Why an Epidemic of Over-Exfoliation Might Be Damaging Your Skin

Why an epidemic of over-exfoliation might damage your skin

Don’t get me wrong – gentle exfoliation is a great way to get rid of excess dead skin cells and get that radiant glow. But over-exfoliation can cause irritation and inflammation, as well as make your skin more susceptible to sun burns. The line between healthy exfoliation and over-exfoliation is pretty thin and blurry.

Gosh, some dermatologists don’t even consider Clarisonic to be an exfoliating device – just a cleansing device. If that’s not exfoliation, then what is? Dermabrasion? Madness!

The truth is, just before I cured my acne, I realized that my skin had been over-exfoliated for most of my life. Don’t blame me – I just followed the industry recommendations like most of us do: you know, use a scrub or some kind of scrubbing device 2-3 times per week, use salycilic acid to clear out the pores, etc.  It turned out it was one of the main reasons why I had acne. So I tried to google over-exfoliation as a cause of acne. And guess what? I found nothing. Or at least nothing substantial.

So with this article I’d like to shed a bit more light on over-exfoliation.

A new crazy trend?

“The 1960s had cold cream, the 1980s featured alcohol-based astringents and now we have acids, enzymes and at-home chemical peels with potency unheard of just a few years ago.” (Reneé Rouleau)

There are so many different ways to exfoliate your skin and unfortunately I’ve tried most of them. That cream with AHA’s that started the whole acne ordeal when I was around 16. Super expensive scrubs that just caused me more breakouts the next day. The magical Clarisonic that gave me cystic acne for the first time. The hardworking BHA (a.k.a salycilic acid) that was supposed to clear out my pores but instead dried out my skin and gave me cysts. Even a simple muslin cloth was capable of rubbing my skin raw if used daily. I guess some skins are just more sensitive than others.

The tell-tale signs of over-exfoliated skin

I wish I’d seen the signs of over-exfoliation earlier and would have stopped. The thing is those signs are so similar to a simple breakout that many of us fail to recognize them. So what are they?

  • Loss of moisture and uncomfortable feeling;
  • Patchy and pealing areas of dryness;
  • Blotchy and red skin;
  • Increased sensitivity to your regular products and burning sensation whenever anything is applied;
  • Skin feels hot to the touch;
  • Annoying itching;
  • Inflamed  and angry-looking acne (it could be tiny red bumps, cysts or white pustules).

All the above signs of over-exfoliation can last from a few days to a few months before the skin regains its natural balance.

Trying to eliminate the symptom rather than the cause?

“Oily skin tends to expel an increased number of dead cells and if these are not effectively removed, they can block the pores, trapping any excess oil and bacteria with them. As we remove unwanted dead skin, regeneration of new, healthy cells is encouraged and we are left with an overall brighter and healthier looking complexion.” (DailyMail)

I have a major problem with a couple of points in this statement. I always like digging deeper, so this is what my digging produced regarding exfoliation. Oily skin tends to have a higher number of dead skin cells (or a higher number of any cells) because excessive oil production is often linked to an excessive amount of growth factor (IGF-1), which is closely linked to insulin. So what I’m trying to say is that it’s true that acneic skins tend to accumulate dead skin cells but just scrubbing them off isn’t going to solve the problem. It would be much more rational to start looking into the real reasons why so many dead skin cells are produced in the first place.

“Over the years, it seems that skin care has become more about “peeling away” the bad aspects of skin rather than improving and reinforcing skin’s resiliency and health.” (Men’s Science)

Next, the statement in the Daily Mail says that exfoliation promotes regeneration of new, healthy cells, but it fails to mention that one of the reasons why the skin produces those new cells is because of the trauma of exfoliation. Faster cellular growth is our skin’s emergency answer to all that scrubbing.

Often, products boast about the capability of increasing cellular turnover. Is that a sign of healthier skin? No! It’s the skin’s cry for help.

“The skin responds to trauma by sending support from the bottom up, diverting collagen, antioxidants and crucial nutrients from the dermis in an attempt to repair the damage to the epidermis, thereby creating a nutritional deficit at the underlying layers of the skin”. (Kasia Organics Salon)

Do you notice another pattern here? If exfoliation promotes growth of new skin cells, it means there will be more dead cells in the future – so that becomes a bit of a vicious circle on its own. The more you scrub, the more your skin will need to be scrubbed.

What does the industry say about exfoliation?

Just until recently most skincare gurus and dermatologists have been singing praises to exfoliation but more and more are starting to warn people of the dangers of over-exfoliation, especially with the cult popularity of products with Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA). However, manual exfoliants aren’t innocent either.

“As far as manual exfoliants go, such as scrubs with tiny granules, sloughing sponges, or hand-held devices, I find that many people over-use them and/or scrub too vigorously”, warns Dennis Gross, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City (Beauty World News).

According to Dr. Marie-Catherine Planté, the Clarisonic brush is “essentially a skin torture device” (No More Dirty Looks). I couldn’t agree more! I can see why so many people find it addictive, it does feel good but for many of us the outcome isn’t so pretty. It seems to thin and sensitize the skin in the long term.

Products with AHA’s are “remarkably gentle and non-abrasive, when used correctly and penetrate into the follicle to remove dead cells rather than simply lifting the ones sitting on the surface like other exfoliators”. (Daily Mail)

Hmmm… not sure I agree with this either. How about the Oil Cleansing Method? It’s so much more effective and unclogs pores like nothing else. Why would one need to slather expensive chemical lotions that would make their skin extremely sun sensitive rather than use something as natural and cheap as the Oil Cleansing Method? Well, I guess where there is money, there is power (to wash our brains, of course).

Over-exfoliation: where there is money, there is power to brainwash.

