Beauty Mythbuster: How Often Should You Exfoliate Your Skin?
The question: Is exfoliating every day bad for your skin? The answer: Yes.
I first tested this hypothesis after experimenting with daily exfoliation for a week (I diligently swiped my face with Biologique Recherché P50 exfoliating toner morning and night.) Why? A well-known British blogger/aesthetician said it left the skin smoother, more radiant, and it allowed for maximum product absorption of serums, oils, and creams. Hopeful as ever, I followed her advice—and, after just five days, ended up looking more like a sun-baked Tom Hanks in Castaway than a glowing goddess. In other words, my cheeks were rash-y and inflamed, and my complexion looked splotchy and red.
With this skin care misadventure in mind, I was determined to find out how often you really should exfoliate to stay on the right side of smooth, polished skin. My investigation led me to three skin care experts, who unanimously agree that two to three times per week will almost always suffice. Here’s their breakdown…
Why is exfoliating every day bad for the skin?
"Exfoliating every day can strip the skin of its natural oils, which can cause breakouts,” says celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas. “It can also cause irritation because you're removing the top layer of skin before it can heal."
Negative, long-term effects are also a concern. Says Shen Beauty aesthetician Carrie Lindsey: "Over time, it can actually thin the skin and cause it to wrinkle more easily. Plus, the skin is a smart organ and sheds dead skin cells on its own; if we exfoliate too often, it can actually slow cell turnover.” Washington, D.C.-based dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., agrees. "Over-exfoliating can cause chronic skin irritation and inflammation, which can lead to accelerated aging," she says.
How often should you exfoliate?
“Two to three times a week for normal and combination skin, and once a week for sensitive skin,” says Dr. Tanzi. (As a refresher, combination skin is oily through the T-zone with dry cheeks, normal skin has the same amount of oil throughout, and sensitive skin gets red and irritated easily.)
What exfoliants should you use if you have normal or combination skin?
According to Vargas, “a versatile exfoliant that is both mechanical (removes dead skin cells through friction) and chemical (dissolves dead skin cells using enzymes or acids) is best. It allows you to scrub your problem (oilier) areas and be more gentle with the drier parts of your face.” The key is to look for an exfoliant that also contains calming properties to reduce inflammation from breakouts (her own Exfoliating Mask has the anti-inflammatory agents galactoarabinan). We also like Juara Radiance Enzyme Scrub, which contains jojoba and bamboo beads that easily slough away dead skin cells, while cinnamon and apple enzymes gently purify pores.
What if you have sensitive skin?
For skin that irritates easily, Dr. Tanzi recommends “very gentle, smooth bead exfoliants (just make sure they're not plastic beads, which can harm the environment) because they gently remove debris and aren’t overly harsh.” As someone with sensitive skin, I am attached to Clarins One-Step Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser with orange extract, which contains tiny silica microbeads that aren’t overly abrasive. Plus, the orange extract is super-invigorating and wakes me up on those mornings when I am especially sluggish. I use it in the shower once a week, and always emerge with a brighter, more luminous complexion.
What should you use after you exfoliate?
Vargas suggests a serum (we like Odacité Vitamin C Serum) “to really soothe and penetrate the skin right after exfoliation so the skin gets an instant vitamin boost.” If you are in need of hydration more than a radiance boost, Tanzi follows up with a moisturizer “to replace any lost oils from the exfoliation process.” As far as toners go, according to Vargas and Dr. Tanzi, if you have sensitive skin like I do, it’s best to use exfoliating toners like P50 one to two times a week. Otherwise, every other day at the maximum for normal and combination skin types. Now that I have found my sweet spot with P50 and a twice a week exfoliation, my skin has evened out and the splotchiness has abated. Even better, it's got that glow!