On those ever-popular home improvement shows, it’s always fun to watch the homeowners discover that underneath that retro vinyl tile is a beautiful hardwood floor, just waiting to be uncovered. Exfoliating your skin is a similar exercise — stripping away dead cell buildup every so often will help your youthful, glowing complexion shine through. But before you reach for that same scrub you’ve been using since middle school (we see you, apricot scrub enthusiasts!), give your complexion a rest and read through these five most common exfoliating mistakes and what to do instead.
1. Exfoliating too harshly
Whether you’re exfoliating by hand or with a rotating brush, you’re probably applying too much pressure. Pressing harder does not give you a deeper exfoliation and can actually do real damage to your skin. When you’re too rough with a scrub or tool, you can scour the top layers of your skin and cause the blood vessels under the skin to break. Apply all scrubs with a tender touch using mild pressure with fingertips or a gentle cloth. Looking for deeper exfoliation? Massage (gently) for longer, not harder, and consider more intensive treatments like microdermabrasion with a licensed professional.
If you’re experiencing a breakout, look for a chemical exfoliator since a scrub may spread bacteria and exacerbate the breakout. And if you simply can’t resist a hard scrub, do your skin a favor and remove the temptation entirely by using an acidic or enzymatic exfoliator that removes dead skin and impurities without the need to physically scrub.
2. Exfoliating too often or not often enough
Age and environmental damage slow the skin’s ability to shed dead skin cells. These dead cells accumulate every day and exfoliation helps get rid of them and other pore-clogging buildup. In the case of exfoliation, too much of a good thing can actually be bad for you! For most skin types, daily exfoliation is too much exfoliation. When you exfoliate too often, you don’t give your skin time to properly recover, which can lead to stinging, dryness due to stripping the lipid barrier, and even aging due to chronic inflammation.
Generally, exfoliating twice or three times per week is plenty for most skin types, and don’t be scared to switch up your products! Introducing a peel once a week can help boost your glow factor. The key with frequency is to listen to your skin—it will be the first to tell you if you’re exfoliating too often or not often enough.
3. Using harsh/gritty exfoliators
Scrubs are one of the more misused skin care products. How hard to scrub, how often, and with what type of exfoliator are all questions that most people will look to their friends or family for answers to, instead of a licensed professional. Many of us equate scrubs with the gritty products of our teenage years, not realizing there are gentle products out there that provide many benefits on top of exfoliation.
Rotating brushes are a hot button topic with dermatologists and skin care professionals alike. The key with a rotating brush is to let it do the work—don’t be tempted to add a scrub to the mix, you’ll cause irritation that could lead to inflammation, redness, and even hyperpigmentation. Pro tip: Remove makeup before you scrub so you’re not tempted to over-exfoliate!
4. Using the same exfoliator and expecting different results
Our skin changes with the seasons and with age and our routine should evolve with us. Everyone’s skin is different, so it goes without saying that everyone will find an exfoliator that works best for them! A product that worked in the winter won’t necessarily give you the same results come summertime—don’t be afraid to switch things up. A physical exfoliator that contains nourishing Jojoba beads is great for cold, dry months, while a chemical exfoliator that contains multi-fruit acids and enzymes will help get your glow on when the weather heats up.
An often overlooked area when it comes to exfoliation is the delicate eye area. We’re told not to use exfoliators there, but scrub-free exfoliants that contain vitamin A can help address fine lines and wrinkles.
5. Not applying moisturizer and sunscreen afterward
Exfoliation removes the outermost layers of the skin (dead skin cells), making it especially vulnerable to environmental damage via sun and pollution exposure. Applying SPF every morning is the single most important thing you can do to fend off visible signs of aging, but it’s even more important to after exfoliating. You want to protect the newer cells underneath with UV filters and antioxidants—and there are sunscreens out there that have both! Before sunscreen, apply your favorite antioxidant-rich moisturizer to double down on hydration and protection.
Exfoliation is one of the healthiest things you can do for your skin and it can even help your other products like serums and moisturizers be more effective. Remember to listen to what your skin is telling you and you’ll find the perfect exfoliating routine in no time!