How Often Should You Exfoliate?
Exfoliating is one of the key steps to a weekly skincare routine, but you have to be careful with how much you exfoliate. If you don’t do it enough, then you won’t see the benefits — but if you do it too often, you’ll end up with redness, irritation, and a damaged skin barrier. So how are you supposed to know how often you should exfoliate with a face peel? In this ultimate guide, we’re exploring how often you should exfoliate, how to choose the perfect exfoliating product for your skin, how to get started exfoliating at home for the first time, and more. Here’s everything you need to know about exfoliating your face and body to reveal smooth, glowing skin all year round:
How often should you exfoliate?
How often you should exfoliate depends on a variety of factors, including your personal skin type, the current weather and climate, other skincare products that you are using, and more. Here are some general guidelines for how often various skin types can consider exfoliating:
- Sensitive and/or skin: One to two times a week to prevent over-drying the skin
- Normal or combination skin: Two to three times a week; so roughly every other day
- Oily skin: Anywhere between three to seven times a week depending on what products they use
Certain exfoliating products are designed to be used more frequently than others. For example, some face washes use such a low percentage of alcohol that they are suitable for people with oily skin to use every day. Meanwhile, more intensive wash-off peels should only be used weekly or every other week. It will probably take some trial and error to discover how often you should use a particular exfoliating product with your particular skin type. The climate and weather will also affect how often you can safely exfoliate. Most people can tolerate more frequent exfoliation during the summer, but need to cut back in the winter in order to avoid over-drying their skin. People living in humid climates can also typically exfoliate more frequently than people living in dry climates.
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What exfoliating products can you choose from?
There are many possible kinds of exfoliating products that you can choose from in order to suit your skin’s needs. Exfoliating products typically fall into two broad categories: physical and chemical. Physical scrubs use small particles to abrade away dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliators use alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids to dissolve the bonds between dead skin cells so that you can wash them away. You can also get combination face exfoliators that combine physical and chemical actives for a truly effective exfoliation experience. You can find both physical and chemical exfoliating actives in many different formulations, including:
- Facial cleansers: These are designed for oil control and gentle everyday exfoliation. They are applied to the skin just like a regular facial cleanser and then washed off.
- Toners: These leave-on treatments offer a thin texture that soaks in quickly. They may be intended for daily oil control or to provide deeper exfoliating effects two to three times a week.
- Serums: These leave-on treatments are typically thicker in texture than toners and also more effective. They are designed to be used two to three times a week in most cases.
- Masks and peels: These more intensive wash-off treatments are designed to be used once a week or every other week as needed to provide deeper exfoliation.
- Scrubs: These wash-off treatments function similarly to masks but provide even more exfoliation.
When choosing what exfoliating products to use, it’s usually best to start with just one, especially if you are new to exfoliating or have sensitive skin. Doubling up on different products — for instance, following up an exfoliating wash with an exfoliating toner — can strip the skin of necessary oils and damage your skin barrier. Even some products that don’t specifically bill themselves as “exfoliating” may still contain acids, so check the label before applying a new product to your face.
How should you get started with exfoliating?
There are so many exfoliating products on the market now that it can be overwhelming to decide where to get started with exfoliating for the first time. If you are new to exfoliating, we recommend picking one single exfoliating product to start off. Toner and serums are a great place to start since they are typically less intense than masks and scrubs, and many people already have a face wash they are using.
If you are mostly looking at chemical exfoliants, look for a toner or serum with a lower percentage of acid to reduce the chances of stressing out your skin. If you have sensitive skin, you might also wish to seek out acids that have a reputation for being more gentle, such as mandelic and lactic acid. Before applying the exfoliating product, remove all your makeup and wash your face with a gentle cleanser. Pat it completely dry, and then apply the exfoliating product to your skin as directed. Follow a leave-on treatment with hydrating serums if you’d like, and then seal everything in with an anti-aging moisturizer.
Leave a wash-off treatment on your skin for no longer than the time listed on the instructions. These treatments are typically more intense, so many people have success with leaving one on for a minute or two at a time to get started, and then slowly increasing their tolerance until they can leave it on for the full amount of time. It’s normal to experience some mild stinging or tingling when you first apply the exfoliating product, and that will usually fade within a few minutes. However, a strong sensation of burning or pain is not normal; nor is unusual redness or splotches. You should immediately wash off the exfoliator if you experience any of these symptoms or think that you might be having an allergic reaction.
