Unconventional skincare advice: stop exfoliating (and why I did it)

Written by Jenny Wu
Jenny Wu

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  1. Rachel says:

    This is such an insightful post! Boy, do I wish I found it months ago! I went through a year of trying to fix random little breakouts to being prescribed not one but TWO chemical exfoliants TWICE per day by a dermatologist, and couldn’t figure out why my skin went from bad to much much worse. I’m talking one inflamed angry pimple after the other leaving me plenty of scarring. I finally stopped using exfoliants 1.5 weeks ago and am following the exact same regimen as you, and it’s working!!! Only one new breakout that was probably brewing underneath and that’s been it. I personally love the Biossance repair cream but it’s so expensive (shoot I’ve spent so much on random skincare crap I don’t even care). Is Nivea the only moisturizer you’re using?
    Long story short, thank you for this post, you’re literally doing the lords work!! For real!

  2. Dianne says:

    I’ve discovered that our skin naturally exfoliates every 28days .I’ve been sick so I couldn’t do my usual skincare routine including using a chemical exfoliator 3 months of not using any exfoliator and a very minum routine of just hydrating night cream like niver and clarins no actives at all my skin is better than it’s every been its bright hydrated plump bouncy fresh looking so letting it naturally exfoliate itself and using hydrating night cream with no actives my skin naturally sorted itself out saving me so much time and money

  3. Diego says:

    Thank you for your post! I exercise a lot outdoors so I do feel the need to exfoliate my face about every 1-2 weeks. Which face scrub would you recommend? I have very dry skin, currently using Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Face Cleanser and Nivea Cream daily. I loved using the Clinique Face Scrub but would like to try a more budget-friendly alternative

  4. Amber says:

    Awesome post! Thank you for sharing. My skin is sensitive too and although I love the glow from exfoliating, I had a feeling that it might be too harsh for me.

  5. sn says:

    stumbled on similar results myself, exfoliation is not bad but maybe not so often and not 3 times a week

  6. Elli says:

    Hi Jenny,
    great content, thank you so much for the advice, I’ve been looking for this kind of content everwhere! Do you have a recommendation for a gentle face wash, just water doesn’t work for me unfortunately. It leaves my skin with a dry and tight feeling :(

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Elli, I really like the Cerave Hydrating Cleanser (reviewed here), which is what I used when my skin was sensitive from tretinoin. I’d start with their small bottle to see if it works for you before committing to the large bottle. Other gentle cleansers I like are the Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, the H2O+ Hydration Sensitive Gel Cleanser, and the Holifrog Tashmoo Cleanser, but I honestly think you get the best value with the Cerave.

      Another option you can try is cleansing with micellar water (which does need to be rinsed off afterwards!). The Bioderma Hydrabio (reviewed here was incredibly moisturizing and I actually used it as a morning cleanser.

      No matter which one you try I hope it works for you!

  7. Tinna says:

    This makes a lot of sense! When I was younger I almost obsessively exfoliated and think I did more harm than damage….I have found that coffee is good and works well for my skin type.

  8. Bijin says:

    Thanks for your article,
    Indeed, too much peeling and exfoliator’s ingrédients everywhere even masked into some skin care products claiming brightness and whitening. Results on sensitive skins are pretty bad such as atopy, redness, itching…
    We have to be careful on what we buy and try to decode ingredients list on each purchase. tough job but worth it !^^

  9. Bernadette says:

    I think many of us do tend to over exfoliate our skin way too much. I’ll admit I love me a good exfoliation but i due try and moderate it and not do it daily. Great post, it was super informative!


  10. little luxury list says:

    Wow, I loved the infographic in the beginning and this all just makes sense. I don’t think I exfoliate that much but I am guilty of not moisturizing that much which may also lead to some of my dull skin problems. I do love a good exfoliant though and won’t do it as often now. Thanks for the information and I’m glad to have stopped by (coming over from Shireen and Kim’s blogs!)

  11. I really enjoyed this informative post. I’m not very knowledgeable with skincare and this was really helpful.

    Jennifer | Mrs Q Beauty

  12. This is such a great informative post. I do exfoliate but I don’t do it as often as what I see and hear some people do and felt like I was perhaps doing something wrong. I agree on keeping things simple. A bit of exfoliation is ok and I don’t think I would stop – but everyday is not necessary.

    I suppose though as bloggers we try so many different products and it can become difficult not to end up overdoing it!

