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How to tell if you're over-exfoliating your skin

Posted by Kelly Andrews on 11 July 2022

Exfoliation is a great way to achieve smooth, plump, and glowing looking skin but beware says Faye Purcell, Product Development Chemist + Skincare Expert at Q+A, as over-exfoliation can result in a damaged skin barrier.

Woman exfoliating her face Faye says, “Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. It helps unclog pores, prevent cell and product build up, maintain a dewy glow, and can even make our other skincare products and ingredients absorb better. But over-exfoliation can also be a common mistake people make and probably the single most significant cause of breakouts”

How can I tell if I’ve over-exfoliated?

Faye says, “Your skin will make it apparent if you've been overdoing it. Some of the tell-tale signs of over-exfoliation include redness, irritation, and dryness and if it stings when you wash your face or apply products, you may be overdoing it. You may also notice changes in the texture of your skin; breakouts in the form of small bumps are a common indicator. A change in the weather can also highlight overuse as your irritated skin may become sensitised to strong sun and wind.”

Faye suggests avoiding harsh physical exfoliators that contain salt, sugar, coffee granules or husks that can also lead to over-exfoliation. “Using both a physical and chemical exfoliator before you've built up your skin tolerance may result in signs of over-exfoliation,” says Faye “You may be able to introduce both into your regime but be sure to do so carefully. Keep a close eye on any changes to your skin – slow and steady wins the race”

How can I repair my skin from over-exfoliation?

“Don't panic, the damage isn't permanent, and you can still save your skin,” says Faye. “The first step in over-exfoliation recovery is to pare down your entire skincare routine. Put your exfoliator to one side and give your skin a chance to repair. If you instantly feel irritation and burning after overuse, then try using a cold compress to start to ease the sensation. If you have caused some damage, you now need to focus on rebuilding and protecting your skin barrier. For this, look for products that include skin-restoring ingredients like ceramides, oats and snow algae. These retain the skin barrier and its moisture levels."

Q+A’s NEW Oat Milk Cream Cleanser, £7.50 is the perfect go-to cleanser for calming ultra-sensitive and stressed-out skin that’s suffering from over-exfoliation. Great at gently cleansing and hydrating the skin and reducing inflammation, its packed full of sustainable oats and organic oat milk and is rich in vitamin E, ceramides, and amino acids to feed the skin and lock in moisture.

Faye goes on to say, “If the outermost layer of the epidermis doesn’t contain enough water or becomes irritated, the skin will lose elasticity and appear rough, flaky, and dry. Q+A Snow Algae Intensive Face Cream, £12 is a really good product for repairing the skin as it contains moisture boosting hyaluronic acid, nourishing shea butter and rejuvenating snow algae. Along with this make sure you're applying SPF daily to help protect your damaged skin and remove any retinol from your routine as it can be overly harsh on irritated skin. Skip exfoliation for a few weeks and opt for a simple and gentle regime.”

How do I prevent it from happening again?

“So, you've over-exfoliated, successfully repaired your skin barrier again and now want to make sure you don't repeat this mistake. Let's talk about good exfoliation practice…   

"Just because you've overdone it, it doesn't mean you should give up on exfoliation forever. Once you notice the tell-tale signs of overuse disappear you can start to reintroduce an exfoliator, but take it slow, try once a week and see how you get on.” Faye recommends taking a similar approach when introducing an exfoliator to your regime for the first time: “Try a gentle exfoliator like our Apple AHA Exfoliating Gel, £8.50. Its 5% AHA blend is perfect for skin that is new to acids or has been damaged in the past by overuse. This one includes a combination of naturally occurring malic and lactic acids alongside apple fruit extracts and glycolic acid. It's super gentle but ultra-effective formula won’t strip the skin of moisture and works a treat at brightening and reducing blemishes and hyperpigmentation."

Faye adds, “Exfoliation is not something anyone should need to repeat daily, on average 2-3 times per week is recommended to avoid stripping your skin of its essential natural oils. If your skin type is dry, then you may need to exfoliate just once per week. But, if you're on the oilier side you could benefit from exfoliating up to three times per week. There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to skincare, but there is one rule we should all follow – the usage instructions. It can be tempting to increase the amount you are using a product if you see results, but this can push you backwards on your journey to healthy skin.”

Find Q+A Skincare at www.qandaskin.com, www.feelunique.com, Holland & Barrett and Sainsbury’s instore and online

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