Should You Be Exfoliating Your Skin Every Day?

Updated 1/16/18. There have been many amazing advancements in skincare the past thirty years since I got my start as an esthetician. One type of product that has been a mainstay and continues to grow in popularity are exfoliants. Between enzymes, acids, retinol, brushes (like Clarisonic) and facial scrubs, should you be using exfoliating products daily?

In this post, I’ll share my expert tips on how to exfoliate safely to avoid harming your skin.

Is exfoliating my face on a daily basis okay?

No. Daily exfoliation is too much for any type of skin, even if you feel as though your skin can tolerate it. While every skin is unique and will respond differently to exfoliating products, it’s important to understand that all skin types require protective cells on the surface to keep it functioning in a healthy way. Constantly stripping off layers of invisible skin cells is destructive to the integrity of the skin. It’s one of the many reasons why I’m not a huge fan of the Clarisonic brush. (Read my thoughts on the Clarisonic here.) Also, liquid acid exfoliating toners are very popular right now and many people are using these twice a day every day. I believe this might be harming your skin. Read my review on liquid acid exfoliating toners.

What will happen if I exfoliate my skin daily?

You’ll create inflammation (even if not visible) and risk moisture loss.

Daily exfoliation can cause:

  • a damaged moisture (lipid) barrier layer resulting in flaking, redness, and underlying inflammation
  • dryness and dehydration (moisture and water will seep out of the cells)
  • potential premature aging due to chronic and prolonged inflammation (even if your skin isn’t showing signs of any problems)
  • destruction of healthy cells
  • stimulation of melanin activity possibly resulting in an increase of hyperpigmentation (brown spots and patches)
  • skincare products to react negatively by causing stinging and irritation (due to a stripped barrier function)

Your skin needs those protective layers (especially in winter or in dry climates where there is low humidity) to keep the skin in a healthy state and retain its natural moisture.

What is the right amount of exfoliation?

I recommend that most everyone should exfoliate five times a week. Based on my exfoliating product preferences (serums, peels and gentle scrubs), here is how I recommend how you might use exfoliating products in a given week.

Use an acid-based serum in the evening.

  • Monday night: Exfoliating serum, under moisturizer for your skin type
  • Tuesday night: Exfoliating serum, under moisturizer for your skin type
  • Wednesday night: Exfoliating serum, under moisturizer for your skin type
  • Thursday night: No exfoliation, but instead use a specialty serum for your skin type under moisturizer
  • Friday night: No exfoliation, but instead use a specialty serum for your skin type under moisturizer
  • Saturday night: No exfoliation, but instead use a specialty serum for your skin type under moisturizer
  • Sunday night: Start over with your night #1 of an exfoliating serum

Use an exfoliating serum this way.

On night #1 of using an exfoliating serum, the action is essentially like ‘breaking through the concrete.’ Meaning, your exfoliating serum is dissolving cells from the very top layer of the skin.

On nights #2 and #3, it works deeper within the skin’s surface for a more thorough exfoliation.

Thursday-Saturday nights are when most people are out and about at parties, events and other special occasions (and, therefore, want their skin to look its best). The three nights of exfoliation prior will cause the skin will look exceptionally smooth over the weekend. Also, Thursday-Saturday is when alcohol consumption is more likely, so using hydrating serums is most beneficial to prevent moisture loss.

NOTE: Through all my 30 years of research and skincare experience, I can confidently say that exfoliating with an acid serum (formulated for your skin type) is the best way to encourage cell turnover. There are several reasons why I believe this to be true. First, serums are formulated with a small molecular structure so they have the capability of passing the membranes to get deep within the skin. Secondly, serums hug the skin with humectants so they can hydrate the new cells while exfoliating the old cells. Lastly, as opposed to facial scrubs, there is no manipulation of the skin. You simply apply it and it goes right to work for you. The result is incredible re-texturing and a smoothing of the skin.

Once a week (perhaps on Tuesday or Saturday morning)

Gently massage a facial scrub over the face and neck. I recommend doing this in the shower, since its easier to rise the scrub off completely. (Splashing it off at the sink sends the beads to the perimeter of the face. This can cause them to get caught in the hairline, which is annoying!)

Once a week (on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night)

Instead of using an exfoliating serum in the evening, I recommend substituting it with an at-home peel and mask. You can either use one with enzymes or one with acids, depending on your skin type.

In summary, don’t exfoliate daily, despite what you may have heard or simply if you’re falling into the mindset of “more must mean better.” The use of exfoliating products can give incredible skin smoothing results, but moderation is key. Note: A cleanser with mild exfoliating acids since it’s not left on the skin for very long and rinsed away.

What benefits do exfoliants offer?

There is virtually no skin problem that an exfoliant can’t fix. I shared all the benefits of exfoliation when I appeared on the Dr. Oz show. See Renee on the Dr. Oz show.

Comments:

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  1. Avatar

    Hi Renee! I have a question about what kind of products I should be using on the three nights on three nights off schedule. Right now I am doing a manual exfoliation on Night 1, a mild AHA moisturizer on Night 2, and a 10% wash off acid peel on Night 3. Is that too much? I don’t appear to have any negative effects from it. I use lots of hydrating/moisturizing/calming ingredients in high quality products with it, along with many antioxidant ingredients.