    Thanks for sharing x


  13. This is a bit scary Jenny! I can’t tell if I have more redness or not from physical exfoliating but I’ve been doing it every other day and sometimes everyday. I have really dry skin and I bet it’s the result of over exfoliating. I guess I’ll have to stop it to rebuild the barrier…I’m also using a vitamin C but it has L-Ascorbic Acid in it, which you recommended not using but it’s helping with my redness (what do???) should I just use it less frequently? And if so how many days a week would you recommend? I’m kinda freaking out with this one. One of my biggest insecurity is the redness on my face and I’m trying to fix that…Thank you for such an informative post!

  14. Ladyofashion says:

    Interesting post. I do exfoliate but since I have sensitive skin and allergies I use natural exfoliants and mild chemical peel, but not often. I think it’s important to know your skin, we all have different skin types, and just like diets, all types/brands are not for everyone. I agree, the potency with some exfoliants are harsh and can damage your skin. I once used an exfoliant and it literally made my skin feel raw. I actually have minimised a lot of my skincare recently, which has helped my skin.

  15. I used to exfoliate all the time but accidentally I’ve decided to stop and from that time I use exfoliators once for like 1-2 weeks, I feel like my skin looks better when I don’t use strong chemical peelings or mechanical ones, I break out less often and my skin isn’t dry anymore. I think that people are so scared of Vaseline and Mineral Oil because they think it’s related to petroleum which they strongly connect to fuel and they are sure that both these substances are corrupted. I was bit in shock when all my friends who buy only natural products told me that vaseline is bad while other friend suggested me that vaseline can help me with my skin.

  16. Alyssa says:

    I totally agree to your post! But I didn’t totally stop exfoliating. I only do it once or twice a month, depends on my breakout. And the rest of my skincare routine are all hydrating products. I notice my skin is much better when I focused on hydrating and aloe vera or water-based products :)

    xx Alyssa | STYLE VANITY

  17. Cat L says:

    Such a great post Jenny and I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for raising awareness. Exfoliation isn’t for everybody. I think the most important lesson I learned along the way is to listen to my skin. I have sensitive fussy skin and exfoliating more than once a week (sometimes even once every two weeks) is just not gonna work for me. Loved the post, and of course your photography is always stunning! Well done!
    ~ Cat L.

  18. This is such a great post and I’ve learnt a lot! I never knew exfoliating could damage our skin! I used to love exfoliating but these days it’s something I don’t really do. I loved this post and can’t wait to read more of your future blog posts! x

    Cyber Mermaids | Alternative beauty, fashion and lifestyle blog

  19. Mariya says:

    What an interesting read, I’ve never thought about it before. I just knew that we shouldn’t do it more than twice a week. Now I know why.

  20. Gabrielle says:

    I can totally see how and why constant exfoliators damage your moisture barrier. Eek! I only exfoliate 2-3 times a week and so I’m not super concerned, but this has definitely reminded me never to become a daily exfoliator! Thanks for the hugely informative post babe :) Have a fabulous weekend!

    Gabrielle | A Glass Of Ice | Worldwide Giveaway: Hotel Chocolat Valentine’s Heart Chocolate Box! x

  21. Amy says:

    This was such an interesting read! I have to admit I absolutely love my exfoliators and retinols so the thought of skipping them fills me with horror. BUT, I do have persistent redness I can’t seem to shift so maybe I need a 28 day detox at some point to see the difference. I’m bookmarking this and will work my way up to setting aside my beloved acids for a month (eek!).


  22. Becky says:

    Woah, who knew?! I think my skin is experiencing the same thing, which is funny cause I mentioned it in that clay masks post I did with the Kiehls turmeric mask making my skin burn when it didn’t happen when I first used it.

    I used to exfoliate daily with a chemical exfoliator, but then I just got lazy and dialed it back to once weekly or biweekly. So far I haven’t noticed any significant changes, so that must be a good sign! It’s good to know my laziness is somewhat paying off, haha.

    becky @ star violet

  23. Emily says:

    This is a great post! I loved that you got into the science of it. Honestly, I see so many people who treat their skin so harshly without knowing it. Personally I tend to stay away from exfoliating scrubs and exfoliating masks all together, and then about once a week I will use an exfoliator that’s decently gentle. I couldn’t imagine what my skin would feel like if I did that three times a week! Yuck. I do think you should be using a toner quite frequently. I use one every other day, but only because when it’s 10pm I am too lazy haha.

