What is over-exfoliation, and how can I avoid it?

Questions and Answers

Apple AHA Exfoliation Gel - how to avoid over-exfoliation


I think we can all agree that smooth, radiant, and glowing skin is the goal, and exfoliators help us on our way to achieving this complexion dream. However, it's a common step that can be overused! I can hold my hands up and say I've been guilty of over-exfoliation in the past but with the help of our Development Chemist Faye, we're going to get to the bottom of this common skincare mistake. 

Your skin naturally exfoliates through the process of shedding the outer layer (the epidermis). In proper terms, this is known as desquamation. To prevent a build-up of dead skin cells, manual exfoliation is an important skincare practice that shouldn't be forgotten about. If you suffer from acne or congested pores, the efficiency of desquamation is reduced which causes increased breakouts, making exfoliation even more important. However, it's easy to overdo it, resulting in an over-exfoliated complexion and a damaged skin barrier! The skin is a delicate organ and needs TLC to thrive.

If you need a little reminder on the two different forms of exfoliators before we dive in, then be sure to check out our previous blog post that's linked here!

How can I tell if I'm a victim of over-exfoliation?

Your skin will make it apparent if you've been overdoing it. Some of the tell-tale signs of over-exfoliation include redness, irritation, and dryness. You may also notice changes in the texture of your skin; breakouts in the form of small bumps are a common indicator. A change in the weather can also highlight overuse as your irritated skin may become sensitised to strong sun and wind. 

Pay particular attention to sudden skin sensitivity, which could come in the form of soreness when washing your face, or a stinging sensation when applying a product.

If your skincare regime is overloaded with AHA's and BHA's, like Glycolic Acid, Malic Acid or Salicylic Acid, then over-exfoliation is likely to occur (if it hasn't happened yet!) Harsh physical exfoliators that contain salt, sugar or husks can also lead to over-exfoliation.

Using both a physical and chemical exfoliator before you've built up your skin tolerance may result in signs of over-exfoliation. Faye ensures us that eventually, you may be able to introduce both into your regime but be sure to do so carefully. Keep a close eye on any changes to your skin – slow and steady wins the race! 

So, what should you do next?

Don't panic, the damage isn't permanent, and you can still save your skin! The first step in over-exfoliation recovery is to put your exfoliator to one side and give your skin a chance to repair. If you instantly feel irritation and burning after overuse, then try using a cold compress to start to ease the sensation.

If you have caused some damage, you now need to focus on rebuilding and protecting your skin barrier (you can learn more about the Skin Barrier here!). For this, look for products that include skin-restoring ingredients like Ceramides or Snow Algae. The Q+A Snow Algae Intensive Face Cream would be a great place to start! Along with this make sure you're applying SPF daily to help protect your damaged skin and remove any retinol from your routine as it can be overly harsh on irritated skin. Skip exfoliation for a few weeks and opt for a simple and gentle regime.   

Snow Algae Intensive Face Cream

How do I prevent it from happening again?

So, you've over-exfoliated, successfully repaired your skin barrier again and now want to make sure you don't repeat this mistake. Let's talk about good exfoliation practice…   

Just because you've overdone it, it doesn't mean you should give up on exfoliation forever. Once you notice the tell-tale signs of overuse disappear you can start to reintroduce an exfoliator, but take it slow, try once a week and see how you get on. Faye recommends taking a similar approach when introducing an exfoliator to your regime for the first time. “Try a gentle exfoliator like our Apple AHA Exfoliating Gel. Its 5% AHA blend is perfect for skin that is new to acids or has been damaged in the past by overuse!” 

Apple AHA Exfoliating Gel

Exfoliation is not something anyone should need to repeat daily, on average 2-3 times per week is recommended to avoid stripping your skin of its essential natural oils. If your skin type is dry, then you may need to exfoliate just once per week. But, if you're on the oilier side you could benefit from exfoliating up to three times per week. There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to skincare, but there is one rule we should all follow – the usage instructions! It can be tempting to increase the amount you are using a product if you see results, but this can push you backwards on your journey to healthy skin. 

Don't let the fear of over-exfoliating put you off this key step in your regime, just listen to your skin, follow those crucial usage instructions, and do what feels best for you. You'll be well on your way to your best complexion yet.

If you have any questions you'd like answered, please don't hesitate to get in touch! Feel free to leave us a comment below or drop us a message on Instagram.

Charlee @ Team Q+A

Charlee Grimson
Marketing and E-commerce Administrator | Current favourite: Oat Milk Cream Cleanser

Faye Purcell
Development Chemist | Current favourite: Snow Algae Intensive Face Cream