    I recently tried a manual exfoliation product with pumpkin enzymes in it for further exfoliation. If I used this on Night 1 and continued with the AHA and acid peel on Nights 2 and 3, would that be too much? I’m really trying to make serious changes in the texture of my skin which I’m really unhappy with. Again, so far no negative effects as far as I can see. My skin really seems to like it. I’m starting to see big changes.

    Thank you for your posts, especially this one! They are very informative.

    Also, can I use retinol products after exfoliation? Right now I’m using your microencapsulated retinol product on the nights I’m not exfoliating. It seems to be working well, but should I use it every night, exfoliating or not?

    Thanks again!

    Posted By: Whitney Granger  | 

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      I do wait three full days with no exfoliation after this schedule, just to clarify that I’m not doing it every day. And lots of sunscreen too! 🙂

      Posted By: Whitney Granger  | 

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      Hi Whitney, if you don’t appear to have any negative side effects from exfoliation, then you’re probably fine. Thicker and oilier skin types can tolerate more exfoliation than other types of skin. But it’s important to give your skin a variety of beneficial ingredients and not just just focus on exfoliation all of the time. Make sense? I would continue what you’re doing but at least two nights a week, don’t do any exfoliation but instead use a hydrating antioxidant serum.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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    Hi Renee…very helpful. Have been using an exfoliator daily which I will stop immediately. What I am not clear about is your 3 nights on and 3 nights off rule…why 3 nights and not alternate nights?

    Posted By: Shivani Bhargava  | 

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      To effectively use an acid serum, apply a thin coat to entire face after cleansing and toning. Follow with a night cream recommended for your skin type. Use for three nights on, three nights off, with a hydrating skin serum on alternate nights. The reason for this method of use is because your skin needs a balance and not the same ingredients night after night. When you use an acid serum three nights in a row, every night it works a little deeper within the skin to give the best exfoliation. After three nights, you’re exposing these fresh, new cells so you want to give them other beneficial ingredients like hydrators, brighteners and tighteners to provide nourishment. Hope that helps.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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  3. Avatar

    Thank u! Exactly what I wanted to know! Just to clarify tho,
    So after taking a break from it all, will adding it back slowly and like u said not every night help with the skin tone and help get it back to the normal color? How long would be a good guess for how long I should wait before adding it back?
    Again, seriously want to say thank u for giving ur advice!

    Posted By: Sav  | 

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  4. Avatar

    Love your site…so much great info that I trust! I have a couple questions.
    1. I was using a 2% salycilic acid gel and wash nightly for breakouts/redness for a few years and at times things would be good and then at times I was feeling dryish, irritated and always had redness and then experienced darkening of the skin. I tried to wear sunscreen but I didn’t always or sometimes it was sunscreen in my moisturizer. I addressed my concerns with my aesthitician but she said that it would actually help with those problems and she said that it wouldn’t cause sun sensitivity bc it wasn’t strong enough. I have now stopped all salyicilic acid products. I stopped the gel about maybe 4-6 months ago and the cleanser I stopped about 2 weeks ago. I’m using an oil cleanser and basic moisturizer to try to repair my skin. And surprisingly the texture is better and so are the breakouts. But the redness and darkening is still there. My question is: Can this be repaired? Anything you can recommend would be appreciated. .

    2nd. Although I am stopping these products my salycilic acid face wash has an expiration date of Sept. 2014. It comes from the dermatologist office and I asked them about the exp date and they said it was fine for about 2 years after the date as long as it was never opened so I could used it and so I continued to use it. What are your thoughts on this?? Is it still safe? Really appreciate your time and info!

    Posted By: Sav  | 

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      The skin likes a variety of ingredients and using the same treatment product every night is not beneficial. Exfoliating every night like you have been with the salicylic acid gel can break down your skin’s protective barrier causing redness and irritation. Plus, too much exfoliation may be too stimulating and encourage the formation of pigment cells which is why some people like yourself experience a darkening of the skin. This is why I suggest only using an acid serum 3 nights on, 3 nights off, alternating with a soothing, hydrating, antioxidant serum. Yes, the skin can be repaired, you just need to give your skin a break and then when you start back up, don’t use it nightly. As for the expiration date, if that is what they told you then I guess go with that. I can’t really comment on it as I don’t know the product or the specifics so trusting your skin professional is the way to go.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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    I have a gentle enzyme exfoliant that when you rub it in, your skin cells come off in your hand. I love it. My skin feels smooth and never dry afterward. I use it 3 times weekly but I want to use it daily because I am 29, an esthetician and my skin is not very pretty at this point. I am playing catch up. Could I use it daily and see how my skin reacts or should no one exfoliate daily? Thank you!

    Posted By: Kristen  | 

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      Even though you don’t feel irritated, using a rub off enzyme exfoliant is too much. It’s like using a facial scrub daily or using the Clarisonic brush daily. Read more here about the dangers of using physical exfoliants daily https://blog.reneerouleau.com/is-the-clarisonic-brush-harmful-or-helpful-to-the-skin/

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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        Thank you for your response! I definitely want to be careful. I read the article you suggested but now i have another question. Can these enzymes take off living cells or just the dead skin cells? If they only remove dead cells will that still cause an inflammation? Thank you so much!!

        Posted By: Kristen  | 

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        It is gentle enough that it only removes dead cells. You can still cause inflammation for exfoliating too aggressively daily.

        Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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