    -Emily http://www.coatandcoffee.com

  24. Élise says:

    i’ve heard some people exfoliate 4 times a week and that kind of baffles me. even before i read about what you’ve written, i have had the feeling that over-exfoliating or exfoliating too often is bad. i have oily t-zone and normal cheeks so i love exfoliation but i only do it like once a week? because i prefer doing mask 3-4x / week (not sure if this is a good idea or not but i like it for my skin. i do clay mask and hydrating mask in a ratio of 2:2 or 3:1 per week, i guess) sometimes i change things up by exfoliating 2x/week and doing mask 2x/week to balance things out. i almost, almost over exfoliated once but i had to stop because i felt like the redness on my nose was getting worse. now i’m all about hydration (not moisture though. i heard that what oily skin needs is hydration, not moisture. i wonder how much of that is true)

    speaking of exfoliation, i wanna stop using physical exfoliating scrub too. i feel like those granules aren’t ideal for me anymore. i want something softer thus resorting to aha bha peeling face wash instead (aka the hada labo tamagohada one)

  25. Esnath Moyo says:

    Firstly is it true about Nivea? Really can it be compared to Lamer? Very interesting ????.
    2nd You hit the nail on the head Jenny over exfoliating is actually an issue thanks to our cravings for baby smooth skin. I have naturally sensitive skin so have never been on the exfoliating train much. I exfoliate once a month but the number of people have have noticed having issues with their skin due to over exfoliation has increased. And some of them don’t even know it. I will be putting a link to this article on my Instastories for people to read this is great skin advice which equates to health care ‘smile’.
    Esnath @prettypeachblossom.com

    • Jenny says:

      I don’t think it’s a 100% dupe, but I’d it’s 85% similar, since they use the same occlusive ingredients, mainly mineral oil and petrolatum. So in terms of preventing water loss they will provide very similar results, but at very different price points ???? And thank you again for sharing this post, appreciate the support Esnath!

  26. This is an incredibly well written post Jenny, as always! I’m one who can’t exfoliate as it breaks my skin out on top of other problems! Every single skincare counters and demos during PR events insist that I’m just doing something wrong. Look, I know my skin and I think I know when something isn’t right for me!

    These days, I don’t exfoliate as much – I use gentle scrubs (like the ones from Lush) to slough off the dead cells without over-exfoliating!

    P.S. Wasn’t aware of the 28 days cycle – this is really helpful!

    Stephanie | theFantasia.com

  27. Yara Mel Rozaay says:

    Girl this post is a game-changer! I am sooo baffled. I bought the Clarins Exfoliant and never got to use because of the sensitivity it can bring to the skin if SPF isn’t used. But I’ve always felt a little hesitant of using such strong product. I usually never trust the hype and now I know why – you have A point. How can it be good to treat skin that regularly with strong acids and all that? Feels a bit too harsh for me but again it might work for older skins maybe? Love your points though!

    Thanks for sharing!


  28. Shireen says:

    Another brilliantly written post, Jenny! I do exfoliate and I use a milder one these days and I find that my skin reacts better to it. I use a physical exfoliator once a week and chemical ones once every day if it’s Cosrx AHA/BHA toner and once every two days if it’s WishTrend 5% Mandelic Acid. I definitely noticed ore breakouts whenever I over do it so everything should be in moderation. xx

    Shireen⎜Reflection of Sanity

  29. Listening to your skin more than listening to what brands tell you is the key. My skin is combination/oily and introducing chemical exfoliants improved it a lot. But as you said: in moderation! I either use a mild exfoliant about five times a week or a strong one once or twice a week. Less in winter, more in summer, and that is what works best for my skin.

    The 28 days cycle as reference is helpful, but we need to keep in mind that it is an average estimation and hugely dependend on genetics, age and lifestyle. And, even though it may read like that in some publications (not here!), it isn´t a process that happens every 28 days, but rather a continuos process, which is why to me using a gentle exfoliant more often makes more sense than using a strong one every month. One swipe of pixi Glow Tonic will not get rid of all the top layer, but rather help loosen a few cells on top.

    As we age, cells aren´t shed as easily, which often results in textured and dull skin. But as always there is no number we can put on it, like “above 35 you definitely need help”. It, again, comes down to genetics, lifestyle and other things.

    My bottom line? I think we should all exfoliate, but how often is a very personal thing. My skin needs a lot of help, others need less, and if we all listen to our skins needs, like you recommend, we will figure out what works for us.

    Oh, and of course I wholeheartedly agree: Exfoliation isn´t the solution to all skin issues. It helps target a specific concern, but just like the claim: “Every skin needs a moisturizer” is wrong, the claim: “Exfoliation will solve all your concerns” is wrong as well.
    A very insightful and well-written post!