This left me rolling on the floor laughing…

6 reasons why over-exfoliation isn’t a good idea

  1. It causes inflammation by damaging the natural lipid barrier – if it doesn’t function properly, your skin gets dry, blotchy, itchy, inflamed, etc.
  2. It causes excessive dryness and loss of ability to retain moisture.
  3. It destroys healthy cells in addition to dead skin cells and your skin is left completely exposed to the environment.
  4. It accelerates aging due to continuous trauma and inflammation of the skin.
  5. It might increase your risk of getting age spots (hyperpigmentation) as over-exfoliation seems to overstimulate melanin production.
  6. It causes a thick build-up of dead skin cells.

“Repeated manipulation, friction and skin tampering can slow down the healing process, introduce bacteria and cause epidermal cells on and around blemishes to thicken, darken and get larger as the body struggles to defend itself from constant “self-assault”.” (Clinically Clear)

What to do if your skin is already suffering from over-exfoliation?

  • Apply fresh aloe vera gel straight from a plant to soothe your skin.
  • Avoid washing your face with water, just gently wipe with rose water. I’m not even talking about using harsh cleansers with sulphates – throw them away!
  • Apply some nourishing and healing oil, such as avocado or olive oil.
  • Avoid toners containing alcohol. You know my stance on it – go for natural floral water, such as rosewater.
  • If any of the products you apply causes a stinging or burning sensation, stop using it.
  • Don’t use any products with mint or menthol.

Find more of my tips on how to heal over-exfoliated skin in this blog post:

How To Heal Over-Exfoliated Skin: My Top Tips

And if your skin has recovered enough to start exfoliating again, go for something really gentle – for example, a soft washcloth or a sugar and olive oil scrub. Don’t use scrubs containing sharp particles with jagged edges, such as apricot kernel or walnut shells. Also make sure you use slow and gentle movements – too much pressure is just as bad as irregular edges.

Just like everywhere in life, moderation is key in exfoliation. It’s better to be too careful than sorry. And yes, I’m going to repeat it once again – listen to your skin!

What’s your take on exfoliation? Have you ever experienced signs of over-exfoliation? 

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Comments

  1. Wow! That was very informative. It is always a struggle to find the right balance.

  2. Hi there ~ I just found your channel & website today and I’m so appreciative of the information you provide. Just earlier this week I re-visited OCM (had tried it before with limited success). Today I’ve been doing more research in order to achieve better results. Your site is incredibly helpful. I have a Clarisonic brush (with the allegedly “sensitive” bursh head – ha!) and rarely use it. Over the past year, it seems any time I’d try to use it, my face, especially around the chin, jawline, and temples, would become irritated and bumpy – not blemishes, just bumps beneath the skin that made my face look awful. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this information. I’m SO thrilled to have found your site.

    • Hi Rosie, thank you so much! This kind of feedback is what keeps me going, I really really appreciate it. It was so interesting to read about your experience with Clarisonic – it’s exactly like mine! I would never ever say that the Sensitive head is suitable for sensitive skin. I’m excited you’re going to give the OCM another chance – it absolutely deserves it! And if you read my article about it, I also failed the first couple of times I tried it. That’s why I wanted to write about it – to prevent other people from failing by sharing my own mistakes and lessons learnt. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  3. I’m so grateful that I found your video on YouTube which led me to this article! I just got the Clarisonic two months ago and my face has been flipping out! I’ve tried changing my face cleansers and everything else I could think of until I found something about over exfoliation. I have HORRIBLE acne on my chin that is super red, super irritated, and super itchy! My face has also been really hot lately, red, and tender to the touch. SO GRATEFUL! I would have seriously destroyed my skin if I hadn’t read this as I thought this was the infamous “purging phase”- how silly. I just bought the Rose Water you linked to so I can help reverse some of this damage. Hopefully my face won’t be so mad at me. I’ll start taking my acne worries to a real professional and am going to call Clarisonic to return my machine tomorrow!

    Thanks SO much! Consider me a fan! You’ve been bookmarked <3

    • Hi Alicia, I’m so glad you stopped by. Your story seems so similar to mine! I wanted to believe that it was working just because I’d spent so much money for it and because everyone’s raving about it. And then i was thinking of reselling it but then I didn’t want to inflict damage on someone else’s skin with that evil machine, so I just let it sit in my drawer for ever. Here’s a little tip for you: try to avoid washing your face with water for a while, just wipe with rose water. It should help a lot to calm it down quickly. So happy to have helped!

  4. This is absolutely true I just wish this information was out five years ago, back then every website advocated mega exfoliation. I used a sandpaper type product on my face and I’ve been suffering from volume loss, large pores, acne, scars that stay dark and just overall aged skin. I tried rosewater and aloe still use avocado but nothing is helping , the damage didn’t last a few days or months for me, its been years! I have oily skin so maybe that’s why it looks worse on me, way more dead skin cells. No idea what to do, I think the volume loss is from collagen not being made properly as my skin is trying to fix the epidermis and neglecting the dermis.

    • Hi! Yes, you’re totally right. I also remember when I started having my own issues with my skin, every body was going for facials, acid peels and laser treatments (that’s how I got into trouble myself). Then Clarisonics and dermabrasions became the norm. The truth is that most people with gorgeous skin do nothing but wash their face with water. Not even every day! My mum and sister have never had any issues, their skin looks amazing and they wash their face with water only once a week! They were terrified when I was torturing mine with all kinds of treatments. It’s all about the money for the industry, isn’t it? I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling with damage from over-exfoliation as well. Could it be that you’re lacking some kind of nutrients? For example, collagen is mostly in animal sources and a lot of vegans/vegetarians could be getting little of it. How long have you been on the natural chemical-free regime? xx

  5. applesz says:

