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We all know about the benefits of exfoliation. Since ancient Egyptian times, we have used various methods of exfoliation to remove dead skin cells, soften and brighten the skin, and maintain the skin’s overall health.

When comparing my experiences in Europe versus in the US, it seems that in this country in particular, women love to scrub, scrub, and scrub some more. Is there such a thing as over-exfoliation, and if so what are its causes and consequences?

Definition of exfoliation

Exfoliation is the process of ridding the skin of its outermost superficial layer, mostly dead cells, in order to increase its health, luminosity, and brightness. Exfoliation can also stimulate the activity of fibroblasts and collagen.

Types of exfoliation

Exfoliation can be achieved either mechanically or chemically.

  1. Mechanical exfoliation:
    This type of exfoliation involves the use of an abrasive product. This can be as gentle as washing one’s face with a washcloth (the cloth is slightly abrasive) to a microdermabrasion treatment using crystals. In between, the use of an exfoliating scrub containing natural beads such as cranberry beads, or salt or sugar. On the body, the use of sponges and loofahs also serve to exfoliate the skin.
  2. Chemical exfoliation:
    Chemical exfoliation does not include an abrasive product. There is no physical scrubbing action, but rather a chemical reaction. This type of exfoliation involves chemicals, most often acids and enzymes. Chemical peels (which can be superficial, medium, or deep) are the most common form of chemical exfoliation.

What is over-exfoliation?

Over-exfoliation is, as the word clearly explains, too much exfoliation. This can be caused at home by excessive use of product or exfoliating implements (loofas etc.), or at a spa or medical office by an overly aggressive microdermabrasion treatment or peel.

What are the symptoms of over-exfolation?

Over-exfoliation leads to excessive dryness of the skin. As such, the symptoms of over-exfoliation are similar to symptoms of overly dry skin: roughness to the touch, redness, and cracking.

The consequences of over-exfoliation

When the skin is over-exfoliated, and as such is excessively dry, a number of essential mechanisms are compromised. The skin’s cells lose their flexibility, which increases the incidence of cracking. A loss of the skin’s lipids increases the harmful effects the environment can have (windburns, sunburns, etc.). And the skin feels tight and uncomfortable.

How to avoid over-exfoliation 

Avoid overly aggressive or too frequent microdermabrasion treatments and peels. And use at-home exfoliating products and tools as directed. Furthermore, use moisturizers and at-home hydrating products filled with emollient ingredients, such as natural oils.

Good exfoliation habits

Exfoliators, scrubs, peels, microdermabration treatments, are all words that describe the same process—namely the elimination of dead cells to ensure our skin is soft and silky. Exfoliation is a key step in any healthy skin care routine. But as always, moderation is key. Over-exfoliation can lead not only to feelings of discomfort, but also to compromised skin mechanisms.


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