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How to Avoid Over-Exfoliating Your Skin with Skincare Acids


Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
Here's how to keep your skin luminous while keeping it safe and healthy too.

Including exfoliating acids in your beauty routine can do wonders for your skin – think enhanced luminosity, even skin tone, clear pores and reduced signs of ageing. You can read all about the benefits and how to find the right acids for your skin right here. However, some precautions need to be taken when using chemical exfoliators.

“It is possible to over-exfoliate the skin if one is applying multiple acidic products in a single regimen,” explains Prudvi Kaka, chief scientific officer for Deciem. Because an increasing number of skincare products now include acids, Lucy Shaw, skincare retail manager of MECCA Brands, says it’s easy to be completely unaware of the fact you’re using multiple exfoliating products at a time.

“Perhaps you’re using an exfoliating cleanser, an exfoliating treatment and an exfoliating serum or moisturier all together. Unless these products are specifically designed to be used in conjunction, you’re probably drenching in too many acids and over-exfoliating,” Shaw explains. Using too many acid-based products can result in an impaired skin barrier function. “It means there isn’t enough layers of skin to protect us which can appear as redness, flaking, small bumps or inflamed, uncomfortable skin. This also means skin can be more reactive or unable to tolerate your usual skincare products,” Shaw says.

To mitigate any negative effects of using acids, it pays to start with an acid that has a larget molecule size – such as lactic acid. “With something like a daily exfoliating treatment or serum, I actually recommend taking a staggered approach, don’t feel like you have to use it every day,” says Shaw. “Start with twice a week, then bump it up to three times, then if you feel your skin can tolerate it move into a daily application.”


It’s also important to consider how using an acid-based product will slot into your current routine. While it might be tempting to use acids in conjunction with retinol-based skincare to maximise results, proceed with extreme caution advise the experts as both ingredients exfoliate the skin. “If an acid were to be incorporated while using retinol, there is a higher potential of over-exfoliating the skin,” explains Kaka. Therefore he advises against using the two together in a single regimen.

Shaw agrees and says it’s always best to keep your routine simple and stick to one or the other. “You can use retinol on alternate days and then sub in acids every other night,” says Shaw. “Retinol will work in the lower layers to increase cell turnover and skin density and the acids will work on the surface buffering away any unwanted dead cells.”

On sun-drenched summer days, it’s important to taking extra care to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Active ingredients, including retinol and acids, can make skin more photosensitive therefore it’s especially important to keep your skin safe over the warmer months. “Acids have the potential to increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun and its susceptibility to sunburn,” explains Kaka. “From an ingredient stability standpoint, once the exfoliant has been applied to your skin the sun isn’t going to break it down or de-stabilize it, but the action of exfoliating and removing layers of skin will make your skin more sensitive to UVA and UVB rays, so don’t take the risk,” says Shaw.

Kaka recommends applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and limiting your skin’s exposure to intense sunlight while using acids and for up a week after. After all, as Shaw points out, stepping out into the summer sun without adequate protection would be undoing all your skincare’s hard work.



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