    Anne|Linda, Libra, Loca

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you for the additional info Anne, and you raise some excellent points for why exfoliation can be beneficial! In the age where brands are telling each of us that we need all these different products, it’s more important than ever to listen our skin’s actual needs!

  30. What a wonderful post, Jenny! So informative and you are absolutely right. I guess, we tend to be a touch excessive when it comes to skincare. Doesn’t matter what part of it, but I often see people (or I do so myself) over-cleanse, over-exfoliate, over-moisturize. I am also amazed how some use a mix of five oils and ten serums altogether as part of their nighttime routine, when I (with super dry skin) can only tolerate one oil at a time! I must admit I can get a bit too carried away with my exfoliators too and knowing about the 28 day cycle will be a good reminder to take it easy xx

  31. Frl Schnee says:

    I have been worrying a lot about some people that seem to overexfoliate using chemical and mechanical exfoliatorsall together and I’m happy about reading your post here! I have a simple rule: when I’m using chemical exfoliation I never ever use any mechanical exfoliation on the same period of time. Also, I try to keep the days few during a week…Let’s say: 1-3 times a week depending on the strength of the chemical, keeping my skin happy inbetween with lipid-rich and hydrating products. I think, for example, that chemical exfoliators helps for flaking skin and blackheads, but if you have skin that works as it should you do not need any exfoliation. Thanks for the great article!
    MissLaven from Berries in the Snow <3

  32. Narhee says:

    Wow I had no idea! These are great points

    Narhee | Made in Mauve

  33. You certainly made a strong case for/against exfoliation Jenny. I think as with all things, moderation is key and we should take a cue from the condition of our skin in order to decide how much and how to exfoliate. I actually stepped back from exfoliation awhile back because i had read that overdoing it can result in hyperpigmentation which is my biggest skincare concern. I generally just go once a week with my Drunk Elephant Babyfacial now.

  34. Camilla says:

    You make some great points Jenny! I’m definitely trying to fix things using the internal route by cleaning up my diet (I’ve literally quit sugar and dairy completely). I feel so much better in general and I’m hoping my skin heals faster too! I agree that there’s been too much focus on exfoliation lately, I feel like 1/2 the pr offers I’ve gotten in the past few months have been for exfoliants — it feels like every skincare brand is trying to jump on that train!

  35. Megan says:

    Hm interesting. Luckily for me I don’t really use these much (if at all). I think the most I’ve used is the shower ones for your body (salt scrubs), don’t bother too much with the face. Something to keep in mind though!

  36. Very informative post Jen! I definitely see where you are coming from. I think too much of anything is bad. I only exfoliate once a week. Lately, I haven’t been doing that (every two weeks). It works for me. Daily is excessive for any skin type. Great post!

  37. Sam says:

    For someone who has a tendency to jump on bandwagons easily, this was a refreshing post to read! I tend to exfoliate a bit randomly, when I feel like my skin is really clogged or when I think I haven’t done it in a while. It probably isn’t the best system, but I’m seeing all these videos like “MY MOISTURE BARRIER IS RUINED – HOW I FIXED IT” so I’m a little gun shy anyway, lol. I do wish more people would talk about the importance of hydrated skin and what a difference it could make though!

    Sam / My Beauty Cloud

  38. Olga Olis says:

    Such an awesome read! I like exfoliating once or twice a week but if I see any signs of sensitivity I immediatelly stop. Plus I use oils and hydrating essences and moisturizers and masks. As you said the secret to awesome skin is pretty much hydration! I loved the post so much!

    Olga from Myme

  39. Hm, actually this makes a lot of sense! I was using the Schaf exfoliant about 2-3 times a week and my skin was still breaking out. Then I ran out and my skin started to clear up, but then I started using the Acure Brightening scrub and I’ve noticed that I’m breaking out again AND my skin has been super dry. I’m going to take a break from exfoliating and see if it makes a difference in the next couple weeks. After that I might do it weekly at most! Great information, I really enjoyed reading this!


  40. Sal UmmBaby says:

    Such a great read and I definitely know that I have to strip back on exfoliating every few weeks because it gets too much for my skin. Now reading this it all makes sense. I could definitely not give up exfoliating but I think I need to reduce the frequency big time because when I had to stick to cleanse & hydrate routines last week, my skin couldn’t have looked and felt happier. Great tips as well, I will be sticking to those as best I can xxx

  41. Alice Red says:

    This is a really interesting post! As someone with sensitive skin, it’s refreshing to see someone recommending a step back from chemical exfoliants. I always thought my skin looked better when I skipped that step!


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