    I still get a lot of meat in my diet, in fact my diet hasn’t really changed from when the damage occurred so I know its JUST the damage that’s making my skin act crazy. I have eliminated dairy as it made my pores way larger every time I ate it. I don’t know if its the IGF-1 increasing skin cells and oil or the proteins trying to repair my skin or just inflammation! Either way its been hard, very hard. I’ve been on the chemical free regime for about 7 months now with no major improvement. The weirdest thing about all this is that I actually visualised skin problems on my face before it came a reality! Grrrr

    • Wow, you either attracted the skin issues by negative visualization or you simply have very good intuition and your subconscious knew that something wasn’t right with your skin. That’s really interesting! How about trying to visualize perfect smooth skin this time? Maybe it will work again! Seriously speaking, I can totally understand your frustration. If only we could all turn back the time to the day when the damage started! Just stay strong, keep being patient and one day you’ll get your skin back! xx

    • Hello dide your skin healed? Having the same issues

  6. This is amazing! I have really sensitized skin from trying to “support” and “care for” it with an increasing exfoliation regime. My skin would look good the first few days and then wham, massive brakouts, redness, reactivity, and dehydration. I think this post is the perfect guide to the dangers of over-exfoliation, while promoting healthier and gentler methods to healthy skin. 😀

    • Hi Victoria, so glad you found this post helpful. I just think that there is such a lack of information about over-exfoliation on the internet. Nobody really talks about it, but it’s definitely one of the main reasons for skin troubles. Gentle skincare rocks. xx

  7. I am so so glad I found this post!!!! You are the only person who has spoken the truth and has really helped me out here. For the past few years I have done nothing but exfoliate to try and rid my skin of acne-in the end nothing worked except a gentle wash and duac. However due to my craze of getting perfect skin I continued with the crazy exfoliation and my skin seemed to tolerate it okay until recently that is… My skin became red and raw and with an orange peel like texture. I had to baby it back to somewhat normal conditions with layers of sudocrem. For the past week I have just washed with a soap free cleanser and I can it slowly improving with lots of moisturising. Since over exfoliation my pores are much larger and more bumps too- I’m still trying to figure out a way to rid my self of blackheads and milia without exfoliation – any tips ?? And once again thanks for the very informative and reassuring post ! Xxx

    • Hi Fatima, I was really frustrated when I tried to google overexfoliation and could hardly find anything. So I’m so glad I’ve managed to help you a little in that situation! It’s normal for your pores too be larger for a while after all that trauma, just bear with them. I find that the OCM is the best way to get rid of milia and blackheads – the exfoliation is minimal, but it works so well. I’d suggest either using a very soft microfibre cloth (I find cotton a bit more rough) or skip the washcloth at all and rinse with a natural soap, such as the Aleppo soap instead, if you find even the gentlest washcloth too rough. Make sure you don’t use hot water, just warm. Also for the oils, go for oils high in linoleic acid, such as pumpkin seed oil, hempseed oil, sunflower oil or grapeseed oil. Keep moisturizing your skin really well. I find that pumpkin seed oil is the best for that and refines my pores better than anything else. But we’re all different, so experiment. Try to stay away from any kinds of scrubs and acids. xx

    • Hi Fathima,

      I’ve gotten enlarged pores due to over exfoliation and Retin-A. Did you pores ever shrink back to the original size? If so, what methods did you use?

      Thanks,
      Ashley

  8. Hi. I am experiencing the same symptoms. Inflamed skin, painful dryness and cystic acne. I have always had good skin up until about a year ago and right now is the worst it has ever been. I was just wondering how you would recommend removing makeup without a scrub of some sort.

    • Hi Ashley, I feel for you! I still remember the days when my skin was like that. The best way to remove makeup is just massaging a generous amount of oil that works well with your skin and then taking it off with a soft microfibre cloth and warm water. It shouldn’t be hot because heat irritates. Just warm. And some microfiber cloths are softer than others, so you need to pick the softest one. Also, there is really no need to go over the same area more than twice with a washcloth. If you wipe with very gentle motions, it shouldn’t irritate the skin at all. xx

  9. what about dry skin brushing of the body?

    • Hi Anna! Skin on the body is much less sensitive, so it’s perfectly fine. I personally love dry skin brushing as well, but not every day in the areas that are more sensitive, like neck, chest and shoulders. Once or twice a week works very well for me. xx

  10. I have an annoying dry, very rough skin patch on my bum that is totally annoying. My Dermo told me to apply Aquaphor, that it wasn’t “anything” to be concerned with. That was 3 years ago and she still is not concerned but I don’t like it. Aquaphor was ineffective. So I started exfoliating…not all the time but when the area began to feel too rough. So I bought a nice scrubbie thing for this last flare-up and scrubbed the crap out of it. It felt smooth and thought it was going to be fine. But nooo, after I’d been out of the shower about 10 minutes, I felt a burning sensation and noticed that I had scrubbed the skin raw! OW!! So I now have a bandage covering it with some heavy duty moisturizing creme. I’ll probably end up with a scab. This was not a small area either. Any suggestions? I’ll not do this again!

    • Hi Ann, exfoliating isn’t going to help, that’s for sure. If I was you, I’d just get a really nourishing oil like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil or shea butter and would apply it on the patch a few times a day. Just make sure you apply it with slightly damp hands, in that way the moisture will be trapped inside. I used to have a similar patch on my eyelids, just underneath the brows, and applying oil a few times a day really helped. I also tried to exfoliate a little and it was a disaster. 🙂 Good luck! xx

      • I forgot to mention that my dermatologist suggested the mechanical exfoliation.

        Thanks! If I have the time, I like to soak in the tub with citric acid and sea salt. I only use about 1/4-1/3 C citric acid for the whole tub. After that, I add homemade bath oil, made with coconut or olive oils. That helps but is very time consuming and doesn’t always result in nice smooth skin. I still have to scrub to remove dead skin on my body and the citric acid does help with hat. Never ending battle and it doesn’t help that I live in the high desert and have dry skin associated with hypothyroidism.!

