Over Exfoliated Skin: 6 Things To Know

“Exfoliation is integral to a complete skincare routine, but don’t overdo it!”


Have you ever wondered why your skin can get red and irritated after exfoliation? You could be exfoliating too much.

We know how satisfying it can be to exfoliate and how tempting it is to exfoliate daily. However, over-exfoliating can really damage your skin. Read on for more information on over-exfoliating and how you can avoid it.

Why Exfoliate Skin?

Exfoliation is an essential part of every skincare routine, but why? Your skin naturally exfoliates itself about once a month, but it’s also important to manually exfoliate every so often.

Dead skin cells can pile up on the surface of your skin, especially if you have dry skin. This layer of dead skin cells makes it hard for your skin to absorb moisture and skincare products, so it’s crucial to remove these dead cells in order to maintain healthy skin. 

Exfoliation can also reduce the appearance of fine lines. Fine lines typically reside in the uppermost layer of skin and are often the result of skin aging or sun damage. 

Finally, a regular exfoliation routine can help diminish the appearance of dark spots and blemishes. The exfoliant removes the top layer of hyperpigmented skin to reduce the look of dark spots over time and can also unclog pores and reduce the appearance of blemish-related scars.

When Should You Exfoliate Your Skin?

If you want to include an exfoliant in your skincare routine, it’s important to complete this step in the right order. If you complete your skincare steps in the wrong order, you might experience extra irritation and possibly even skin damage.

Exfoliation should come after toner if you’re using one and before hydrating serum or moisturizer. Toner helps ensure your skin is prepped and ready for the rest of your skincare line-up and should be used after cleansing. 

We recommend exfoliating on clean skin to get the most out of your exfoliant. Additionally it’s best to alternate nights with your favorite exfoliant and any active treatment serums such as Retinol Reform or Lactic Acid Serum. To prevent irritation and get the most benefit out of all of these powerful treatments, it’s recommended to use them on different nights.

After exfoliating, you can apply a hydrating serum followed by a great moisturizer for your skin type. Your hydrating products will absorb further into your newly resurfaced skin.

What Types of Exfoliants Are There?

When choosing what exfoliator is best for your skin, you must consider whether to use chemical or physical exfoliators. Each has its perks, but ultimately it comes down to your skin type and sensitivity.


Chemical exfoliants use chemical components like alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, or retinoids to remove dead skin cells. These exfoliants unstick dead skin cells from each other, and they typically help support proper cell turnover to keep your skin fresh.

Popular chemical exfoliants include lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid, salicylic acid, and retinol. These exfoliants are handy because they combine the exfoliant and the serum into the same product, but they may also increase sun sensitivity. If you use a chemical exfoliant, you’ll want to make sure to stock up on SPF 30 sunscreen to keep your skin healthy and bright. 

An interesting subclass of chemical exfoliants is enzymatic exfoliants. These chemicals work by breaking down enzymes in your outer layer of skin to remove the dead skin gently. Usually derived from fruit, enzymatic exfoliants include bromelain and papain. These come from pineapple and papaya, respectively.

Some serums contain exfoliating chemicals that will do the job for you. These helpful products exfoliate and nourish your skin for a dual effect. 

One of our favorite exfoliating serums is Shani’s Lactic Acid Serum. This serum is formulated with lactic acid to provide gentle exfoliation, soothing hydration, and instant brightening.


Physical exfoliation involves using a physical object to gently buff and polish the top layer of your skin. This may seem very straightforward, but there are many kinds of physical exfoliators.

Some gentle physical exfoliators include lightly textured gloves or wands, brushes, and washcloths. These exfoliating devices use texture and repetitive movement to break up dead skin cells and remove them from the surface of your skin.

Some harsher exfoliating devices include sugar or salt scrubs and more heavily textured gloves or wands. These devices scrub your skin more rigorously to remove more of your dead skin cells. This may sound like the best option, but they can often cause a lot of irritation and microtears in the skin. 

Another type of physical exfoliator is a dermaplaning tool. These tools use extremely fine razors to scrape off dead skin cells while also removing fine hairs and evening skin texture.

What Is Over Exfoliation?

Over-exfoliation is when you exfoliate too much, too often, or too harshly. Your dead skin cells don’t build up overnight, so if you exfoliate nightly, your exfoliant will likely irritate your freshly revealed skin.

6 Signs of Over Exfoliation

One of the hard things about exfoliation is that the signs of over-exfoliating are often the very skin conditions that you’re trying to exfoliate away in the first place. Here are some ways you can tell whether or not you’re over-exfoliating.

1. Skin Irritation

Over-exfoliated skin is likely to be itchy and irritated. When you exfoliate, you remove dead cell buildup to reveal new skin. This new skin is not used to abrasive tools or chemical exfoliants.

When you exfoliate more than you should, this new skin is exposed to exfoliants before it’s ready. This can lead to irritation that can often be uncomfortable, itchy, dry, or tight. 

2. Redness

Irritated skin is typically easy to spot because of redness. Many times, dry skin tends to be itchy and red.

You may also see redness simply because of blood circulation. If your redness persists and increases after you exfoliate, then the redness may be your skin trying to communicate that something’s wrong.

3. Dryness

As your over-exfoliation worsens, your skin can become dry and flaky. Dry skin builds up dead skin cells faster, so you’re more likely to see a layer of dead skin over the surface of your skin.

