How To Exfoliate Your Skin Without Overdoing It

Because you CAN get too much of a clean thing.

I learned about the importance of exfoliating via the ubiquitous Clean & Clear commercials--the ones where two teenage besties wake up and wash their faces together, simultaneously chanting, “SMOOTH, ROUND MICRO-SCRUBBERS!” as teenage girls are wont to do.

In general, you exfoliate to clear away skin build-up and boost skin cell turnover. But too much scrubbing can remove skin cells premature to their 28-day turnover rate, which lowers your skin barrier’s defenses against microorganisms, bacteria, and infection. Think of it as making thousands of microscopic cuts on your face. Your skin will feel tight and there will probably be some prolonged redness if you're over-exfoliating. If you’re prone to skin weirdness like psoriasis or eczema, you could be further triggering it by over-scrubbing.

How Often Should You Exfoliate?

Those with break-out prone, roughly sun-damaged, or congested skin can probably exfoliate a bit more frequently. But if you have sensitive skin, you won’t have to scrub-a-dub more than two or three times a week.

Gentle Skin Scrubbing Tools To Use

Physical or manual exfoliating is the easiest way to overdo it. So you can and should use a gentle exfoliating tool like a konjac sponge. It feels like a plumper version of a kitchen sponge, but it’s made from a tuber plant. You can find different versions of them, like bamboo charcoal or white clay, to suit your skin’s needs. They’re gentle enough for daily use and they can last for up to three months. This Missha sponge (above) makes washing my face satisfyingly smooth without irritation.

Another tool for gentle exfoliation/extra deep cleansing are silicone cleansing pads. Simply rub them over your face in light, circular motions to really get in there. They’re generally used for gentle blackhead removal rather than exfoliating, but they stimulate circulation, which I find invigorating. Think of it as the child-safe version of a Clarisonic.

Chemical Exfoliants FTW

Chemical exfoliants are an excellent way to go once you find out what kind and “dosage” works for you. If you’re dabbling in acids and AHAs, start slow and work your way up--and only do it at night since it makes your skin more sensitive to sun exposure. I tried mandelic acid after reading Taylor’s success story, but it was way too strong for me and made my face peel like a sunburn constantly, so I quit.

I like Cure Natural Aqua Gel best for exfoliating sans fear of irritation from AHA/BHAs. The bottle is almost entirely in Japanese, but it’s not hard to search instructions since it’s the top-selling exfoliator in Japan, apparently. Rub the translucent gel on your dry face and it basically makes eraser dust of all your dead skin cells. It's gross in a really fulfilling way. After rinsing off all the “dust,” my face feels just as porcelain smooth as if I'd used a scrub.

Missha’s Pure Revolution Excellent Exfoliator is my heavy-duty exfoliator. It’s a foam cleanser with cellulose micro-beads, which are biodegradable. They don’t feel abrasive, rather, they're much like their smooth, round relatives from face cleansers past.

No matter what you use to exfoliate, listen to your skin and pace yourself. I’m a bit of an exfoliation addict (lots of type A-ish folks are), so I definitely have to pump the brakes every now and then--otherwise my face would probably end up a butchered mess.

  • Any reformed vigorous scrubbers out there with tips for fellow exfoliators?
  • How often and with what do you exfoliate your skin?
  • Even better, does anyone have any horror stories of over-exfoliating? By all means, scare me straight!