How Often to Exfoliate Your Face + Why it Can Lead to Irritation (Esthetician’s Secrets & Tips)

Smooth, glowing skin is always in – but achieving it, especially if one is dealing with breakouts, dryness, patchiness, and blotchiness is a quest that goes beyond just spending some extra cash. Exfoliating masks and scrubs are sold everywhere these days promising the A-List complexion, ranging from all price points.

Exfoliating your skin can reveal a beautiful, youthful complexion, but ever notice any downsides?

Ever had skin become irritated from scrubbing/exfoliating a little too much?

I know I have, thinking well, at least my skin is smooth and polished looking. But red, and irritated come the next day + some unwelcome spots coming through.

However, a natural derived (made from all-natural ingredients) exfoliate product can do wonders for your complexion leaving it clear, smooth, and flake free. Makeup applies effortlessly and skin seems to just glow after makeup removal.

Some key ingredients can also perform in fading post acne and pigmentation spots, leaving complexion fresh, radiant, and less prone to congestion of breakouts.

Please understand – how much you’re exfoliating IS KEY – per day, per week! This applies to all skin types.

I’ll let you know in this post (clarifying more on acne prone skin type) why exfoliation IS important, but also why NOT to overdo – all answers coming from my holistic esthetician of many years in the business. And of course, my fave recipe on DIY facial scrub following in my next post!

Why Exfoliate?

Acne prone skin is constantly congested with debris from bacteria thriving on dead skin cells in the pores, which in turn needs to be thoroughly cleaned and exfoliated.

When applying makeup + skincare products over dead skin, the surface is un-even. As a result, your skin can appear to be flaky and patchy and even feel rough in texture.

By gently exfoliating dry skin cells, the skin will be more smoother and refreshed, which equates to more oxygen coming to your skin and eliminating more growth for bacteria.

Problematic skin constitutes of pores that are filled with a build-up of dirt and dead skin, therefore, the pore will expand to accommodate for the increase of acne.

As a result, this makes your pores larger and more visible to the eye.

Exfoliating removes dirt and bacteria in the pores and consequently minimizes them.

A deep exfoliation will help to un-clog your pores from excess oil which can lead to breakouts.

Exfoliation is crucial to your skin’s wellbeing is because without it, all other steps in your skincare routine will not be as effective.

If pores are blocked, all of the other skincare products that you use won’t be able to successfully penetrate the deeper layers of your skin.

Problem with Over-Exfoliation

Yes, you heard that right! Over-exfoliation is a THING and seems to be triggering more problems than solutions these days.

Ladies seek out that picture perfect skin and overdo on exfoliation daily to achieve a smoother looking surface, so foundation can apply even and seamless. Nobody wants to walk around with dry patches and cakiness from foundation peeking through.

According to my esthetician, Iliana, who has had more than 20 years of practice in the biz has clients who come to see her with irritated, sensitive, and even swollen looking faces. She asks them what does their skincare routine involve and the #1 answer to this problematic looking skin is exfoliating up to 2X a day. Usually, a clarisonic, baking soda, or a mainstream, chemical (cream or gel based) laden exfoliator is used.

Overexfoliation is problematic for the skin because it causes a temporary or chronic inflammation of the surface skin cells and hair follicles, which can then become infected by bacteria (coming from makeup, dirty sponges + brushes, touching skin throughout the day without washing hands) and environmental pollution.

In addition, when over-exfoliating, you’re actually overstimulating the internal glands beneath your facial skin and therefore, the natural sebum oil production can’t balance and skin in turn becomes irritated. Also, this produces MORE acne in the process because skin is overstimulated and dry. This applies to ALL skin types – dry, oily, combo.

It can also cause excessive dryness and loss of ability to retain moisture.

Some scrubs contain large, scratchy type beads, which can potentially scratch the surface of your skin resulting a small scarring in upper dermis. So, be careful when purchasing and make sure to check and test before shelling out your cash.

In addition, some are abrasive and contain harsh chemicals that strip and irritate the top layer of the skin, leaving skin smooth but irritated, especially with AHA’s and some salicylic acid added to the mix.

What about manual exfoliants – sponges, handheld devices?

As far as manual exfoliants go, such as sloughing sponges, or clarisonic type devices, Iliana finds that many of her clients overuse them and scrub too vigorously.

