Are You Over Exfoliating?

Exfoliating toners have been super big in the beauty community as of late and they seem to be something that everyone swears by for brighter, clearer - and just generally better - skin. For those of us who are regularly updated on our Bloglovin feed and Youtube beauty channels, it's very easy to get sucked up into the hype when a trend like this emerges. As it turns out, regular exfoliation is not something that works out for me. It really ruined my skin and it took a long time for me to fix the problems that over-exfoliation created, and I had to learn the hard way that we should always take a step back to evaluate "Is this trend really good for my skin?" before jumping on the bandwagon.  

When we exfoliate with physical scrubs or chemical exfoliants, we are taking dead skin cells off of the stratum corneum, which is the top layer of the epidermis. This layer is responsible for protecting the underlying skin tissue from any infection and physical stress. The stratum corneum contains a network of proteins that prevent the skin from becoming dehydrated by preventing evaporation, as well as give skin that sort of plump, bouncy texture when you touch it. Given the importance of the stratum corneum, we can conclude that maintaining a healthy stratum corneum is essential for healthy skin, and that a damaged stratum corneum will result in a myriad of skin problems. 

We've probably all heard that it takes 28 days for the skin to renew itself, which means that it takes 28 days for the dead skin cells in the stratum corneum to naturally shed off and be replaced by skin cells migrating up from the deeper layers of the epidermis. This is true for skin when you're in your 20's or younger. As we age, this renewal process slows down, and it may take 30, 40, 50, or more days. As a result, the stratum corneum becomes thicker. Fine lines and wrinkles begin to appear, the skin starts to lose its plumpness and becomes more dry. At this point, regular exfoliation can be beneficial to thin out the stratum corneum and push along the skin renewal process. For young skin, this isn't really necessary and can result in the stratum corneum becoming damaged if it becomes too thin.

Another thing to consider is that the thickness of the stratum corneum can vary between individuals for genetic reasons, such as ethnicity. The exfoliating toner fad emerged from the UK beauty blogger community, primarily bloggers who are Caucasian. A bit of research led me to find out that Asian skin, particuarly East Asian skin, has a much thinner stratum corneum than Caucasian skin. The stratum corneum in Asian skin is easily damaged, and Asian women take particular care to maintain a healthy stratum corneum in their extensive skincare routines. 

Now on to my own personal experience. Being Chinese and in the 20's category myself, at this point you can probably predict that exfoliating toners/pads everyday and exfoliating treatments twice a week turned out very badly for me. The picture shows some of the products I purchased during my "wow exfoliation is going to be the best thing in the world" phase. I'll definitely be passing them on to friends, because this exfoliating routine made my skin very, very irritated. I had a lot of redness on my face and was breaking out much more than usual. Many beauty bloggers swear by exfoliating to get rid of acne scars, but I think mine looked a lot worse both because my skin was so red and because my skin was probably dehydrated. 

Thankfully, I eventually figured out that regular exfoliation is not for me. I think I went through this exfoliation phase around January or February this year, and it has taken until now for my skin to become balanced again. I still do exfoliate but I've moved on to very gentle options such as the CURE Natural Aqua Peeling Gel (It causes the "waste" dead skin to ball up when you apply it so you can just wash it off. A really weird but effective product) or enzyme washing powders (which I will be talking about in a post very soon!), and I exfoliate much less frequently. 

If you are experiencing skin that is easily irritated and prone to breakouts, you may want to consider cutting down on the exfoliating and really focus on hydrating the skin. For me, the real secret to better skin is thorough makeup removal followed by a gentle cleanse and lots and lots and lots of hydration. 


  1. Hi Cindy, I loved reading this post! As a few months back I too had stepped in to the exfoliating zone and realised how sensitive my skin had become. I totally agree lots and lots of hydration definitely is the secret to healthy skin! Sabina

  2. I'm glad that you could relate! Recently, I've been using hydrating sheet masks everyday and it has really done wonders for my skin.


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