  11. Katerina says:

    Thanks for such a great post!! My skin has a rough texture…not acne all the time… Just not smooth:..bumpy.. And exfoliation yields very glowing skin for me, which after a few days reverts to darker and rougher skin again… How should i break through this cycle:(… Should i exfoliate less? Or stop it altogether

    • Hi Katerina! So glad you found my post useful. How do you exfoliate? Is it perhaps too harsh? I’ve been loving a muslin cloth every second day and coffee as a scrub once a week or so. Also, from my own experience, I can say that the texture of your skin is all about food. Whatever you do on the outside, you aren’t going to have glowing and smooth skin for a long time if your body isn’t in homoeostasis inside. xx

  12. Very helpful post! No one warns about the dangers of over exfoliation. All of the products that I have used over the years which I thought were amazing for my skin I think have ruined my skin now. I have always had sensitive skin but now I seem to have given myself rosacea. Even a muslin cloth can be bad, I scrubbed too hard with one a couple of days ago and now my skin is red dry and covered in whiteheads! I’m also cautious about all the chemicals I have been putting on my skin as apparently 40% can enter the body and trying to introduce natural products.

    • Hi Gemma, yes, overexfoliation is really the greatest evil these days. But the good news is that your skin will recover if you only leave it alone for a while. Stay off any kind of exfoliation for a month or so and you’ll be able to tolerate muslin cloth again (but of course only gentle circular movements and cold water, not hot!). Good luck! xx

  13. Hi, I’m 16 and I have acne prone and oily skin. I’ve been doing research about the clarisonic and I saw your post come up during my search. You did mention the signs of over exfoliation, which thankfully I have none of them! I use Lush natural handmade products and it has tremendously changed my skin! But I have tons of acne scars, blackheads, and clogged pores. My acne has settled down, I don’t get cystic acne anymore. But I have questions. My mum told me(she’s a doctor) that the clarisonic will strip your skin to make it thinner and as you grow older your skin will be really thin and bad. I’ve kept persuading her on helping me get one as I’m so sick of the scars and blackheads. It makes me super sad! My problem is, I understand that the clarisonic might do that and could possibly give me even worse acne, but what do I do then? How do I get rid of my scars, blackheads and acne completely (not completely I mean to get a somewhat flawless face that has only two pimples or so). I’ve tried so many products and remedies. None worked! 🙁 please help! I’m so desperate

    • Hi Adilah, unfortunately nothing you do on the outside is going to give you clear skin because it all comes from the inside. Clarisonic will only get things worse, in my opinion. Focus on using natural, gentle products, only use gentle exfoliation by OCM or a muslin cloth. Eat clean. Exercise. Find time to relax. You’ll see how your skin is going to clear up in no time. Clarisonic really isn’t worth the hype and all that money. Muslin cloth will do a much better job. xx

  14. Hi, I am 19 and I’ve been trying rigorously to find an effective solution to the tan I accumulated over this past summer. I’ve tried lemon and honey masks, lemon juice, and just recently a hibiscus & sugar scrub. As well as AMBI fade cream. Now I feel like my skin might be even darker than it was before and its become increasingly frustrating. What should I do I have naturally fair skin but its brown and red now

    • Hi Samuel, why do you want to get rid of the tan? Tanned skin is healthy and beautiful. Don’t be ashamed of it. Light skin doesn’t equal beauty or anything else. We’re all different and we’re all beautiful. If you continue mistreating your skin like that, you’ll have much more troubles down the line than you bargained for. xx

  15. So thankful for your information. I am feeling so frustrated with myself .. I did tons of research before starting OCM because when I tried it a couple of years ago using coconut and castor oil, I got tons of bumps (not red, not whiteheads, not really irritated) all over my cheeks, and perimeter of my face. A BUMPY FACE. It was awful. So this time around I decided no coconut oil on my face and I read your info on over exfoliation, and told myself as long as I don’t do that I should be good! Mental note! My skin was looking healthy – although I did have some pimples I was still dealing with which I attributed to hormones. Well I guess I got impatient maybe a week or two in and continued doing research and somewhere along the line, microfiber cloths were suggested, so I ordered some….I was oil cleansing, I started “scrubbing” the oil in with my fingers trying to get rid of blackheads… And then I was wiping off the oil – swiping too many times, rubbing, rubbing….. Realizing now I was basically scrubbing my face 🙁 I read about how it’s a “pull” cloth and that feeling was the cloth pulling the plugs and impurities out. At first I got a few bumps on my face and so I wiped MORE then another bump, wiped more..you get the idea day after day. I realized yesterday the bumps are taking over – it seems like I have a million more than last I checked real close. I have BUMPS all over. So yesterday I STOPPED WIPING with the cloth. I am so upset because I read this beforehand NOT to do it. And I forgot!? My cloth is very soft but if I wipe away with it I can feel the toughness of it. So starting yesterday I ‘ve been just steaming away the oil to clean my face – basically what I should have been doing – just gently patting. Does this exfoliate at all? Because I rinse the cloth and do it a few times. So my skin is also soo dry in spots. It feels dehydrated. It is a little red. It is not horrific and it’s ok with makeup on but I am so upset! I repeated what I did last time! Except now I know the cause (not the oils). However I am still tempted to go back to using cetaphil and water. But Im trying to hold out. I am using mainly jojoba oil because I’ve used it for a long time as a moisturizer and my skin likes it.. I am also using argan oil occasionally and pumpkin seed oil. I kind of mix them together at times too. For moisture after I use rose hip seed oil or if I need the extra moisture- jojoba, argan, or pumpkin. I actually am tempted to slather on coconut oil tonight because in the past, like in the winter when my skin feels really dry and wanting something extra- I do coconut oil – just once in a while my skin seems to really like it. Sorry this is so long. I keep telling myself just give it one week of tender care and OCM will prove true to me. Really hoping so!! Do you think that just patting/steaming with the cloths is ok after oil cleansing? I am also using rose water daily since I started OCM about a month ago and if I don’t wear makeup then I don’t cleanse – just spritz rose water at night. But lately I had been way too into the whole thing and was sometimes cleansing, wiping a lot, cleansing again and wiping a lot. Then moisturizing.. Ugh. These bumps have to be over exfoliation right?? They’re not pimples. Guess I’m just looking for some reassurance. Like others have said you are basically the only source on the internet that reveals the real culprit! I am so thankful because I really do believe in the OCM and want it to work for me. And if my experience can help anyone I would be so happy.

