In the News:

Scrubbing Your Skin: Less is More

Manual Over-Exfoliation: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Scrubbing

The debate has always been heated among skin care specialists and dermatologists as to the risks and benefits of scrubbing one’s face and body parts. Over-exfoliation causes microscopic tears and abrades the skin, especially if a scrub contains granules with irregular edges (crushed walnut shells or apricot pits), has a high pH,  or if too much pressure is used. This can lead to severe hyperpigmentation with any method of exfoliation, friction or scrubbing action.

Washcloths vs. Scrubs vs. Astringent/Cotton vs. Buffing Pads vs. Sonic Brushes vs. Baking Soda/Water: There are pitfalls to every exfoliation method, friction, pressure and skin tampering technique, especially on black skin, darker ethnic skin, thin, post-operative and sensitive skin.

Are You at Risk?

Sensitive and thin-skinned individuals, people of color (black skin and ethnic skin), post-operative skin (laser resurfacing, deep dermabrasion and medical peels), microdermabrasion, and those using or over-using shaving powders (Magic Shave and other depilatories) and other hair removal chemicals, hot wax, retinoids, Accutane, benzoyl peroxide, BHA (salicylic acid), glycolic acid and other AHAs and sun-sensitive skin.

Because so many active ingredients and professional treatments can cause temporary superficial flaking and/or aggressive peeling, the temptation to “speed up” the process by scouring dead skin cells off the skin can be irresistible.

Over-Exfoliation

Scrubbing: Over-exfoliation with grainy scrubs, baking soda scrubs, sonic cleansing brushes, spa gloves, buffing pads and loofahs.

Friction and pressure: Rubbing with washcloths, hands or towels, wearing tight, binding or poorly-fitting hats, clothing, boots and shoes. Using excessive pressure for any reason, can temporarily “over-process” the skin.

Tampering: Picking, scratching, and tweezing.

Shaving and depilatories: Scraping the skin while shaving or being shaved, chemical depilatories, and removing shaving powder.

Chemical over-exfoliation: Alcohol or strong astringents with a cotton ball, over-applying “active” products, using exfoliating washes and scrubs, and inappropriate chemical services.

Sunlight: Exposure to UV rays can turn mild flaking into excessive scaling and prolonged irritation.  especially if skin is exposed to continued sunlight along with scrubbing, rubbing, friction, pressure, picking, or product overuse. Repeated over-exfoliation, manipulation, friction and skin tampering can slow down the healing process, introduce bacteria, and cause epidermal cells on and around blemishes to thicken, darken, and get larger as the body struggles to defend itself from constant “self-assault”.

Unwelcome Results: Over-exfoliation can activates the melanocytes that give the skin it’s coloration. Side effects include temporary redness, burning, prolonged scaling, increased sun-sensitivity, a thick build-up of dead skin cells, pigmentation problems, and an uneven skin tone. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to many months once the practice is stopped.

Warning for People of Color and Darker Skin Tones

Abrasion and irritation caused by overzealous manual exfoliation, scrubbing too often, attempting to remove flaking skin cells, scraping the skin, using too much pressure, rubbing or manipulating the skin, picking, scratching, rubbing with a towel, wearing tight headwear, clothing or footwear, exposure to sun and heat sources and lack of adequate water intake can leave temporary and permanent hyperpigmentation in its wake.

You can’t scrub the “black” off your skin, or someone else’s skin! And, you can’t rub, scrub, scrape or pick off thickened dead skin cells. The body will respond by producing more darker, thickened dead cells as it tries to heal and protect itself from repeated friction. Once this practice is discontinued, the skin will start to improve dramatically.

What To Do Once the Damage is Done

Use home care products exactly as directed. To combat flaking, try sulfur mask, a mild, non-mechanical exfoliant that will “passively” dissolve dead skin cells without manipulation. Apply a generous coat and allow it to remain on the skin for as long as it remains wet, without letting it dry out even a little bit. Shower or rinse the mask off with warm water and gentle pressure from fingertips only. Stop rubbing and scrubbing. Back off applying active home exfoliant for a day and moisturize more often. Ask us about other methods to help exfoliate dead skin cells without traumatizing your skin and prolonged sloughing.

Safer Scrubs: Scrubs that contain finely-ground meal (like cornmeal), papaya enzyme creams, man-made beads and spheres have a smooth, uniform surface, and won’t tear delicate skin. Keep in mind that exfoliation by even gentle scrubbing, friction, and/or applying too much pressure on peeling and even slightly irritated skin can still cause prolonged problems.

Sensitive Skin: Experienced skin care professionals can perform light skin peels and gentle enzymes formulated for sensitive skin if you need exfoliation without friction.

Note: Individual results may vary and require compliance to corrective home care product usage, diligent sun protection, professional treatments, and important lifestyle changes, all of which must be monitored and maintained on a longterm basis.

©2017 Kathryn Khadija Leverette. Reprinted with permission.

The material on this website is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.