Undoing Over Exfoliation (And Never Doing it Again)

Uh-oh….you did it. You did the most exfoliating your face thinking it would aide your glow up, but with how your skin looks now? Major, unexpected glow down. I know it hurts, physically and emotionally. But guess what? We can fix it. I promise. That’s what I’m here for. Just so you know you’re not alone, I created a Google Forms and asked my Twitter followers who have over exfoliated to share their stories. I got an overwhelming amount of responses, and I wish I could post them all, but here are some of the responses I received:

Overexfoliation Horror Stories

“I used Garnier’s charcoal scrub but I was just tired one night while taking off my makeup and used the scrub twice instead of just once. I woke up the next day and my t-zone was irritated and red. It was actually painful but thankfully we have an aloe plant and I googled directions to open it. The pain and redness went away almost instantly but my skin was very dry for about a week.”

-Taylor

“Let me start by saying that I love exfoliation. I love it so much that I almost messed up my skin due to it. One day I decided that I would give myself an at home chemical peel. I had done them before with no problem, but for some reason, I decided that I would also start cooking a meal at the time. I got so caught up in making sure that my food wouldn’t burn that I damn near burned my chin off.

It wasn’t until I felt a strong tingling sensation on my face that I realized that I still had the peel on. I peeled like a snake for almost 7 days my skin finally recovered but I have a little discoloration in that area now and it’s still a little sensitive from time to time. Moral of the story is to never apply a chemical peel while cooking cause something is bound to get burned!”

-Alexis

“I got the Neutrogena Pore Refining Toner and got really excited. I’d heard great things! I was using it daily for about 4 days, AM and PM when my skin was like ‘hold up!’ On day 5, I woke up and my cheeks were painful, flaky and dry. I stopped exfoliating immediately, moisturized and protected cause my skin depended on it. Thankfully, my barrier was restored in about 3 days.”

-Clare

“I really overdid it with a mandelic acid peel. Instead of glowing, my skin was rough and dry and I was breaking out like crazy. My forehead was smooth and shiny, however. I remember reading that that was a sign of over-exfoliation. I stopped exfoliating and gave my skin some much needed tender loving care (sheet masks, snail mucin serum, moisturizers). After a month, it went back to normal. I’m hesitant to do peels now but I still exfoliate. I just don’t overdo it.”

-Patrice 

My Over-Exfoliation Story

About two and a half years ago when I was just starting off with acids on my face, I made the mistake of introducing AHA’s and BHA’s all at once…and twice a day. By the end of the first week, the results I was anticipating were the complete opposite of the results I actually had. My nose was peeling and insanely dry, my forehead felt like it would tear apart any minute from how tight it was, and my chin was unusually shiny. I also started experiencing breakouts in places I had never broken out before such as my cheeks.

I did my Googles and found that I had over-exfoliated my skin. So I began incorporating the Cerave Healing Ointment that my dermatologist recommended for my eczema, into my facial skincare routine. It worked wonders within the first 24 hours.

It is formulated with hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin and ceramides to rebuild the skin’s outer lipid layer, which is completely damaged when you over-exfoliate. After just one day of using it morning and night, my skin no longer felt tight and my nose was not peeling anymore. I still had the shiny chin and cheek breakouts, which cleared after about a week.

What Happens When You Over-Exfoliate

Your skin has a very sensitive barrier known as the acid mantle. This barrier protects your skin from bacteria and other contaminants, and also determines the pH. When you over-exfoliate your skin, you compromise your skin’s health by stripping it of its acid mantle. Think of your acid mantle as a guard. If the guard isn’t present, anyone can enter. When your acid mantle is damaged, your skin is more susceptible to acne-causing bacteria.

Whether you’re here because you’ve already gone too far with exfoliation or you want to prevent yourself from ever doing so, here are some tips…

The easiest way to over-exfoliate your face is if you are a newbie to acids and decide to combine various types. Let your skin adjust to one first. If you decide to begin using another, stop using the initial one. Continue with the new one for a few days until your skin adjusts to it, and THEN introduce the initial one again. Even then, I would still recommend alternating them every other day instead of using them in the same routine just to be extra cautious. Don’t pile acids onto your skin if your skin isn’t familiar with them. Once your skin is accustomed to AHAs and BHAs, you can begin incorporating them into one routine. Be patient and wait for your skin to be ready.

Cleansers with acids such as salicylic acid tend to be a little drying. If you are going to use one in your routine, avoid using another BHA or AHA in the same routine. The only exception to this would be if you were using a mild lactic acid. Lactic acid is the best for sensitive skin because it hydrates.

What you can do is use the cleanser once a day, and use an acid in the routine where you aren’t using the cleanser. If you use the cleanser in the morning, don’t use it at night. Then at night, you can incorporate an acid into your routine, and vice versa.

When you start to see great results from chemical exfoliation, it can be tempting to want to do it every hour! I mean, it seems like the more you do it the quicker and better the results are, right? Wrong. Chemical exfoliation should not be done more than twice a day. Whether you’re a rookie or you’ve been using acids for years, you can still easily over-exfoliate if you exfoliate more than twice a day.

There’s really no need to even exfoliate more than twice a day. You’re not going to achieve your goals quicker by doing so. The only thing you will achieve is painful, over-exfoliated skin.

Treating Over-Exfoliated Skin

The absolute first thing you need to do is stop exfoliating. Put it all down. The chemicals, scrubs…everything. Let your skin calm down. Since your skin is at it’s most vulnerable now, you need to protect it with an occlusive product. Occlusives create a barrier. You stripped your skin of its natural barrier, so you need to place an artificial one. My favorite skin protectant is the Cerave Healing Ointment. Purchase this and apply it consistently until your skin is no longer tight and painful.

You’ll need to hydrate and moisturize your skin like you never have before. That hyaluronic acid serum you use once in a blue moon? Start using it day and night. Incorporate a hydrating spray like the Mario Badescu Facial Spray. Wear heavy, cream-like moisturizers at night and use oils high in oleic acids.

Oleic acids are more occlusive than linoleic acids. Occasionally they can clog pores and cause acne, but right now your main concern is keeping your skin moisturized. A great high-oleic oil is sweet almond oil.

Also, because of your skin’s newly exposed status, sunscreen is an absolute MUST. Not wearing sunscreen while your skin is already damaged is going to result in severe sunburn. Your dark spots will also get significantly darker.

The last step is to simply be patient with your skin. Do not be in a hurry to begin exfoliating again.

Routine for over-exfoliated skin

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