It can take weeks or even months to get skin looking healthier from the abrasiveness of exfoliators of all kinds.

Wait a sec…but you just told me that exfoliation has amazing benefits that will leave my skin smooth, decongested, and fresh looking…

Yes, yes, and YES! But the key here is NOT to overdo! Moderation is crucial because skin must be kept in balance, just like anything else. Too much of anything is not always the answer. Too many vegetables in your diet on the other hand, is def an opposite response to the last sentence, though – especially when caring for your face 😉

When to Exfoliate

Moderation is vital when it comes to exfoliating your precious skin. Iliana recommends exfoliating 2-3X per week. Nightly only.

And here’s why.

When exfoliating in the morning, this leaves pores open and more susceptible to more congestion coming through from makeup, and environmental pollutants, which of course then leads to more acne + irritation + congestion + premature aging.

Exfoliating at night leaves your skin fresh and allows your pores to breathe and a new cellular turnover to do its job while you sleep.

So, you see, exfoliation is a good trick of the trade in the skincare world, but must be done correctly to alleviate the sensitivity of skin and acne.

Recommended Exfoliants 

I’m big on DIY scrubs/exfoliants because you get to control which ingredients go in, leaving all those unnecessary chemical laden, preservative filled ingredients (from store bought conventional products) out. You can read on the dangers of conventional cosmetics here.

Also, DIY exfoliants are so fun and easy to make with minimal amount of ingredients – whip up a fresh batch that will last you months – all while having fun testing out which ingredients work best for your specific skin type.

Stay tuned for my next post because I’ll feature my favorite DIY Facial Scrub with some natural, herbal rich ingredients to make that skin glow and most importantly, HEAL from hyperpigmentation and acne.

However, if you you’re not into DIY, then I can whole heartedly recommend the following trusted brands to do the job (non-toxic, all-natural, herbal + botanical rich):

Signs of Over-Exfoliating 

Here are 5 most common signs that will help you understand if you’re over exfoliating:

  • Irritation (redness in patches that appears like a rosacea)
  • Itchy skin
  • More congestion that leads to more breakouts
  • Burning sensation
  • Drier skin than usual

If you’re experiencing the above skin issues due to over exfoliating, then stop altogether for a week or 2 and let your skin calm down.

Also, keep in mind that over exfoliating may also result in hyper pigmentation and skin discoloration in some individuals.

How to Recover from Over Exfoliation (Natural Remedies)

What to do when skin is over exfoliated and shows signs from the above points?

Don’t panic! Your beautiful face will recover, naturally!

There are 3 natural remedies that I recommend, which will calm the redness, irritation and start renewing and regenerating cells to a healthier state.

1. Aloe Vera – this is an amazing plant that has soothing properties to cool and calm irritated skin from burns of all kinds, including facial irritations. Its rich in antioxidants + antibacterial properties. Studies confirm that it is an effective topical treatment for first- and second-degree burns – which only suggests it performs wonders on irritated and inflamed, red skin. 

A whole leaf must be used for this remedy – do not attempt to purchase store bought aloe vera gels because they’re processed and contains addictive’s. A fresh leaf is needed for this remedy to work.


Cut slices of one leaf (shown in picture), then take the gel that comes out from the plant – apply to cleansed skin and keep on overnight. Rinse off in the morning and follow through with regular skincare routine. Do this process for a couple of days.

2. Jojoba Oil – This all-natural golden oil acts as anti-inflammatory + soothes irritated skin. It’s one of the most gentle facial oils and is suitable for all skin types – whether oily, dry, combo, or normal. 

Since jojoba oil is an emollient, which means it moisturizes the skin and prevents irritations, scaly and rough patches – it accelerates the wound-healing process and stimulates collagen growth – making it perfect for over exfoliated skin.

In addition, jojoba contains Vitamin E (protects skin and works with it for anti-aging) & Vitamin B Complex (helps fight off free radicals and cell damage).

Apply nightly + daily on cleansed skin and watch transformation take place within a few days.

3. Chamomile – this flowery herb is known for its calming effect as a drinking tea thanks to its anti-inflammatory + antioxidant properties. But, it does wonders on soothing skin as well when applied topically. 

There are 2 ways to utilize this powerful herbal flower.

