How much is too much exfoliation?

Over exfoliation damages skin

Today I gave my skin a treat … a micro-dermabrasion treatment … my skin loved it!  I hadn’t exfoliated for over 2 months (slack I know, but it happens). In my clinic I see many patients who over exfoliate.  Don’t get me wrong, exfoliating is great but if it’s not done properly it can cause major skin problems. My approach is “less is more” and in this blog I explain why. Also explain in this article, is what exfoliation and the telling signs that you’ve over doing the treatment. Plus explore how to treat the your damage skin and regain healthy glowing skin once again.

Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells from the outer layer of the skin – or to use the correct name, the ‘stratum corneum’. Your skin care routine and treatment plan should always include some exfoliation. We naturally shed skin cells all the time, but as we age or for a variety of skin conditions like acne, we need to help nature along with either a physical or chemical exfoliation process. How often depends on your skin type and condition, plus the exfoliation method you choose.  No skin needs exfoliating everyday.  If your skincare products contain AHAs then use them only a couple times a week – definitely not everyday!

Read: The difference between Physical and Chemical Exfoliation.
Read: What is AHA

Signs that you’ve over exfoliated

Exfoliation is one treatment that works best using the “less is more” approach.  If you exfoliate too much, you will start to remove a deeper layer of skin. Skin cells need time to regenerate and proceed up the many layers of skin, to give you glowing healthy skin. The stratum corneum provides a physical barrier to the outside world and also sets the pH of your skin (or its correct term, the acid mantle). The acid mantle and the physical barrier are extremely important for healthy skin.  By exfoliating too much you will affect two very important parts of your skin’s natural defence mechanism.  Too much exfoliation will trigger inflammation, your skin will be weakened and it will have a harder time fighting against bacteria, fungus and other nasty micro-organisms.  Each of these will lead to more sensitive skin.   You can even end up looking like you’ve “stripped” your skin, which is a very unnatural (and unhealthy) look.

Read: How Often Should You Exfoliate?

You’ve over exfoliated if you have …

  • Tight skin – feels and looks taunt
  • Translucent skin – very thin and easy to break
  • Polished skin – as if it’s been buffed too much and looks shiny
  • More sensitive and irritated skin – your regular products (even water) start to sting
  • Redness
  • Dryness
  • Skin changes colour – starts to go darker or lighter. These risks are especially high for Fitzpatrick Skin Types 4-6 (darker skin tones).
  • You glow white – under a Woods Lamp, and means too much AHA/chemical exfoliation.

Read: The Importance of knowing your Fitzpatrick Skin Type.

How to fix your skin

  1. Immediately stop exfoliating your skin – I know this may seem obvious but sometimes we all need a blunt reminder. Do not use any facial brushes, scrubs or skincare that contains AHAs or BHAs. Don’t use muslin cloths, washcloths or anything that is remotely exfoliating. Yes you can still gently cleanse your face, but no scrubbing!  If you continue this habit of over exfoliation you will end up scarring and prematurely aging your skin.
  2. Don’t exfoliate until your irritated skin has fully healed – Once you stop exfoliating, your skin may start to feel better in 3-4 days. You need to give your skin time to recover properly – which can be from 28-90 days,  depending on how severe the damage is, your age and your health.
  3. Be very gentle with your skincare routine – You’ll need to invest in some healing and gentler skincare products during your recover time.  An oil/micellar makeup remover, gentle cream cleanser, healing toner with aloe vera and rosewater and a light moisturiser that will protect and nourish the skin. If you need to wear make-up, use mineral powder.
  4. NO active ingredients – Stop using serums or products that contain active ingredients like peptides, Vitamin C or Vitamin A, until your skin has recovered.  If you don’t, you’ll continue to irritate your skin and prolong the recovery process.
  5. Avoid the sun – As your skin has lost its protective barrier it will be more sun-sensitive and will burn more easily. The ingredients of most sunscreens are too harsh for your skin during the recovery process, so avoid the sun.   If you need to venture out into the sun wear a large brim hat and mineral makeup.  Mineral makeup often has a natural sunscreen.  But really, it’s best to avoid the sun!
  6. Treat your skin to hydrating and healing masks  Take the time to use a soothing hydrating mask. Don’t use a mask that contains clay or oatmeal as they dry hard on the skin, and will be very hard to remove gently.
  7. Have several LED healing treatments – One of the most effective and non-invasive treatments is a 20 minute blue LED treatment. The blue light will help kill any bacteria while your skin is recovering, plus it speeds up the healing time. Also, the blue LED will smooth your skin’s texture, reduce redness and inflammation plus reduce acne breakouts and infection.

Exfoliation is great for the skin with many benefits but when you over do it you will suffer from bad skin and can even do permanent damage. Know the signs of over exfoliation and take action to fix your skin.


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Debra Spence is a Qualified Medical Aesthetician, Cosmetic Scientist, Lecture and Author. Owned of an Australian National Award Winning Medi Spa. Now is concerntrating on Education of Skin and Skincare plus provideing advance treatments to her private patients. Plus developing Zen Dejour a Result Based Cosmeceutical Skincare Range and Dermal Solution Private Lable Professional Skincare.

QUESTION ABOUT YOUR SKIN? Make an Appointment Today or send me an email to

PERMISSION TO REPRINT: You may use this article in your print, blog, magazine or electronic newsletter. But in order to do so, you must include the following paragraph “Information courtesy from Debra Spence – Answering your skin problems with Science and Nature. Debra Spence is a Cosmetic Chemist and Skin Specialist who provides skincare and treatment tips, product recommendations and reviews to professionals and patients.” Content Copyright © 2017, Debra Spence

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