Start by exfoliating once a week to start. If that goes well, step it up to twice a week. You can eventually go up to three times a week if you think you need it. Once your skin adjusts to a regular exfoliation practice, you can consider incorporating a weekly or bimonthly mask for deeper exfoliation. People with exfoliation might also want to consider switching to a daily face wash or toner for oil control benefits.
What is the best time of day to exfoliate?
Once again, the answer to this question depends on your skin. Some people with very oily skin like to start off the day with an exfoliating wash or toner to help control shine until they get home. However, most people prefer to do stronger leave-on treatments and wash-off peels at night. This is because exfoliating makes your skin more sensitive to the sun, and doing it at night gives your skin time to recover without being immediately exposed to the sun.
Regardless of what time of day you exfoliate your face, you should always wear an SPF of 30 or higher during the day. While you should already be wearing sunscreen every day anyway, it’s especially important if you have a regular exfoliating practice since that makes you more sensitive to the sun and increases your likelihood of burning. Regular SPF use will ensure that you can continue to reap the benefits of regular exfoliation while minimizing your risk of side effects.
What are the signs of under- and over-exfoliating?
If you don’t exfoliate your skin enough, then your skin will start to look dull and may develop a rough texture. People who are acne prone may also develop clogged pores or breakouts as their pores become congested from the build-up of dead skin cells. Other skincare products might also be less effective due to increased difficulty in penetrating that top layer of dead skin cells.
If you exfoliate too much, your face will start to feel dry and tight, can develop redness and irritation, and may even start flaking. Excessive exfoliation can lead to more skin problems, including eczema, microtears, broken capillaries, infection, and more. Be extra cautious of over-exfoliating if you have sensitive or dry skin, which is more vulnerable to over-exfoliation.
What should you do if you have over-exfoliated?
If you are experiencing any signs of over-exfoliating, stop using all exfoliating products to give your skin a break and see how it does. You should also avoid putting exfoliating products in or around any cuts, scrapes, infections, and other openings in the skin. This will irritate your skin, delay the healing process, and potentially lead to scarring or other complications.
In addition to stopping your exfoliating products, you should also avoid foaming facial cleansers, retinol serums, and other skincare products that can have a drying effect on the skin. Instead, focus on using a mild cleanser and fragrance-free moisturizer to encourage your skin barrier to repair itself and avoid further irritation. If you have areas that are very red or raw, spot treat them with Aquaphor, aloe gel, hydrocortisone cream, or another soothing product.
Depending on how much you have damaged your skin barrier, it can take your face anywhere from a few days to an entire skin cycle (about a month) to repair itself. It’s really important not to start exfoliating your skin again until you are sure it’s entirely recovered. You will also need to slowly phase in your exfoliating once you start them up again to avoid stressing your skin out again.
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What about exfoliating the body?
Exfoliating the face gets a lot of attention, but exfoliating the body can be equally beneficial. There are many different products that you can use for exfoliating the body, including wash cloths, mitts, brushes, scrubs, body washes, and lotions. Just as with the face, exfoliating the body two to three times a week is a good goal to aim for.
Exfoliating during or after a shower is a great idea. Not only does the hot water soften your skin and open up your pores, but the water will also wash away dead skin cells as you exfoliate. Try to stand in the shower for at least five minutes or soak in the bath for 10 minutes before exfoliating to ensure that your skin is soft enough.
If your skin is sensitive, a wash cloth will be softer than a brush or scrubber while still providing an exfoliating effect. You may wish to pair it with a gentle exfoliating body wash if the wash cloth alone isn’t cutting it. Be sure to follow it up with a moisturizer to help nourish your skin after exfoliating and prevent moisture loss. You can also try a leave-on exfoliating lotion, which can have an exfoliating effect that runs from mild to intense based on what percentage of AHAs or BHAs they contain.
Looking for a high-quality exfoliating product to incorporate into your routine? Check out the selection of facial exfoliators and face masks and peels from Lancer Skincare. Developed by celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer, all of our products are made with tried-and-true ingredients that are backed by evidence and which will deliver promising results. All of our Lancer Skincare products come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee and ship free within the U.S., so what are you waiting for? Order our products today to experience the difference in your skin!
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