctor’s knowledge. Another friend admitted to exfoliating her face daily, but defensively claims her physical scrub “is really gentle, so it’s fine”.
But why do so many women over-exfoliate? Well, some do so because they love the “scrubbing” motion as they feel it makes their skin feel clean. Others love the instant results: they remove dry flaky skin and leave your complexion, smoother, softer and brighter. But when you do it too often or too harshly, it can backfire on you.
So what’s a girl to do? Practise moderation for one. The maximum you should be exfoliating your face should be two to three times a week. Any more can actually injure your skin’s protective barrier and lead to dryness, sensitivity and even breakouts. Also, be gentle, especially with physical scrubs. You’re not washing a dirty pot so you shouldn’t be too rough or use to much force.
Also, try not to kid yourself by using different kinds of peels. Applying actives like Retin-A or salicylic and glycolic acids, going for a microdermabrasion treatment or using home physical scrubs all amount to the same thing. You’re exfoliating your skin. So while each of these treatments are great for your complexion, used together they are just too much and can damage your skin.
If you really want to exfoliate and don’t think you can stop yourself, then at least go for something gentler. Sugar is one of the most gentle exfoliants around because it gently dissolves dead skin cells and refines your complexion. One of our favourites is the Fresh Sugar Strawberry Exfoliating Face Wash ($55), which also has strawberry and blackberry extracts to tone and hydrate skin.
Another alternative is to use a daily cleanser that is infused with Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), like glycolic, mandelic or lactic acids. They unclog pores and gently slough off surface dead skin without irritating your complexion. One to try is the Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel ($57, Sephora).
But the most important thing is to always listen to your skin, after all, you know your complexion best. Try to only exfoliate when you need to, and not because you like to. Just because you can scrub your face twice a week doesn’t mean that you have to. If your skin is feeling sensitive, it’s perfectly fine skipping your regular routine. The most important thing is to keep your skin in good health so it can live to scrub another day.