This may sound counter intuitive if you are looking for a radiant youthful skin, but exfoliating can sometimes cause more harm than good to your complexion.

Most of us are well aware that cleansing, exfoliating and hydrating make the three main steps of a good skincare routine. The benefits of these three pillars have been explained to us since we were children (or almost), and we have been religiously following the rules.

But it seems like one step of the sacrosanct routine could actually be detrimental to your skin. “When you exfoliate, you get rid of a layer of protection, the microbiome, whose role is to maintain the hydrolipidic film”, explains Joëlle Ciocco, celebrity epidermologist based in Paris. “If you exfoliate intensively, you devitalise the skin and weaken it. It gives way to the first thing responsible for skin aging, which is sunlight”, says the skin expert, whose famous client list includes the likes of Monica Bellucci, Catherine Deneuve, Carine Roitfeld and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

“You need to respect your skin’s microbiome, as it is its first natural and most essential protection.”

While she warns about the danger of excessive exfoliation, which is the removal of dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, Madame Ciocco firmly believes in double-cleansing to prevent skin aging, first to wash away any make-up or sunscreen, then to get down deep into the pores: “This needs to be done using a product that is efficient but doesn’t strip the skin of its natural oils – don’t even think about using wipes.”

For Joëlle Ciocco, we shouldn’t exfoliate in the summer or if we have sensitive skin in general. “You need to consider chemical exfoliation depending on your skin and what product you need to use. If you suffer from rosacea or acne, you shouldn’t do it. You need to respect your skin’s microbiome, as it is its first natural and most essential protection.”

Elena Arboleda, Head Aesthetician at Mario Badescu, agrees that exfoliation shouldn’t be taken lightly. “Proper exfoliation has always been a part of our philosophy, but it is important, however, not to over-exfoliate”, she says, “Over-exfoliation combined with sun exposure is a recipe for disaster!” While it is safe for a normal skin to exfoliate regularly, the skin expert warns that extremely sensitive and delicate skin types should always consult a dermatologist when selecting their skincare products.

anyone with sensitive or reactive skin should potentially abstain from exfoliation

According to Laure Bouscharain, responsible for Research & Development at Biologique Recherche, it’s all about the formula – a good quality exfoliator respects the skin and therefore can be used on a daily basis if you feel the need to. “Some dermatologists think that deep peels aren’t good for the skin because they are too harsh. It’s not the case at all with over-the-counter products which are less concentrated in acids than those used by dermatologists, and are perfectly adapted for daily use”, she says. Whereas for chemical exfoliators (namely acids): “It’s a matter of dosage – for example, lactic acid can be irritating, exfoliating or hydrating depending on the concentration in a product.” While getting rid of dead cells and impurities, these chemical exfoliators are said to also help regulate sebum production, promote skin renewal and boost the effectiveness of the skincare applied later in the routine, like your serum and moisturiser.

The skin expert however believes that the mechanical exfoliation induced by scrubs isn’t ideal for the face. “Their action depends on the intensity and the duration of the scrubbing. I think they are more suitable to the body since the skin is thicker and stronger than on the face.” Remember that daily scrub rule from the 2000s?

What is important to keep in mind, according to our specialists, is that moderation is key. “If you really want to exfoliate manually, keep a light hand and don’t do it more than once a week”, says Joëlle Ciocco, who also insists that exfoliation should be followed by a face mask to restore the skin’s balance.

So although anyone with sensitive or reactive skin should potentially abstain from exfoliation, for most normal skin types chemical exfoliators can be used on the regular – check for gentle formulas and hydrate the skin afterwards. Meanwhile, manual scrubs should be used in moderation, and be sure to choose products that are not harsh on the skin, such as Liz Earle’s Gentle Face Exfoliator or the Elemis Gentle Rose Exfoliator.

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