In beauty world, there's pretty much no trend more pervasive than glowy skin. Seriously: We challenge you to open your Instagram feed and not find someone sporting bright, dewy skin. Of course, as more and more people seek out radiant skin, seemingly endless product launches have followed. How many highlighters have you bought in the past year? How many exfoliators?
Today, we're talking about the latter. When used correctly, exfoliating products can yield the healthiest, clearest, most lit-from-within skin of your life. But when you use them too frequently—or you use a formula that's stronger than your complexion prefers—the opposite can happen. And we're not just talking about dryness and sensitivity. We're talking oiliness, breakouts, itching, eczema... the works.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU OVER-EXFOLIATE?
The epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, contains the moisture barrier, which is integral to skin health. A healthy skin barrier not only helps retain moisture, but it also keeps a lot out: pollution, free radicals, and yes, acne-causing bacteria. So it's not surprising that when your skin barrier is compromised, it tends to become dry, inflamed, and sensitive. And if you're concerned about acne? Yeah, inflammation is a big trigger for that, too.
At this point, it's easy to fall into a vicious cycle: You're seeing dry flakes and maybe some clogged pores, so you may begin to exfoliate more, or experiment with a stronger exfoliator. So your skin's barrier becomes even weaker, and you see even more flakes and pimples. And so on and so forth until your skin's essentially crying for help, in the form of micro-tears in the skin that react angrily to just about anything you apply topically. (Don't freak, though. It typically takes some time to get to this point!)
SO, HOW SHOULD
I BE EXFOLIATING?
It boggles our minds that some exfoliators recommend daily use—some even twice daily! (Insert screaming emoji here.) Dermatologists say the magic number is usually once or twice weekly. Start with once weekly, and if no adverse reactions occur, you can move up to twice weekly. One caveat: If your skin starts to react, move back down to once weekly.
Formula is also key. Nine times out of ten, we'll choose chemical exfoliators over mechanical ones, A.K.A. scrubs, because you don't have to worry about application pressure or sharp particle edges damaging the skin. We also prefer the chemical exfoliator lactic acid, an AHA (or alpha hydroxy acid) with a bigger molecular size than the most common AHA, glycolic acid—it doesn't penetrate as deeply, so it's gentler. In Liquid Light, our exfoliating hydrogel essence, we paired lactic acid with a gentle complex of fruit AHAs, then added soothing, hydrating hyaluronic acid and sodium PCA. We recommend applying it to cleansed skin with a cotton pad once or twice weekly, then following it with your favorite serums, moisturizers, and facial oils.
HOW CAN I HEAL WEAKENED SKIN?
First things first: Stop. Just stop. You'll want to quit using exfoliators entirely for four to six weeks, or about as long as one full skin regeneration cycle. In the meantime, stick to a very basic, gentle routine: a non-lathering cleanser, a very basic moisturizer or facial oil, and as always, SPF. At the four-to-six-week mark, you can slowly start incorporating your active ingredients again, including weekly exfoliation. Here's to happier skin!