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What Over-Exfoliating Looks Like

Over-exfoliation: it can happen to anyone. While we may think we are doing our due diligence removing dead skin cells, dirt and excess oil from our face, we might be doing more harm than good. Mount Kisco, NY, dermatologist David E. Bank, MD, says the telltale signs of over-exfoliated skin include redness, flaking, irritation and sometimes a burning sensation. Also, if your skin is very dry, this might be a symptom as well.

So how and why does this happen? “Often, people unwittingly use multiple skin care products that contain exfoliating agents (i.e. retinol, glycolic acid, salicylic acid) or use a physical scrub/exfoliant in addition to a chemical exfoliant,” says New York dermatologist Julia Tzu, MD. It’s important to only use one type of exfoliating ingredient and only use it once or twice a week. Here is a guide Dr. Tzu recommends according to your skin type:

: exfoliate once or twice a week
: exfoliate once a week
: exfoliate once a week
: exfoliate once or twice a week

“Also, be careful when using towels and cloths to dry your face,” says Dr. Bank. “They can be irritating to over-exfoliated skin,” he says.

To heal over-exfoliated skin, Dr. Tzu recommends you use a gentle nonfoaming facial cleanser when cleansing your face. She also says to avoid sun exposure and “anti-aging” creams and to let the skin heal completely before restarting your new, toned-down exfoliation routine.


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