Over-Exfoliated Skin: What To Do Next

AriEstheticsAriEsthetics
Sep. 29, 2020
Over-exfoliation has a plethora of symptoms, ranging from redness and inflammation, tightness of the skin, dryness and flakiness, irritation bumps, rashes, breakouts, and a stinging sensation. With the rise in popularity of at-home chemical exfoliation, it’s easier than ever before to take it a step too far. Everyone is trying out TikTok-famous products like The Ordinary’s AHA 30% and BHA 2% Peeling Solution without an understanding of how strong it really is. Chemical exfoliation is all the rage now, due to its ability to clear up acne, even out the skin tone, and give you a glowy look. But none of these things will happen if you don't exfoliate properly!
Being able to identify when you’ve over-exfoliated is the first step in healing your skin and getting the results that you’re looking for. First, we need to discern the difference between chemical over-exfoliation and physical over-exfoliation. 
Physical
Physical exfoliation is classified as using a form of abrasion to remove spent skin cells. Think spin brushes, scrubs, dermaplaning, peel-off masks, and washcloths. Physical exfoliation involves the user to exert some manipulation to the skin in order to remove dead skin. Physical over-exfoliation will likely give you raw-feeling skin with a rough texture. It will feel dry, and extra sensitive.
Chemical
Chemical exfoliation works on a deeper level than physical. Acids, enzymes, peels, and retinols cause skin cells to renew at a faster rate, which if used too often, can make your skin thin and susceptible to sun damage or other side effects. Chemical over-exfoliation can feel and look like a burn. Your skin will be red, feel raw and sensitive, and will likely be dry, flaky, and rough in texture (some people refer to this as "orange peel skin"). You may notice that the side effects of chemical over-exfoliation seem to linger longer than physical.

Some ways over-exfoliation can present itself.

HOW TO AVOID
Here are some key rules on how to reduce the likelihood of over-exfoliating. It's crucial to keep an eye out for the signs so you can resolve them faster.
LIMIT USE
Any form of exfoliation is best when only used 1-2x per week. Using it more frequently puts you at a higher risk of aggravation. Especially when starting a new exfoliant, patch test (apply a small amount to your inner wrist and wait 24 hrs to see if you have a negative reaction), and only use 1x per week MAX. Once your skin gets accustomed to the product, you can increase usage. Just remember, even if your skin seems to like your exfoliant initially, if you start using it too often you can still experience negative side effects. 
KEEP THE REST OF YOUR ROUTINE SIMPLE
Any product that works deep within the skin should be used carefully. Say you introduce a chemical exfoliant like a glycolic acid serum. That should be the ONLY exfoliant that you are introducing at that time. (Although it is possible to successfully use different forms of exfoliation in one routine if introduced cautiously and over time.) Keep the rest of your routine simple with a basic hydrating cleanser, a rich moisturizer, and a sunscreen every day. 
BE GENTLE
If you opt for a physical exfoliation like a scrub (I promise they aren’t the devil, unlike what most people will tell you), be careful with the amount of pressure you’re using. Scrubs like St. Ives Apricot Scrub are inherently more dangerous, mostly because of the irregular shape of the granules. On top of that, people like to massage it vigorously into their skin thinking they will see results faster. STOP. Even the best scrub with well-shaped granules and healthy ingredients can over-exfoliate if used too aggressively.
*Pro Tip: Let the scrub do the work for you- use very, very light pressure and massage in upward circular motions. The same thing goes for spin brushes, washcloths, and other tools. Use them gently, they will still get the job done without excessive pressure!
*Pro Tip: Don't incorporate a scrub into your routine if you're trying to treat acne. The two don't play well together.
HOW TO TREAT
If you do happen to experience over-exfoliation, you’ll know it. Your skin will feel uncomfortable, and even a gentle moisturizer can sting your skin. Don't fret, with the right methods of action, your skin will go back to normal very quickly.
ALOE VERA
We talked about aloe vera in my sunburn post, and it can help with over-exfoliation in the same ways. Because aloe is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, you can count on it for soothing irritation caused by over-exfoliation. Its cool temperature and moisturizing properties will keep your skin hydrated and help repair your skin’s barrier. A side effect of over-exfoliation can be excess oiliness to the skin (your skin’s attempt to rehydrate itself after being stripped of healthy oils) so moisturizing more may seem counterproductive. But a rich moisturizer or ingredient like aloe will balance your oil levels and allow your skin to begin its healing process. 
*Pro-Tip: Keep aloe vera or your favorite soothing product in your arsenal at all times. You never know when you're going to have a reaction. Keeping it on hand will prevent you from having to run out with a red face to pick something up!
SPF
Sunscreen is key for protecting your skin when all is well. When your skin is over-exfoliated, it is overexposed and vulnerable to sun damage more than ever. Sunscreen is an absolute must if you suspect you’ve overdone it. Without it, you are more likely to get a sunburn, hyperpigmentation, and acne scarring. You will NOT want to deal with those things after your over-exfoliation symptoms clear!
DON’T PANIC
Over-exfoliation has happened to the best of us. I made the mistake of thinking my skin was ready for Retin-A AND glycolic acid. I was very wrong! I broke out in an itchy rash, accompanied by redness and whiteheads galore. I followed some of the steps above, and my skin was back to normal in no time. Try to remember that the way your skin reacts to over-exfoliating will go away in time. You may be tempted to double up on acne treatments if you experience new breakouts from over-exfoliating. This will set you up for disaster! In school, I was taught that breakouts caused by over-exfoliating need to be killed with kindness. 

My reaction from mixing glycolic acid and Retin-A resolved itself a week after going back to basics.

*Pro-Tip: Don’t let temptation win! Avoid using spot treatments (like salicylic acid or tea tree oil) on breakouts caused by over-exfoliation. Instead, keep your face hydrated and don’t attempt to pop them. Trust that they will go away on their own.
*Pro Tip: If you experience a rash or hives from over-exfoliation, an antihistamine like Benadryl can help. You can also press a cool washcloth on your face to soothe the inflammation and itchiness. Try not to scratch your skin!
OTHER TIPS
Things like only cleansing with tepid water, swapping a foaming cleanser for a cream cleanser, skipping a cleanse in the morning, gently patting your face dry with a soft washcloth, sticking to the basics, and drinking extra water can all help propel the healing process! Baby your skin, because it’s in a very vulnerable state.
Final Thoughts
Over-exfoliating is a really easy thing to do. It kind of creeps up on you, then you wake up with red, angry skin. Remember to always start slow with exfoliants, and give your skin the time it needs to adjust. If you do happen to experience over-exfoliation, you don't need to ban your new product. It may become one of your holy grails. Just cease use until your symptoms clear, and try again-this time MUCH slower. You’ll be seeing the results you want before you know it. Results take time, and you don’t want to backtrack by being overzealous!
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