Too little or too much can both have unwanted effects—so what’s the right exfoliation frequency?
That post-exfoliation glow is almost addictive. Maybe you slathered on an earthy mask loaded with enzymes, applied a leave-on AHA serum before bed, or used a gentle micro-exfoliant scrub that buffed away all that flaky skin. The smooth, gorgeous skin revealed from any of the above might inspire you to repeat the process again—but how often should you exfoliate your face?
It’s definitely possible to exfoliate too much, which can lead to irritation and the polar opposite of what you’re going for. And, of course, you can exfoliate too infrequently. We consulted skincare pros about how to find the ideal happy medium.
Benefits of Facial Exfoliation
Routine facial exfoliation helps buff away dead skin cells lingering on the skin’s surface. As we get older, our body’s “skin cell turnover” rate starts slowing down. Using an exfoliating product helps expedite the turnover process.
“Proper exfoliation can improve skin texture, combat dullness, and prevent acne,” explains Teresa Song, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical. “Long term use can also reduce wrinkles and pigmentation.”
How Often Should You Exfoliate Skin?
Ideal exfoliation frequency depends on your skin type and also the product being used. Those with sensitive or dry skin may benefit from gently exfoliating once or twice per week, while those with normal, combination, or oily skin types may benefit from gently exfoliating two to three times per week.
If you’re new to exfoliating, start slowly—once every week or two—and then work your way up to one to three times per week over time, advises Sasha Banner, a licensed esthetician at Heyday Skincare, She adds that you should also pay attention to the on-label recommendations “as some exfoliating products are safe for daily use, while others are more concentrated and require less frequent use.”
Signs of Over and Under Exfoliation
If you’re still trying to figure out the ideal frequencies There are some signs you can look for that’ll indicate whether you’re exfoliating too much or not enough.
Over exfoliation strips away too much of the skin’s surface and can compromise your skin’s barrier function.
“When your skin starts feeling sensitive, dry, or red, this usually means you have been over-exfoliating,” esthetician Jenette Serrins, founder of Jenette Skin Care. “You can actually begin to develop underlying bumps and or acne if this goes on for any length of time from your sebaceous glands trying to overproduce moisture from feeling stripped and robbed of nutrients.”
Conversely, not exfoliating frequently enough can lead to a layer of dry and flaky skin sitting on your skin’s surface that ultimately minimizes glowiness. The appearance of fine lines and wrinkles may also be exacerbated, particularly if your skin is also dry.
“When your skin begins to feel and look dull, you are probably under exfoliating,” Serrins says. “You can also start to feel underlying bumps or even develop acne if you are not exfoliating and killing bacteria regularly.”
Types of Exfoliators & Products to Try
There are two categories of exfoliating products: physical and chemical. You can also find hybrid products that combine the two.
These buff away dead skin cells via a mechanical action, such as powders, salt or sugar granules and beads. Loofahs, sponges, and dermabrasion gadgets are also considered physical exfoliators.
If you’re on the market, some good options include SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub ($35, Dermstore), Mario Badescu Almond & Honey Face Scrub ($15, Mario Badescu), and Versed Day Maker Microcrystal Exfoliator ($16.99, Target).
This form of exfoliant uses a chemical agent to melt away dead skin cells. These include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and botanical enzymes. You’ll find this type of exfoliator in all kinds of forms, including pads, serums, leave-on treatments, peels, and masks. These also come in varying potencies, so choose one that makes the most sense for your skin type.
Some of our favorites include Naturopathica Sweet Cherry Brightening Enzyme Peel ($64, Dermstore), The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2% Exfoliating Serum ($8.90, Sephora), and First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads with Glycolic + Lactic Acids ($38, Sephora).
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