Once and for All: How Often Do You *Really* Need to Exfoliate?

Why is everyone telling me different things?!


If we're using Ikea furniture as a difficulty scale, exfoliating is one of those coffee tables with six pieces and barely any drilling. But deciding how often to use a washcloth/brush/scrub is like assembling a trundle bed with seven different instruction manuals in seven different, non-Romance languages you don't speak. Once a week? Two times? Every day? To quiet the wailing in your head—you know, from sorting through all the conflicting reports—we consulted board-certified dermatologists Dr. Hadley King and Dr. Rachel Nazarian at Schweiger Dermatology Group. Caution: You might not like what you're about to hear.

So which is it?

Well...there really is no consensus amongst derms, but the most common answer is once or twice a week. Dr. King advises observing how your skin reacts before you increase the frequency, up to daily, and making sure you pay extra attention when the weather changes: "You may find that you can exfoliate more often during warm, humid months and less often in the winter when our skin is generally drier and more easily irritated," she says.

Okay. So how do I tell if I'm doing it too often or not often enough?

"Over-exfoliation will leave your skin red, tender, and sensitive," says Dr. Nazarian. Too little, and your complexion will look rough and dull and prevent topical ingredients from absorbing properly.

But what if I'm using different exfoliation methods?

Let's break it down here:

  • Because rotating brushes can be irritating if the bristles are stiff, Dr. Nazarian says, they should really be limited to once or twice weekly. Those with softer bristles can be used more often.
  • Washcloths can be used nearly daily, although, ugh, more laundry—unless you like smearing bacteria around on your mug.
  • Chemical exfoliants depend on the strength. Ones with higher concentrations of glycolic acid should be limited to once weekly.
  • Scrubs give you more control because you can vary the pressure you apply when you're making those little circles. Dr. King says you might find you can tolerate higher frequency with lighter pressure.

    I might have gone overboard. How should I treat my skin?

    Ouch. First, give yourself a break for a few days and only use bland creams and cleansers like Cetaphil, Dr. King says. "Temporarily discontinue any products that may increase irritation, such as topical acne medications and anti-aging creams. You may also apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% cream twice daily for a few days."

    Even if you haven't accidentally overdone it, remember to use sunscreen often, Dr. Nazarian says. You don't want an oxidized crust on top of your raw-meat face, do you? Didn't think so.

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