Skincare routines often include exfoliation. Whether you are a skincare veteran who’s been dabbling with different methods since you were a tween or someone who’s stuck with the same three-step system since college, your regimen probably calls for exfoliating on at least a somewhat regular basis. But, just because exfoliation plays a role in your skincare routine, does that mean you should exfoliate on a daily basis?
Well, exfoliation is crucial to properly washing your face — at least to some degree — as the process removes dead skin cells, dirt, grime, and makeup. According to Byrdie, exfoliating can do more than clean out your pores. It can even out your skin tone, encourage circulation, and so much more. However, it’s possible to overdo it on the exfoliating — you know, too much of a good thing and all that. Here’s everything — the good, the bad, and the ugly — that happens to your skin when you exfoliate every day.
You might experience breakouts if you exfoliate every day
One of the most common reasons people exfoliate is to help prevent breakouts. Whether you’re fighting blackheads or whiteheads, you may assume that the more you scrub your face, the fewer episodes of acne you’ll have. In a sense, that assumption is correct because exfoliants remove dead skin and oils that can cause a breakout.
Additionally, if you already have acne, exfoliating can help to heal your blemishes more rapidly, as well as reduce the redness and inflammation that come along with breakouts, Verywell Health explained. But in another sense, too much exfoliation will have the opposite effect.
“Exfoliating every day can strip the skin of its natural oils, which can cause breakouts,” celeb facialist Joanna Vargas revealed to Glamour. This is true whether you use a face scrub (think St. Ives) or a chemical exfoliant, like a chemical peel. While both kinds of exfoliation might be great when used in moderation, if you use them daily, you are only going to cause your skin more harm.
Your skin will be extremely clean when you exfoliate every day
While many dermatologists will advise their patients to avoid exfoliating every day, Beyoncé’s dermatologist is not one of them. In fact, the celeb dermatologist, Dr. Harold Lancer, who is based in Los Angeles and sees a myriad of A-listers for their skin concerns, recommends that you exfoliate daily in order to get your skin to be as clean as possible. “When most doctors say exfoliation shouldn’t happen every day, they are talking about standard scrubs, which is sandpaper in a bottle,” Lancer explained to The Cut.
“The outer layer of skin in both men and women is called the epidermal stratum corneum,” he continued in his interview with the publication. “You need to exfoliate that before it can even tolerate proper cleansing.” He likened that to having a stain on your kitchen counter: it needs a good scrubbing before it can washed clean. “Daily damage, age damage, and sun damage need to be exfoliated before [the face is] cleansed,” he explained. Lanfer maintains that exfoliation is like exercise: It should be done every day.
Your pores will be tiny if you exfoliate every day
Because there are different methods of exfoliation, exfoliating every day doesn’t have to be very damaging to your skin. You don’t have to use a harsh scrub (something with beads or ground walnut shells in it, for instance) daily, but you might want to use a chemical exfoliant, such as a nightly acid serum. There’s a difference between chemical and physical exfoliation, so it’s important to find what works best for you. Either way, though, your pores are going to look itty bitty with regular exfoliation.
“Clearing out pores on a daily basis helps to minimize their appearance, and makes you less prone to breakouts,” board-certified dermatologist and Clinique Derm Pro Michelle Henry told the company. She emphasized that exfoliating cleans your pores out in a way that simply cleansing cannot, which means exfoliating daily isn’t a bad idea for some.
You might wrinkle more if you exfoliate every day
If you’re big into self-care and have a nightly skincare routine, you probably look forward to the refreshing and clean feeling you get after you exfoliate. The main purpose of exfoliation is obviously to make your skin look and feel better, but if you aren’t careful, your exfoliating regimen could do just the opposite. If you exfoliate each and every day, there’s a good chance you’ll start to wrinkle more and earlier than if you didn’t exfoliate on the daily.
“Over time, it can actually thin the skin and cause it to wrinkle more easily,” Carrie Lindsey, Shen Beauty esthetician, told Glamour of what can happen to your skin if you exfoliate too much and too often. “Over-exfoliating can cause chronic skin irritation and inflammation, which can lead to accelerated aging,” dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi added.
If you have been exfoliating every day, but notice that your skin gets inflamed afterward, know that could lead to wrinkles. Consider daily exfoliation carefully if you don’t want to look older than your age. And, as Tanzi noted, you shouldn’t exfoliate more than once a week if you have sensitive skin.