    • Yes, the cloth exfoliates and the massage motion with your fingers does as well. That’s why I don’t recommend doing the OCM every day. I’d say what you need to do is lay off the OCM for a few weeks. Then restart doing it just once a week (for the full version). For makeup removal, you can simply wipe it off with a damp cotton pad and some oil on it. In my case, bumps usually meant overexfoliation. However, they can also be hormonal. If you haven’t changed anything else in your life apart from overexfoliating, it’s probably just that. xx

  16. I wanted to add one more thing – I keep reading and have noticed in a lot of other peoples comments these small flesh colored bumps are mentioned quite a few times. And in the same spots as me – temple, cheeks, forehead, and jawline.

    What I want to note is that I normally do not have bad acne or anything like this on these areas. Usually I get 1-2 annoying big pimples a month with my period on my chin (higher than where the bumps are on the jawline) and also sometimes between my eyes. But NEVER to the extent / amount of these bumps I am getting. So am I right in thinking it is over exfoliation?? Could it be plugs? Like I said when I normally used cetaphil cleanser I have used oils as moisturizer so I don’t think it’s the oils bothering me. I am afraid to think it would be plugs purging because last time this happened a couple years ago I kept at the OCM for many months and it never got better.

    I also just checked in the mirror and I oil cleansed about 3 hours ago and then moisturized with jojoba and my face is no longer red. Sorry. I’m freaking out. Hoping you can help ease my mind. Thank so much.

    • Sorry one more thing – when you talk about plug coming out while cleansing (in the beginning) what do they look like? Do they come out onto your hand while rubbing the oil in? Are they white? Black? Im not sure I’ve experienced this.

    • Yes, it does seem like overexfoliation. But it can also be clogs from the oil residue. You need to experiment and see if you skin gets better when you cut down on the exfoliation. If it doesn’t, try to remove the oil better with a natural soap and see if it makes a difference. xx

  17. New Orleans says:

    NO NO NOoo!! I can’t hear this truth right now as I just partnered with a skincare company to make money and they really push exfoliation. The past 2 days I was just too lazy and depressed to wash my face. I didn’t think anything would HAPPEN. While at work on the 3rd day, my face felt tight and strange, like I was wearing a mask. I went to the bathroom and noticed all these tiny tiny bumps all over my face and I noticed white stuff coming out of some of the mini bumps. A thick layer of skin was starting to build!! A closer look in the mirror and my skin almost looked like leather! I went home and exfoliated for like and extra 5 minutes. sorry! I was shocked.. 2 months ago I purchased the Olay thing similar to the clarisonic and have been going to town with it every since. The problem is this, I’m in the beauty industry and I have unsightly discoloration from hyperpigmentation, so I don’t want to just stop wearing makeup. How can I gradually stop exfoliating without my face turning into a thick scary pile of dead skin?

    • You don’t need to stop exfoliating at all, just do it sensibly. Oil Cleansing Method, cleansing by rubbing with a muslin cloth, coffee scrubs are all great ways to exfoliate and they’re also very gentle. xx

  18. You are right. I spend so much money on expensive products and got tired of them. Most of the products solve 1 issue but on the other hand, the products contain irritants which damage the skin barrier and cause more problems so you have to buy products to heal the skin after hurting it. It is never ending process and once you are trapped in it, you will spend so much money on trying to get a healthy skin. Instead, leave your skin alone. It will heal itself. It takes time, but it will. Of course, you have to clean it, but use really gentle, not irritating products and use a green tea as a toner, yogurt as a hydrating mask and you will be fine.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more, Patt. This whole vicious circle is created by skincare company in order to make more money. If they created products that actually fixed skin, they would go bankrupt. So instead they create products that mask symptoms, but create long-lasting damage and then they have a customer for life. Being able to set yourself free is amazing. xx

  19. I found your site because I did over exfoliate my skin and was looking for ways to make it feel better. I was invited to a Perfectly Posh party. I had never heard of it before but they sell all natural skin care products. I received a sample of an exfoliating face wash and used it 4 or 5 days straight. 🙁 Dumb! My face is now red, tight, itchy, flaky, and burns some. I was wondering about Vitamin E oil because I have some already. Would it be good to put on? Thanks!

    • Hi Tiffany, wow, Perfectly Posh party sounds really fun! 🙂 Sorry to hear you had a bad experience with a product though. Yes, I think vitamin E can be great for irritated skin, especially if you’ve already used it in the past and know that it works well for you. xx

  20. I’m glad that i found your site. I have all of these symptoms and i regret that i don’t listen to my skin before it become worst. my skin is red, itchy, dry and flaky. What should i do to restore the moisture? I think i wanna try tarte maracuja oil..is it okay to use it on my face? Will it help?

  21. Hi there,

    I have been using apricot scrub daily for a couple years now and my forehead is super oily now, u never use to have this problem. My question is how do I get it back to its normal state without breaking out. I’ve eliminated scrubbing on Wednesdays and Sunday’s so far. Should I continue to Eliminate more days until I’m down to one day per week? Also what face cleaner should I use. For as long as I can remember I’ve used a bar of dove soap. Besides being oily I do have a few white heads on my forehead as well. Any advice is appreciated.

