If you’ve ever experienced a breakout, you’ll be all too familiar with the uncontrollable urge to start scrubbing away at your face with exfoliants until every last trace of spot-inducing bacteria is history. And while the concept seems like a good idea, experts warn that exfoliating could be making your situation a whole lot worse if you’re doing it every day.
Whether you’re incorporating scrubs or acids into your daily routine, it’s time to put them away (at least for a day or two) if you want your skin to play ball. Here, we’ve enlisted the help of Pamela Marshall, Clinical Aesthetician and Co-founder of to help clear up exactly how and when we should be exfoliating...
Why do we need to exfoliate?
Essentially, exfoliating is a very necessary part of our skincare regime if we want to keep our skin looking its best.
"Exfoliation promotes forced cell turnover, allowing old dead keratinocytes to shed and new healthy skin to come toward the surface. It is key to exfoliate as regularly as your skin can take it to keep skin as smooth, bright and healthy-looking as possible," says Pamela.
How often should we be exfoliating?
This is where it gets a little complicated. How regularly we need to exfoliate depends on our skin type and the sorts of exfoliant we're using, so it's important to listen to your own skin.
Although there are no set rules on when to reach for the acid treatments, one thing is for sure: exfoliating every day is a total no-go. Pamela warns: "Over-exfoliation is a common problem. There are far too many brands that don't actually understand how the skin functions and they propel the myth that we must exfoliate daily. For example, I only recommend using AHAs, such as Glycolic Acid or Lactic Acid, once or twice a week."
"Exfoliators are wounders, and we need those wounds to remove dead cells and build new collagen, but we don't need wounders on the daily. We wouldn't pick at a scab daily because we know it wouldn't heal properly, so we shouldn't be creating a wound on our skin daily either."
What are the dangers of over-exfoliating?
However you choose to exfoliate, doing so more than is necessary could cause long-lasting damage.
Pamela says: "If you are exfoliating the skin too often, the skin’s barrier function can become compromised, skin can become dehydrated and capillaries can become damaged. It can ultimately make acne worse." Eesh.
What if it's too late?
If you're unsure of what to look out for, there are some tell-tale signs that you've gone in too hard with the exfoliant. "Visible signs of over-exfoliated skin can appear as red undertones, peeling and noticeable dryness," says Pamela.
But fear not, it's not too late to change your ways. Changing your exfoliant of choice can make all of the difference, especially if you're keen to keep exfoliating regularly. "Polyhydroxy Acids, such as gluconolactone and lactobionic acid, exfoliate without causing the same sort of injury to the skin’s barrier that AHAs or scrubs can cause. Not only do they gently exfoliate without harsh microbeads or crystals that may further damage sensitive skin, they can also hydrate the skin," Pamela advises.
See below for our edit of the best exfoliators that won't harm your skin...