First – soak tea bags in warm water or steep chamomile loose leaf tea (15 – 20 min) and apply to facial skin to calm the irritation – splash face with concentrated tea for a minute or two and let it dry. Follow with moisturizer or facial oil.

The second way to utilize chamomile is to add chamomile essential oil (1 drop) to a facial oil, (such as jojoba or carrier oil of choice) and use as a nightly moisturizer. Essential oil is much more potent with its powerful medicinal properties and therefore will work faster than in a loose tea form.

**Important to note if skin is irritated from over-exfoliation – stay away from acidic and alcohol based skincare products, including apple cider vinegar and witch hazel astringent if already using/incorporating these into your skincare routine. Although natural and great for blemishes, they can only irritate skin further due to their potent qualities.


I hope I’ve given you something to ponder on in this busy and over achieving world in skincare – everyone wants to look their best, especially getting that skin looking smooth and polished. But know that some things must be kept in moderation to have ample results! Balance is key to most remedies and achievements – of any kind.

Do you over exfoliate your skin? Have you fell for the trap, like most of us? Share in the comments below!

Sources + References




















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6 Replies to “How Often to Exfoliate Your Face + Why it Can Lead to Irritation (Esthetician’s Secrets & Tips)”

  1. Hi Ksniya,

    I use to have horrific spots in my teenage years and I feel I could of done with this advice back then! Clearasil did not do a single thing, despite all the adverts etc, it NEVER EVER HELPED and I swear it made my face even worse – given my experience with that product,- I doubt it passed any real tests to prove their claims.

    Chamomile is a great suggestion and I will certainly be giving that a go at night time, as I have found some red blotches on my face of late, and hopefully that will help.

    So, I see you recommend to only exfoliate 2/3 times a week as I was wondering how often should I exfoliate earlier. Yes, MEN do EXFOLIATE as well haha – wellll, I do anyways.

    Thank you for these professional tips and I have book marked your website, as I suggest others do, as this is the best skin care article I have in years – Great Job!

    Thanks again and I will be back for more tips 🙂 .



    1. Hey Philip!

      Thanks for stopping by! Clearasil contains preservatives and chemicals that will only strip your skin from natural oils and thus create more acne + irritate skin. This is why I advocate natural, holistic based skin care and DIY products because none of the toxic junk is included.

      Conventional acne topicals are a marketing ploy for acne sufferers and sometimes do help – but, for a certain amount of time – then you’re back searching for another “effective” product. Its a cycle. When something stops working, you’re back looking for another.

      The red blotches that you’re referring to- I’d suggest all the tips that I’ve given. Chamomile will def help, as well as “real” aloe vera.

      But, if you’re experiencing the blotchiness, then I would stop exfoliating altogether until skin gets better – it needs to heal, not re-scrubbed again and again.

  2. I love the website. I am very much into skin care myself. Exfoliation is much more important then I ever thought. Your bring up some interesting points I have never heard of. One is, only exfoliate at night and this makes perfect sense. Also I was unaware of over exfoliation, because I don’t do it excessively but great fact to know! Your doing a great job keep up the good work!
    Best wishes, Becca W.

    1. I appreciate your warm feedback =) Becca!

      Over exfoliation seems to become an epidemic in the skincare world – everyone is doing it and exfoliating products (including the famous clarisonic) are constantly bombarded at customers…but nobody seems to be teaching that over exfoliating is actually hurting the skin and not helping – so much redness + irritation is the effect if done excessively. Moderation is key when it comes exfoliating the top layer of skin – do it just twice a week and will notice results – over do it and skin will become irritated.

  3. I’m embarrassed to say it, but my acne has only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. It’s more blackheads and large pores than anything else…but I do try to exfoliate a few times a week, usually with baking soda or an alpha hydroxy/rice powder exfoliant I have. Thanks for the great tips and alternatives here, my skin needs help@

    1. I understand the frustration of acne becoming worse once you get older – feel free to browse around my site as it contains a lot of helpful info on how to start treating acne and what the cause could be. Please keep in mind that acne is different for everyone – it’s still inflammation, regardless.

      Most importantly, don’t give up and don’t feel embarrassed – its such a tricky thing but keep in my mind that everyone deals with health issues of some sort and acne is just another form. I know its external and hard to turn away from, but if you keep working toward clearing, you’ll def get there.

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