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Over-Exfoliating? Signs and Tricks to Repair Your Skin

It’s scrub-a-dub-dub time. Do you feel you can’t get enough of that silky smooth feeling after exfoliating?

Exfoliation is a great way to keep your skin looking fresh and glowing, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Over-exfoliating is as bad as not having a skincare routine at all.

But don’t worry – if you’ve gone a little overboard with scrubbing, there are ways to repair your skin and get back on track. 

Rebecca Thiede, MD, a dermatologist with Banner - University Medicine, covers signs you may be over-exfoliating and some tips and tricks to get your skin back to its healthy, radiant self.

First, what are the benefits of exfoliation? 

One of the main reasons you should exfoliate is that it helps clear away dirt and dry, dead skin (gross!) from the surface of your skin. 

“Not only does this leave your skin looking brighter and help to even out skin tone, but it can allow your skin to better absorb skincare products,” Dr. Thiede said. “It can also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, revealing healthier, younger-looking skin.”

There are two ways you can exfoliate. You can exfoliate physically with scrubs containing grains and gritty materials or chemically with alpha and beta-hydroxy acids and fruit enzymes.

“Generally, for the face, chemical exfoliants tend to be better and gentler on the skin than physical ones,” Dr. Thiede said. “Chemical exfoliators can be a great tool to help with acne, and some, like retinol, can decrease the appearance of fine lines.”

How can I tell if I’m overdoing exfoliation?

Whether you have oily skin, dry skin or a combination of the two, there is such a thing as exfoliating too much. 

Over-exfoliation can remove not only dead skin cells but can also strip away your skin’s natural barrier responsible for keeping the bad stuff out (pollution, irritants) and the good stuff in (water, oils). In addition, severely overdoing exfoliation can create problems that proper exfoliation is supposed to help with, such as acne and patchy, dry skin. 

Symptoms of over-exfoliation include:

How often should I exfoliate, then?

“Everyone’s skin is different, so some people can handle exfoliating daily, while others only weekly,” Dr. Thiede said. “How often you exfoliate will depend on several factors like your skin type, the climate/weather/season and the type of exfoliation you are doing.”

Generally, if you have sensitive skin, once or twice a week is usually an ideal schedule. If you have oily or combination skin, two or three times a week should work well.

What should I do if I have over-exfoliated my skin?

First things first: If you notice any of these signs, you should pump the brakes on exfoliating and allow time for your skin to recover. 

Next, stick to the basics: Use a gentle cleanser, hydrating serums and moisturizers to rehydrate, heal and protect your skin from external invaders.

The recovery time will depend on how severe your skin damage is. If your skin appears ready to return to a regular skin care regimen, take it slow.

If your skin continues to be unhappy, follow up with your health care provider or dermatologist.

Tips and tricks to keep your skin healthy and glowing

To prevent skin damage, Dr. Thiede shares the following information:

  • Select an exfoliating method that works for you. For those with dry, sensitive skin or acne-prone skin, you may prefer a mild chemical exfoliator as physical exfoliators may be too irritating. Those with oily skin may want to use stronger treatments. If you are prone to getting dark spots, you may want to avoid aggressive exfoliation. If you are unsure of your skin type, talk to your dermatologist. They can evaluate your skin and help you decide if exfoliation is helpful.
  • Be kind to your skin. Use lukewarm (not hot!) water. When applying the product, gently use small, circular motions. Never exfoliate on areas with cuts or burns.
  • Clean your skin care tools. If you use a mechanical exfoliating tool, ensure the device is clean and sanitized before every use so that you are not introducing bacteria to cracks in the skin.
  • Don’t forget your moisturizer and SPF! Exfoliating can be drying to the skin. Apply moisturizer immediately after to keep your skin happy and hydrated. 

No matter how often you exfoliate, it is essential to always wear sunscreen afterward in the daytime to keep your skin safe and healthy. 


Exfoliating is an essential part of any good skin care regimen. But too much of anything can never be good. So, keep your exfoliation within a limit that is best for your skin type. 

If you notice signs you are overdoing it, take a step back and reassess your routine. You may need to cut back or switch to a gentler product.

And as always, check in with your dermatologist. They may recommend other treatment options. To find a Banner Health dermatologist near you, visit bannerhealth.com. 

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