    Thanks

    • Hi Crystal, you just need to let your skin calm down and rebuild the acid mantle. Instead of using harsh scrubs like that, try washing your face with a muslin cloth. It’s a perfect amount of exfoliation, but without any damage. Apricot kernels have jagged edges which can be really damaging. xx

  22. Hi, I’ve emailed as well and just want to add my voice to those commending you on this post and others about over exfoliating and over treating the skin. I changed over last couple of weeks to natural skincare and went at it full throttle using a makeup eraser microfiber cloth every day. Yesterday my skin went nuts, red, sore patches with a load of whitehead spots (never had those before so was horrified), dry and irritated. It was so vicious I thought it might be an allergic reaction or something. It was only when I searched and searched that I found your articles. Now I just have to give my skin time to heal and be very gentle, but looking like a swamp monster til that happens is not going to be fun. More warnings should have been on other sites to approach this gently and really I think should have been on the packaging of the cloth I bought. Thank you for your helpful post which has really reassured me and given me valuable advice with how to heal my skin and then care for it gently. Thankyou!

    • Hi Deb, I’m so glad that my blog post benefited you so much! I agree with you, any exfoliation tools or products should come with a warning. Luckily, skin does recover if you leave it alone and treat it very gently. xx

  23. Hi Vita, thanks for your article, my problem is a bit different, i think it may be karatosus pilaris, its all over the back of my arms and on my legs top to bottom and front to back, the bumps are so bad that they can bleed when i shave, the skin on my knees has no feeling, i wash with a soapy flannel and it just hurts, the nhs recommends exfoliation but i think its making thins worse. So im doing the wash with soapy hands only for a couple of weeks to see if theres an improvement. I also wanted to try it because after working in care of the elderly, i noticed that most of them had very good skin all over, and they only drink lots of fluids and get bathed once a week! Other than the gentle washing and moisturising do you have any asvice you can give me?

    Xx

    • Hi Emma, one thing that elderly people used to do was get more minerals and less chemicals than us for most of their lives. They also ate a varied diet without following restrictive fad diets like so many of us do nowadays. One thing that could help is kelp (it’s a great source of iodine). It’s helped me a lot with keratosis pilaris. Also boron supplements (google the borax conspiracy) together with kelp for iodine made miraculous changes in my skin. Zinc is another highly important mineral for the skin and a lot of us are deficient. I would highly recommend looking into these three. xx

  24. Hi, i enjoyed reading your article very informative. PLease help me i don’t know what happened to my skin, i put on a rice flour mask on my face and i had used it a week before and it worked fine no problems but this time as soon as i washed it off my face was all red and has abrasion marks all over it and a bit of burns. when i woke up in the morning the redness was gone and my skin didn’t look that bad so i did my usual routine of makeup and wen t to the gym afterwards i haven’t washed my face with anything except putting shea butter and icing it…but its still sooo irritated i don’t know if it is burned but there are craters looks like abrasive marks and my whole face is red and brown and stings and burns and is dry. i’m too scared to put anything on it even the splash of water makes it sensitive. i’m doing my best to stay out of the sun but i cant stay home all day for the next two months and i’m scared there will be scarring and hyperpigmentation and i cant function without makeup because i have to leave the house and go on with my chores. I’m terrified it feels like a nightmare.

  25. Adrianna says:

    I completely agree with this post! I haven’t experienced over exfoliation but i’ve been doing lots of research on anti-aging and skin care and this is one of the more rational and sensible articles i’ve come across.

    Has no one ever wondered why with all their access to money and the best treatments in the world, most celebrities (when not airbrushed in photos or films) still look their age? You would think that those in their 40’s would accomplish looking 25 with all those millions. But no. Unless they are the very miniscule percentage that possess a special gene that always makes them look at least 10 years younger, the majority of celebrities or other normal people with access look their age. They might look healthy, they might look great, but they don’t look 10-20 years younger. They age just like everyone else. So that leaves a few conclusions. Besides the fact that hey, maybe aging is completely natural and can’t be radically stopped, the most glaring point is:

    The beauty industry isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

    And one bit of it that seems obvious is over exfoliation. Over exfoliation= thinner skin= sagging and wrinkles. How does this escape people??

    My friend had a clarisonic a few years ago and she sweared by it. She said it cleared up her pimples and she used it every single day. I took one look at it and said no thank you, I’m thinking of the long term. It doesn’t take rocket science to equate that with sandpaper over wood. After a few decades that piece of wood is not going to be there anymore. Same with skin. Especially if there’s constant exfoliation coming at you from your dermatologist, your aesthetician and your own home products.

    This article explains it so well and I’m glad it exists.

    • Hi Adrianna, I’m so glad you enjoyed my blog post. To be honest, I was inspired to write it because I was terrified by all of the exfoliation craze all around me. It’s like people were completely blinded by industry’s propaganda! As if people had horrible skin until all of those magic potions were invented. It’s ridiculous! What really does make a difference in people’s skin and makes them look younger is good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. Not rocket science really! 🙂 Thanks for a comment that truly made me smile! xx

  26. I don’t have over-exfoliated skin. I barely exfoliate, maybe once every month, whenever I want to give my skin a special treatment. I don’t have oily skin or dry skin luckily. I am battling skin itching and irritation at the moment however. Probably caused by my newly developed hayfever. As soon as I took an anti-allergy pill (I use bee pollen) I found the itchy spots on my temples disappeared along with my runny nose and burning eyes. I never had hayfever before but this year was really bad for me. Sometimes it was so bad that it felt like I was breathing smoke instead of air. Luckily the bee pollen help immensly.