You could spread infection when you exfoliate every day
Though the thought of exfoliating your face might make you think you’re making your skin cleaner, the opposite can be true if you aren’t careful. Specifically if you have a cold sore, you should definitely think twice about exfoliating. As William Huang, an associate professor and residency program director of the department of dermatology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, told Vice that someone who has a viral infection like herpes simplex virus (aka a cold sore) shouldn’t be exfoliating every day.
“If they have that and they’re exfoliating all around their face, they are potentially spreading that virus to other areas of their skin, but also they’re creating little areas of damage on their skin,” Huang explained. Cold sore or not, when you exfoliate you leave your pores vulnerable to infection. When you do have a cold sore, though, this could result in developing impetigo, a bacterial skin infection, according to the expert. This is really only something to worry about if you have a cold sore or another type of skin infection, but if you do, skip the daily exfoliating.
Your skin will glow if you exfoliate every day
If you exfoliate every day, your skin will likely glow. Not only will it look brighter, though, it’ll be healthier than ever before. This is because, for one thing, exfoliating removes all the gunk from the surface of your skin. But that’s not all. When you exfoliate regularly, your skin also learns to behave differently — and in a good way.
“As you increase your exfoliation, you are tricking the skin into acting young again,” Renée Rouleau, esthetician to the stars, told Byrdie. “With continued use, skin will look younger and smoother each day,” she continued. If you want an extra glow after you exfoliate, it could be a good idea to use a serum, such as a vitamin C serum, to enhance your glow and your skin’s natural dewiness further. After you exfoliate, your skin will absorb that serum even better, per Byrdie, so you’ll get more bang for your buck.
Your cell turnover slows down when you exfoliate every day
When you exfoliate your skin, you are able to slough away all those dead skin cells and make way for soft, dewy new skin cells in their stead. Well, that’s what happens sometimes. If you exfoliate every day, though, your skin might not react the way you want it to.
Shen Beauty esthetician Carrie Lindsey told Glamour that exfoliating too much can make it hard for skin to do its job, which can then cause a host of other issues to arise. “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,” Lindsey said. A slow-down or complete halt in cell turnover can lead to acne, a dull appearance, and more, according to Verywell Health. If that’s a concern for you, you may want to reconsider exfoliating every day.
Your makeup will stay on your skin longer when you exfoliate every day
If you are a regular makeup wearer, exfoliating every day might be for you. Not only will exfoliating on a regular basis help ensure that you remove all the makeup residing on your skin (plus the dirt and dead skin cells, of course), but it will also serve another purpose. Imagine applying makeup that doesn’t look cakey or stick to any flakes or scabs you may have on your face? Ah, the dream. When you exfoliate — either with a scrub or acid serum — your makeup will adhere to your face better, stay on your skin longer, and, perhaps best of all, will look way better.
Makeup and skincare brand Clinique put it simply: “The smoother your skin is, the better your makeup looks.” So when you exfoliate and remove “any flaky patches, your foundation will be less prone to looking splotchy, cakey, or settling into fine lines,” the company confirmed. Just like exfoliation helps skincare products, like moisturizers, stick to your skin and absorb better, it also helps makeup products stay on longer and look far more flawless. Really, it’s a win-win.
Your skin may dry out if you exfoliate every day
Exfoliating reduces oil buildup on your skin, but there’s a flip side to that: It dries out your skin. And, if you exfoliate every day, that just means you risk drying your skin out even more. If you use an exfoliant and your skin immediately feels tight, it’s a red flag that you’re overdoing it.
“Over-exfoliate and you’re likely to create tiny cracks in the skin barrier that lead to more loss of hydration and inflammation,” Joshua Zeichner, dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told Allure. “You think you’re fixing the problem, but you’re actually making it worse.”
Having excessively dry skin on your face can worsen eczema and lead to irritation and breakouts. If you want to keep your skin looking and feeling healthy, you should stop exfoliating every day upon noticing your skin getting drier. Or, at the very least, switch to a gentler product and make sure to always follow with a moisturizer.
