Can you over-exfoliate your skin?
If you're looking for a brighter, more even, and clearer complexion, then an exfoliation step should be a staple in your skincare routine. Exfoliants come in many different forms, but the overall goal is the same. They remove the uppermost layers of skin to expose the supple, new skin underneath and open clogged pores.
Exfoliants, however, are not one-size-fits-all for all skin types. It is possible to over-exfoliate your skin and cause more irritation than good. Read on to learn about the different types of exfoliants and how to choose the best one for your skin type.
What are the different types of exfoliants?
There are two types of exfoliants - chemical and physical exfoliants. Physical exfoliants remove the top layers of skin through mechanical action. Brushes, mitts, scrubs, and tools are all used for physical exfoliation.
Chemical exfoliants are more commonly used and are either alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) or beta hydroxy acids (BHA). These exfoliants work by breaking apart the chemical bonds that hold skin cells together on the top layers of skin. Common AHAs are glycolic acid, lactic acid, and malic acid. Even though these are considered chemical exfoliants, they are found in many natural resources like sugar cane, milk, and fruits. These different AHAs penetrate the skin differently based on molecular size. Glycolic acid, the smallest of the acids, penetrates deeper into the skin and is often used as the gold standard of AHAs.
The most commonly used BHA is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is different from AHAs in its ability to penetrate sebum and break apart dead skin cells deep into pores. This makes salicylic acid an ideal exfoliant for blackheads, whiteheads, and inflammatory acne. Not only does salicylic acid unclog pores, but consistent, daily use can also prevent new ones from forming.
Exfoliating based on your skin type
The type of exfoliant you use for your specific skin type will make the difference between having fresher, more supple skin and a red, irritated complexion.
With sensitive skin, avoid physical exfoliants since they can be very abrasive and irritating. Ease into an exfoliation routine by choosing a low concentration AHA or BHA and use it only once or twice a week at first, followed by a soothing moisturizer. Slowly ramp up your usage to the recommended application. With sensitive skin, it's important not to over-exfoliate.
Regular exfoliation is a great way to eliminate dead skin cells that build-up with dry skin. Dry skin, however, often has a compromised skin barrier due to the lack of hydration. Again, avoid physical exfoliants since they can create microtears due to the skin barrier's lack of moisture. Use an AHA or BHA with a hydrating formula and follow the application with a hydrating moisturizer.
Oily or combination skin that isn't sensitive can benefit from chemical and physical exfoliation. When using a chemical exfoliant, a BHA is ideal since it can penetrate and break apart excess oil on the skin. If your skin can tolerate it, use a physical exfoliant like a rotating brush with a chemical exfoliant to increase penetration into pores. Again, a little goes a long way, so start small and don't over-exfoliate your skin.