  27. Hi! So.. I did the OCM with pumpkin seed oil and a cotton washcloth every day for 5 minutes (I know.. over kill) I ended up COVERED in tiny clogged pores. I also tried water only for a week but my face was shockingly dry and still breaking out. I spent many days not wanting to leave my house or crying over my skin.. it was that bad! I am finally drastically reducing them after spending a ton of money with trial and error and settling on Peter Thomas Roth acne system which includes harsh exfoliants. Yes, it stings. Yes, my face has peeling spots and yes, I still get red painful breakouts every day (one or two) but my under t skin bumps are FINALLY disappearing. And that’s a relief. I don’t want to stay on this forever it’s way too harsh but I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m scared of the OCM now. I wonder.. if acne prone skin is rooted in too much shredded of the skin and too much sticky oil clogging the pores.. what causes that internally? And how can that be stopped? If we exfoliate the skin away it seems that could essentially ‘cure’ acne although that doesn’t seem to show any evidence. Thanks for the help! I love your blog.

    • So glad you’re enjoying my blog! To be honest, if I were you, I would stay away from the OCM for at least a month or until the skin completely calms down from the over-exfoliation and then I would try again, but just once or twice a week. I’m not a doctor and can’t recommend you anything personally, but look into zinc supplements. They’re great for bumps like that and for acne in general. A lot people are deficient these days and people with acne have significantly lower zinc levels compared to people with healthy skin. xx

  28. Hi wow thank u for this. ive had acne since about 12 and I am now 27. I still have acne but no longer cystic. Now I just have horrible skin!!! Large pores blotchy red irritated skin little bumps very oily. I don’t even know what it’s like to have decent skin. I have tried everything like most acne sufferers but never have I tried not exfoliating!! I actually have done the OCM in the past but I def know my skin was already over exfoliated. So I found your info on over exfoliating! Thank u! i need to heal my skin. I think it’s been missing that protective layer for 10 plus years because I’ve been scrubbing it off!

  29. This is my second comment. I just wanna run by what I’ve been doing the past few days see what u think. I wear makeup so at night I gently rub my face with coconut oil to loosen all makeupthen I wash with a very gentle cleanser (Jason brand) to remove both makeup and coconut oil. Pat dry with soft towel. In the am I have only been washing with water. Since seeing this I will try the rose water in the morning. Previously I would rub dead skin off my face at night and wash in the morning so it’s a big difference. Now after just three days I’m building a layer of dead flaky skin but my skin isn’t red or irritated like usual and no breakouts 🙂 do u think my new routine will do for now for my over exfoliated or am I missing something major or still treating it too harshly? Thank u!!’ ❤️

    • Your routine looks good, but I’d probably skin the cleanser and use a soft muslin cloth to wipe the makeup and oil off gently. Hope your skin is still doing better! xx

  30. Hi, I am currently suffering from this over-exfoliation plight you’re talking about and I can’t believe how ignorant I was about the effects of all these (expensive) chemicals! I was using a 10% glycolic acid, prescription retinol, vitamin C serum, and an intense microdermabrasion exfoliating wash twice a week! Well now I’m paying the price. I’ve definitely learned my lesson and am backing off all these products now, but I was wondering what your thoughts were on Marula oil? I invested in the whole Drunk Elephant line (after hearing such great things), and that’s part of what led to my sudden breakout. I plan on returning the glycolic acid and vitamin C serum, but was wondering if you thought the Marula oil (it claims to be 100% pure Marula oil) would be good for moisturizing? I have dry sensitive skin that is not prone to breakouts until now, and I need something to seriously hydrate my skin. I’d love any advice you may have. Thank you!

    • Hi Savannah, I’ve never tried Marula oil and I don’t know much about it, but it seems like a great oil. Pretty much all natural carrier oil is good for your skin. Shea butter is the most nourishing oil and it’s also not clogging at all, so that’s probably the first one I would try if I needed over-exfoliated skin. xx

  31. I have had closed comedones under the skin coloured bumps for neatly 2 years. It started when I was applying baking soda apple cider vinegar to my face and leaving it on all night. A never used moisturier. Then because I got these bumps I would use daily coffee scrubs in the shower. Please help. I’ve trid benzoyl perxiode from Dr and used aha and bha they won’t go away. I started using all these harsh products as I suffer with cystic acne and had so many red and pitted scars I started using moisturiser a couple weeks ago but no change. Please help

    • Hi Michelle, you’ll just have to give your skin time. You’ve been treating it with all kinds of harsh treatments, it’s natural for it to go a little crazy. If you start respecting the skin’s natural acidic mantle, after a while it will start balancing out and clearing up. Also look into your nutrient levels. Perhaps your skin isn’t getting something that needs, for example magnesium. xx

      • thanks for your reply.. I took a load of magnesium a while ago do you mean put magnesium on face or in take?. should i leave it completely alone for 2 weeks to 30 days? i was wondering if i could use hemp oil now? ive stopped all cleanser moisturiser and all acids ect only washing with warm water its been 2 days and no improvement in bumps and red scars. i have hundreds of these bumps all lower face where i applied all of this harsh stuff xx

        • Hi Michelle, I mean both magnesium supplements and magnesium oil that you can apply to the your body. You can also apply it to the face if you like (diluted a bit more to prevent stinging), leave it on for 30 minutes, then wash it off. I wouldn’t leave the face completely alone, but using just water or rose water and applying oils without using anything harsher could be a very good idea to allow it to calm down. Hemp oil is great, it’s definitely worth trying as it’s very healing. xx

  32. Thank you for this informative article! Like you, I like digging deeper on who/what/why/when. I’ve been slowly converting my skincare to more holistic/homemade skin care over the past 10 years. I recently fell for the hype of the brand LUSH. I tried one of their exfoliating cleansers, and after two weeks of use, my skin has been a mess (and I usually have a well toned balanced skin). My skin is now oily, enlarged pores, and the texture looks bumpy. It is certainly from overexfoliation. I put two and two together after reading your article and I found the culprit. I need to stick to what works as usual and stop trying silly new products.

