After a long day facing the elements—whether it's smog or humidity—exfoliating is a great way to feel clean and fresh-faced again. Most exfoliators contain tiny, sandlike particles that help scrape away dead skin cells, revealing brighter, softer, healthier-looking skin. So if exfoliating is so great, you should do it every day, right?
Not so fast: Just like too much of anything in life is never a good thing, overexfoliating can do more harm than good.
When it comes to exfoliating, it's important to ride the fine line between too often and not often enough. Even for those with normal skin type, exfoliating every day can lead to excessive dryness, irritation, redness and even broken blood vessels. But not exfoliating enough can cause a buildup of skin cells, which may clog pores and lead to breakouts. So what's the great skin sweet spot? It all depends on your skin type and the kind of exfoliator you're using, says Amy Wechsler, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist. "For most people, it's a good idea to exfoliate once or twice a week to brush away dead cells and the dull outer layer of skin," she explains. "Finding the right exfoliator is a practice that requires experimentation to see how abrasive of an exfoliator your skin can handle."
There are two kinds of exfoliators—physical and chemical. Physical exfoliators include scrubs with beads, salt, sugar, or other tiny granules, sloughing sponges, or hand-held devices. Chemical exfoliators contain acids like alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids, which loosen and lift dead cells, leaving new, vibrant skin behind. "Beta hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid, clean out clogged pores and fade brown spots and fine wrinkles," says Wechsler. Indeed, exfoliating of any kind can help fight the signs of aging because it speeds cell turnover.
Since younger people tend to have oilier skin, they'll likely be able to handle more scrubbing (up to three times a week). Older men and women will have a thinner epidermis, which means they should stick to exfoliating just once or twice a week. The trick is remembering that there isn't a one step plan or product for everyone. To create your own exfoliating regimen, see how your skin reacts. If it gets overly dry or red, you know it's time to dial back the scrubbing.
- Wechsler, Amy, M.D. Personal correspondence.