Your skin may become super sensitive when you exfoliate every day
Exfoliation can be a double-edged sword. While it’s generally beneficial to your skin, exfoliating can also cause harm if you do it too frequently or use the wrong kind of exfoliant. Exfoliating every day can cause your skin to become highly sensitive, which can be both annoying and harmful to your skin’s overall health.
Dermatologist Aanand Geria told Healthline that when you exfoliate too much, it can make your skin “look waxy from wiping away skin cells and natural oils, allowing premature exposure of underlying skin.” Additionally, Geria said, “The skin appears as if it has a radiant shine.” This shouldn’t be confused with a healthy glow, though. According to the expert, “it is in fact very dry and exposed.”
That exposure can present itself with a tell-tale sign: sensitivity. “You may also see increased sensitivity to application of subsequent products in a regular daily regimen,” Craig Kraffert, dermatologist and the president of Amarte, told the publication. Ouch.
Discoloration will be less of a problem if you exfoliate every day
Having patches of discoloration may have you feeling insecure and turning to makeup to even out your skin tone. Whether it’s a dark spot here or a red patch there, discoloration is something that many people seek to address. Thankfully, exfoliation can help.
As New York City-based dermatologist Neal Schultz explained to Cosmopolitan, “When you’re young, all of your dead skin cells fall off in a pre-programmed fashion every 28 days.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay that way. “But when you’re older, some of those cells hang on for 40, 60, even 80 days — and although they’re too tiny to actually see, they can make your skin look dull, discolored, and broken out from clogged pores,” Schultz continued. That’s where exfoliating comes in. Dead skin cells reappear every day, according to Schultz, so exfoliating every day can promote a smooth and even skin tone.
Exfoliating every day could worsen acne breakouts
There’s a difference between having a breakout every now and then and constantly battling acne all over your face or on a specific area on your face. In fact, there are several different kinds of acne and each kind requires specialized treatment. Sure, cleansing and exfoliating can help, but it isn’t a guarantee. Exfoliating your skin every day can, in fact, make some kinds of acne worse.
As dermatologist Avnee Shah told Women’s Health, “I see exfoliation in a lot of my acne patients doing more harm than good.” The thing is, your skin is already battling inflammation if you suffer from chronic, hormonal, or cystic acne. Adding exfoliation to the mix every day only further causes inflammation and irritation, which can make your acne even worse. Exfoliating every now and then might help with acne, but if you overdo it, you’re only going to make those painful pimples even worse.
You could damage your skin if you exfoliate every day
One of the biggest reasons not to over exfoliate your skin is because doing so can damage your skin. That isn’t to say that exfoliating every day is definitely to destroy your skin, but it’s important to exercise caution when working with an exfoliant.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, exfoliation is more complicated than you might think. “While some people believe that this improves the appearance of their skin, it’s not for everyone. If not done properly, it could do more harm than good.” Additionally, the academy noted, “If you choose to exfoliate, it’s important to do so safely so that it does not damage your skin or lead to increased redness.” The AAD also recommends several ways to reduce damage to your skin, such as choosing the right exfoliant for your skin type and following up with a moisturizer.
If you do end up damaging your skin by over-exfoliating, try not to worry; it will heal. Dermatologist Michelle Hunt told the Sydney Morning Herald, “Fortunately the skin is very adept at repairing itself. There is no scientific evidence of irreversible, long-term damage.”
Your skin will be more vulnerable to sun damage if you exfoliate every day
When you exfoliate your face every day, your skin becomes more susceptible to sun damage than it would had you simply cleansed or exfoliated less often. Exfoliating opens your pores and removes barriers between your skin and the environment, paving the way for this damage to occur. And sun damage can be particularly dangerous, according to Healthline, as it can lead to skin cancer.
Paula Begoun, the founder of Paula’s Choice, explained to The Cut that exfoliation, specifically using physical exfoliators like face scrubs, can damage your skin in a unique way. “When you scrub skin with abrasive scrubs, they put micro-tears into skin,” Begoun confirmed. Dermatologist Dennis Gross added, “Scrubs are a primitive way to exfoliate. It’s like using sandpaper on your face. If you look closely at the sandpaper surface, you’ll see lots of scratch marks, and that’s what happens on the skin.”
According to Begoun, these micro-tears make your skin “more vulnerable to environmental damage, pollution, and sun damage.” Plus, you’ll also be more likely to get wrinkles, acne, and dark spots.
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