This layer of dead skin can cause dry skin to look very dull. You may also see more redness than usual with dry skin. Your skin may also feel tight and uneven to the touch.

4. Uneven Texture

Dry skin, acne, and blemishes can lead to an uneven skin texture. When dead skin builds up and begins to flake, you may feel patches of scaly skin among patches of smooth skin.

This is especially true if you have combination skin. If you have combination skin, you’re more likely to feel dry and flaky patches around your cheeks and chin. Meanwhile, you probably won’t experience dryness around your eyes, eyebrows, and nose.

5. Breakouts

Interestingly, over-exfoliation can cause breakouts. This is because your skin is sensitive and irritated, but also because it can cause your skin to dry out. When your skin becomes stripped and dry, your sebum production may increase, leading to excess sebum and breakouts. Overexfoliating can also cause your skin to become inflamed, which in turn causes breakouts.

Dead skin cells from dry skin can sometimes clog pores and develop blemishes. Even though you might view exfoliating as your cure for blemishes, going overboard can increase your breakouts.

How Can You Fix Over Exfoliated Skin?

If you think you have over-exfoliated skin, it’s okay. We have a few recommendations to help you nurse your skin back to a healthy glow.

Lay Off the Exfoliants

The first thing you should do is take a break from your exfoliating routine. Since exfoliating is causing the irritation, we recommend taking several days off from exfoliating.

This might seem counterintuitive because you may think that exfoliating is designed to counteract dryness, uneven skin, and breakouts. However, taking a break can help you determine if over-exfoliation is causing your skin woes.

Use a Soothing Serum

We also recommend using a soothing serum in place of an exfoliant, especially if you’re used to chemical exfoliators. soothing serums often target redness while calming irritation and restoring moisture to dry skin.

We recommend iS Clinical’s Hydra-Cool Serum, which includes hyaluronic acid and mushroom extracts to help soothe your irritated skin. Hyaluronic acid is a hero ingredient in many hydrating formulas because it is a component of your body’s natural hydration mechanisms. It helps your skin create and retain natural moisture while also calming redness and irritation.

Repairing Moisturizer

Since over-exfoliation can lead to extremely dry skin, we recommend using a repairing moisturizer to restore hydration to your skin. You may want to look into thicker moisturizers like emulsions. 

Emulsions are designed to fill in the tiny cracks in your dry skin to infuse moisture. Depending on your skin type, you can also look into lotions and ointments. If you have oily skin, you should avoid pore-clogging formulas and ingredients.

We recommend iS Clinical’s Reparative Moisture Emulsion. This moisturizer is formulated with hyaluronic acid and an exclusive blend of enzymes, making it perfect for extra-dry skin.

How Can You Prevent Over Exfoliation?

Of course, the best way to fix over-exfoliation is to prevent it in the first place. Here are our top tips on how to prevent over-exfoliation in the future.

Don’t Exfoliate Every Night

One of the easiest ways to accidentally over-exfoliate your skin is to exfoliate every night. We know it’s helpful to have a consistent nightly routine, but exfoliation is not intended for nightly use.

Instead, try exfoliating one to two times a week. Letting your skin breathe between exfoliators is an incredibly important part of preventing over-exfoliation. 

If you feel like even exfoliating twice a week is causing your skin to be irritated, try scaling back to once a week. Ultimately, you know your skin best, and you should listen to what it communicates to you.

Depending on your skin type, you may be able to use Lactic Acid Serum nightly or 5 nights a week, alternating with a chemical/physical exfoliant such as the Dr. Dennis Gross Peel Pads

Moisturize Always

Hydrated skin is much more resilient to stress, so you can help prevent irritation from over-exfoliation by moisturizing regularly. Your moisturizer should be formulated for your skin type so that you can use it daily without triggering a skin issue.

You should moisturize every time you wash your face (which should be every morning, evening, and whenever you sweat), and also every time you shower or dry your skin out.

We also recommend using lukewarm water to keep your skin hydrated when washing your face. Lukewarm water has less of a chance of drying your skin out and causing irritation.

Another thing that can dry your skin out is sun damage. We recommend using a sunscreen that uses at least SPF 30 to protect your skin from harmful UV radiation that can cause dryness. We love one that doubles as your daily moisturizer such as Supergoop’s Play Everyday Lotion SPF 50.

Check Your Skincare Products

Finally, check your skincare products. If you use chemical exfoliants, you may have accidentally doubled up on your exfoliants in your routine.

Check your ingredients list for AHAs, BHAs, retinoids, and enzymatic chemical exfoliants. You are most likely to find these ingredients in serums, but you can also find them in cleansers, toners, and even moisturizers. 

Final Thoughts

Exfoliating can benefit your skin, but only when done in moderation. Over-exfoliating can cause issues like redness, dryness, irritation, and even breakouts.

You can fix over-exfoliated skin by staying away from exfoliants and adding products to your skincare routine designed to restore and protect your skin’s hydration. You can also avoid over-exfoliation by regularly cutting down your exfoliating routine, moisturizing, and auditing your skincare routine to make sure you’re using all the right products for your skin type. 



Exfoliative Skin-peeling, Benefits from This Procedure and Our Experience | PubMed Central

Impact of Epidermal Desquamation on Tissue Stores of Iron | PubMed Central

5 Ways to Exfoliate Your Skin Without Irritation | Cleveland Clinic