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Is it possible to over-exfoliate? What does it do to skin?

June 18, 2014

When reading about the best way to treat acne, fight signs of aging and heal a variety of other skincare woes, one technique regularly comes up: exfoliation. To get rid of the dead skin cells that pile up and clog pores and cause breakouts and wrinkles, exfoliation is the easiest and best method. However, be warned that you can do too much of a good thing and over exfoliation is a possible consequence.

What is over exfoliation?

Many people enjoy exfoliation because of the great results that it produces: tighter, firmer, smoother and younger-looking skin. However, having tight perfect skin can actually be a bad thing if it is over exfoliated. Over exfoliated skin can become more easily damaged and may also show increased sensitivity to skincare products as well as the harmful effects of UV rays.

Commonly, over exfoliation occurs when users exfoliate too hard or too often using scrubs with small granules, sponges or even hand held devices. Devices like the ProSonic are designed to do the work for you, so you don’t need to press hard or vigorously, which causes over exfoliation rather than a deep clean.

What are signs of over exfoliation?

There are many signs of over exfoliation, including: very dry skin, redness, irritation and sensitivity—even to your usual skincare products, which may cause a slight sting or burning sensation when you use them. Patchy areas, dehydration, itchiness, inflammatory acne, tautness and other signs of irritation may also occur. If you notice any of these drastic changes in your skin, it is likely that you have signs of over exfoliation.

Does over exfoliation cause damage?

While it may seem like a temporary problem, over exfoliation can actually cause damage. If over exfoliation causes sensitivity, it is probably also more sensitive to the UV rays of the sun, which means that you will be more susceptible to sunburns and the long term consequences, from age spots and wrinkles to cancer. Over exfoliation can also cause broken blood vessels, which generally appear around the corners of the nose and are bright red. They can be treated with lasers, but are not always easy to get rid of and cause a general inflamed and red appearance.

How to treat over exfoliation
If you have suffered from over exfoliation, there is hope. Be sure to wear a powerful sunblock when you go out as you will now be more susceptible to sun damage. Look for sun protection products that contain a physical blocking agent like Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide to avoid further skin irritation. You should also use a mild cleanser and moisturizer designed for sensitive skin and stop exfoliating for a while.

For extreme cases, or if your skin feels very raw and red, you may want to seek professional help from a dermatologist. In addition, Dr. Dennis Gross, a cosmetic dermatologist based in New York says, “To calm your complexion once it’s red, use products that contain green-tea extract. The powerful ingredient soothes the skin and studies show it can even help prevent skin cancer. Bisabolol is another effective anti-inflammatory ingredient derived from chamomile, which will relieve red patches and reduce inflammation. And licorice root extract and cucumber extract also work to soothe and calm the skin, alleviating redness.”

How to prevent over exfoliation

To prevent over exfoliation, if you have very sensitive skin then only exfoliate a few times a week. If you like using an exfoliating device like the ProSonic, you may want to limit the use to only a couple of times a week and whenever you do use it, be sure to let the device do the work for you. Don’t apply pressure or rub it very hard. The mechanism’s brush is designed to clean for you. For very sensitive skin, you may want to skip using manual exfoliation devices like scrubs, sponges and tools and instead use products that have a chemical exfoliant. Chemical exfoliants can be found in skincare products from cleansers to serums and include BHA, or beta-hydroxy acid and is commonly known as salyclic acid and is recommended for oily and acne prone skin types. AHA, or alpha-hydroxy acid, is recommended for skin that is prone to dryness and wrinkles and can be found as lactic acid, malic acid, citric aced and glycolic acid in cleansers, toners and lotions.

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