How To Complete A ‘Skin Reset’

As it turns out, you can have too much of a good thing for your face

While I always teach that exfoliation is a great (and necessary) way to shed dead skin cells and reveal the fresh, radiant skin sitting below the surface, there are times when we can exfoliate a bit too much and a bit too often. 

Here’s where it gets confusing, though: Some of the “purging” (like dry, peeling skin and breakouts) can also be markers of over-exfoliation. So, how can you tell if you need to buff away the buildup or give it a break?

Here’s a comprehensive guide to all things exfoliation, including how to nurse your skin back to health after you’ve gone too far.

Signs You’re Over-exfoliating

Over-exfoliating is pretty common especially in people who are new to medical grade exfoliating acids and/or those who have more sensitive skin types. Generally speaking, the use of exfoliating products should start off slow and gradually increase over time as tolerated. If you are brand new to a medical grade exfoliating acid that might mean just 1-3 timer per week.

If you’ve been slathering on the exfoliating acids daily, and your skin is molting off… there’s a good chance your skin is begging for a break.

Luckily, it should be fairly easy to tell if you’re overdoing it on the exfoliators. 

Symptoms of over-exfoliation

  • irritation, burning, or peeling
  • redness and inflammation 
  • breakouts, especially small pimples
  • increased sensitivity to other products in your routine

Eventually, your complexion will become dry and flaky. You may even develop a rash-like texture, leading to uneven tone (like patchy, red blotches). Breakouts are another common reaction, especially small, rough, bumpy pimples. 

You may also see increased sensitivity to application of other products in your regimen. In other words, the remainder of your skin care routine may suddenly cause redness, burning, or peeling. But don’t blame it on your other products! It’s (probably) all the exfoliator’s fault. 

Some of these symptoms have a tendency to make you feel like you need to exfoliate more, but resist. Here’s what you should do instead.

What to do if your skin is over-exfoliated

If you notice your skin going through any or all of these symptoms, then I highly recommend what I call a “total skin reset.” Skin resets are necessary when the skin barrier is compromised and you need to take a brief step away from all of the exfoliants. During a skin reset, you’re essentially letting your skin “breathe” and heal so that it can return to baseline texture. Your skin’s baseline differs from person to person; in general, it just means the texture your skin had before overexposure to the exfoliants. If you’ve always been acne prone, that will be your baseline texture. You’re really just waiting for the signs of over-exfoliation — redness, inflammation, peeling — to fade.

How to Perform a “Skin Reset”

  1. Stop all exfoliants such as retinol products, koji/glow pads, and physical or chemical exfoliators.
  2. Switch to a gentle cleanser and moisturizer.
  3. Spot treat extremely red or raw areas with a rich emollient, like Aquaphor or Vaniply. You can also use a hydrocortisone cream or aloe gel, such as our ADS Calming Cream.
  4. If you are experiencing any burning, apply a cold compress soaked in a bowl of ice and water.

The goal is to remove the aggravators and give your skin lots of hydration. I usually have my clients do a reset for ~7-10 days to help restore hydration to the skin.  It can take up to 2-4 weeks — aka, the entire length of a skin cell cycle — for your skin to get back on track. Patience is key as your skin heals. Remember, irritation occurs because we have removed more skin cells than your body is able to replace. I know it’s hard, but your skin will return to normal over time with a little TLC. 

How and When to Resume Your Exfoliating Products

Just because you’ve experienced some exfoliation irritation does NOT mean you need to swear these products off for good. Once your skin has healed, it’s totally okay and normal to reintroduce your favorite pads or acids — slowly and strategically. 

Slow and Steady wins the race

When the 7-10 days of reset are up and your skin has recovered, you can slowly add each pad or exfoliant back in, one-by-one. The key is to go slowly! 

I highly recommend taking a break from all pads every couple of nights to focus solely on hydration.  I would always leave at least one day in between using different pads to focus on hydration! Hydration is KEY in obtaining healthy and happy skin!

Example for someone new to exfoliants for sensitive skin:

1. Start with just one exfoliant, such as retinol pads. Resume pads by using them just 1-2x per week with calming cream (or OTC hydrocortisone cream) on top. It’s OK to use calming cream on top of the pad while your skin is adjusting. Calming cream is going to slightly neutralize the acid in the pads causing them to be more gentle. Eventually, you will use the pads with nothing on top but for now it’s totally OK.

2. After 1-2 weeks of using retinol pads 1-2x per week with little to no irritation, we can now increase to every 3rd night. Apply calming cream on top of your skin post pad application as needed. 

3. After 1-2 weeks of using retinol pads every 3rd night with little to no irritation, we can now increase to every other night. Apply calming cream on top of your skin post pad application as needed. 

Below is an example of a client who was using the Koji, Glow, and Retinol pads in her regimen. Her skin was over-exfoliated with the new addition of the retinol pads. She completed a skin reset and slowed the use of her different pads down and she is now doing wonderful with mixing the trio in.

Example for someone using multiple exfoliants:

1. Add Retinol pads back in by themselves for ~2-4 weeks. Start by using them every third night with calming cream (or OTC hydrocortisone cream) on top. It’s OK to use calming cream on top of the pad while your skin is adjusting. Calming cream is going to slightly neutralize the acid in the pads causing them to be more gentle. Eventually, you will use the pads with nothing on top but for now it’s totally OK.

2. After 2-4 weeks of using only retinol pads, we can now add the Koji pads in if your skin tolerated the retinol well. Alternate the Koji pads with the Retinol pads at night. Apply calming cream on top of your skin post pad application as needed. 

3. After 2-4 weeks of using both retinol and koji pads, we can finally add the weekly glow pads back in 1x a week with calming cream on top of your skin after application.

The key is to move slowly and to adjust to each pad individually to prevent over-exfoliation. We have to make sure you are tolerating one product very well before introducing the next exfoliator. Skin resets are very common, and I will be here every step of the way to make the process as smooth and successful as possible!

Always Listen To Your Skin!

The second you notice any redness, peeling, or ‘tingling,’ that’s a sign it’s time to cut back 

Just like anything in skin care — or in life, really — exfoliation is best in moderation. 

I highly recommend taking a break from all pads every couple of nights to focus solely on hydration.  I would always leave at least one day in between using different pads to focus on hydration! Hydration is KEY in obtaining healthy and happy skin!

Exfoliation in Moderation is Key

As we age the rate at which we turn over skin cells slows and slows. Proper exfoliation leaves a fresh, healthy, and fully ‘cleansed’ epidermal surface.

Basically, exfoliation can deliver clearer skin when done correctly but if you mix and match different types of exfoliators or use a single product too often, your favorite exfoliants have the potential to do more harm than good. 

The moral of this skin care story? It’s one beauty category where less really is more. Slow and steady wins the race!

XO

Racquel

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Racquel Frisella

Board Certified Nurse Practitioner & Aesthetic Specialist based in Saint Louis, Missouri

I work as a cosmetic injector and skincare specialist with 12 years of experience in the Aesthetic Industry. I see patients both in-office at Nayak Plastic Surgery & Avani Derm Spa for treatments as well as online for customized, complimentary skincare plans. I focus heavily on preventative and corrective injections, treatments, and skincare.  My career is my passion and I love to help people feel like the very best version of themselves. I am a wife and a mother of 3 beautiful children under the age of 3. I love all things beauty, fashion, and fitness. I am creating this site as a place to share my expertise on beauty, anti-aging, and skin while also giving a glimpse into my lifestyle as a mom, wife and lover of fitness!  

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