  33. I’m so happy that I stumbled on your blog – such great information! I’ve always had oily skin; then, in my twenties, I started to get a lot of cystic acne. I did a course of accutane, and that helped. When it started to come back a few years ago, I got a Clarisonic with the sensitive brush…. I used it religiously every night! Six months ago, I noticed that my skin was actually dehydrated and not oily at all. In the last three months, I started to get chapped patches of skin on my chin and around my mouth. Since last week, I’ve added a number of acne spots. I found your blog when it occurred to me that the clarisonic might have something to do with things. After reading, I ditched the clarisonic.
    I have been moisturizing with grape seed oil for the last 6 months because it is the only thing my hyper sensitive skin can handle. I tried camolmile last week and that stung when I appliedit. Should I add hemp or argan oil? What do you think of tamanu oil? Also, after reading, I bought rose water. I just spritzed my face with it and even that stung!!!
    Thank you for all the wonderful information!

    • Hi Julianna, both hemp and argan oil are great and very healing, but be careful with experimenting with new oils. Watch your skin’s reactions closely and make sure you stop as soon as you feel that something isn’t working. Tamanu oil is great for healing scars, but again be careful when trying new things. Perhaps try it a couple of times a week at the beginning until you’re confident that your skin can handle a new oil every day of the week. xx

  34. I never had perfectly clear skin. I always found a pimple or two in the cheek area, and blackheads on my chin and around my nose area. Three weeks ago I decided to give up on my harsh 3-step cleansing routine, and go natural, using oils to cleanse instead of chemicals. I read what I thought would help me, and hoped it would do wonders for my skin. I jumped into OCM, committing to it regularly as I was advised to do from the book I bought and read. I foolishly tricked myself into thinking whatever worked for this person, would obviously work for me. I tried a mix of castor oil & grapeseed oil and I saw an overabundance of dry patchy areas, whiteheads and pimples. I then read on in the blog to cut out castor oil if my skin can’t handle it. Did that, and cleansed every night for about 10 days with grapeseed oil & dried thyme, and using a hot washcloth to steam the oil from my face & wipe away. In the morning, I used a “gentle facial scrub” made of finely ground oats, finely ground raw almonds and organic white rice flour. I moisturized with grapeseed oil & tamanu oil on some days, and then just pure argan oil on others. My skin was dry, red, covered in tiny bumps, some flesh colored and others whiteheads on my forehead, in addition to deep, red, hard bumps forming underneath my skin, (which I’m thinking is cystic acne?? I’ve never experienced anything like it before) along my cheek bones, and 1-2 on my forehead. I over-exfoliated. I cry every time I look in the mirror. It has been one week that I quit OCM, and I have stopped wearing makeup because it just doesn’t even help at this point. I have been gently wiping my face with the rosewater toner you mentioned, and cleansing with just water alone. I use rosehip oil as a moisturizer. My skin is beginning to look a tad better, but I still have these red, hard bumps magically appearing on my face in different areas, but mostly in the cheek region. The ones I had from last week, are still red, but fortunately starting to flatten out. My question is, where do I go from this point? As I mentioned, I stopped wearing makeup because it just looked even worse trying to cover up the mess I made of my skin, and I didn’t want to continue hurting it. I have been avoiding seeing anyone, but realistically speaking, soon I will have to start facing people, and once the bumps are gone, I plan to re-apply my makeup, to cover the red spots that are covering my face. What advice can you give me for taking off my makeup? I’m scared to use oils to cleanse, because I have no idea which ones were bad for my skin and made it the mess it is I’m currently trying to fix. Also, do you think I gave myself cystic acne from using the OCM? When should I expect it to go away? Is it normal for them to keep reappearing like this?
    I feel hopeless at this point. My hat can only cover so much of my face :/

    • Hi Arielle, I’m so sorry you had to go through all this. I really feel for you. The best thing to do now is taking it very easy and you’re already doing it which is great. To be honest, just the fact that you abandoned a harsh 3-step cleansing routing is already enough to cause a massive reaction Transition isn’t easy. You would have probably done better weaning your skin off it gradually by introducing OCM once a week, then twice a week, etc. until you were ready to quit chemicals completely. Also scrubs every day are really not necessary. A muslin cloth provides as much exfoliation as you need. You can also read this blog post where I talk about all the best steps to take when healing overexfoliated skin. I really wouldn’t wear makeup for now, but in a couple of weeks, when your skin starts getting better, you can try a short version of the OCM where you don’t massage the oil in for a long time and instead of a hot washcloth you use a warm soft muslin cloth (in fact, never ever use it hot, just comfortably warm). Don’t rub your skin with it, just gently wipe off the makeup. For now, it would still be too much for you, so try to stay without makeup while you can. Also for oils, try something a little more nourishing, like sunflower oil, sesame oil, hempseed oil, argan oil, etc. Omit the castor oil completely. Hope this helps. <3

  35. Cynthia says:

    Dear Vita, I have been searching for help during the past month trying to find ANYTHING about over-exfoliation! Finally I found you tonight…thank you for being here. I actually thought my skincare providers website would cover this topic, thinking it has to be a common problem. I was feeling so hopeless because it’s not even mentioned on her site. All they do is keep pushing exfoliation and making different strengths of AHA & BHA (but never lower percentages….only stronger/higher amounts. I started using these products around my 53rd birthday 5 months ago. My facial skin looked better for 1 month and I have been in a deep, depression bc my face has been a disaster area for the last 4 months. I am already relieved to know there are others who do NOT agree with this exfoliation craze and have suggestions to finally help me get rid of all this damaged skin and heal my poor face/neck/ears/nares/scalp! That AHA glycolic acid spreads (months ago) into every nook & cranny & crevice on my entire head. I have to go now but wanted to let you know how much I appreciate this blog/advice. Amen!

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  1. […] chemicals. In this blogpost, I share 10 simple tips that will transform your skin. Less is more, epidemic of over-exfoliation, and using oils on the skin are some of the things I’m going to talk about. Hope you find it […]

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