This Common Exfoliating Mistake Makes Dermatologists Cringe

Your guide to smooth, glowy summer skin.

Originally Published: 
Delmaine Donson/GettyImages
Woman exfoliating skin with cotton pad
We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

As the seasons change so, too, should skin care routines. Despite your skin type, once the weather reaches warmer temperatures in the summer months, most people will experience a shift in their skin — from extensive dehydration or dry patches to excessive amount of oils caused by sweat. There are countless reasons for this, ranging from the added humidity in the air to spending a little more time in the sun — with an SPF of course. All of these different factors may leave you wondering, ‘what should I be doing with my skin right now?’

For certain, add a quality SPF to your routine if you haven’t already, but falling in a very close second is exfoliation, aka the removal of dead skin cells via a chemical or physical agent. Your skin is constantly shedding, and they can get trapped (which means clogged pores and dullness, among other things, for you). Exfoliation helps to speed up this process — and in the summer, with all of these extra skin issues, it can prove especially useful.

While the jury is still out regarding exactly what and how often one should exfoliate their skin no matter the time of year (dermatologists and experts will most often suggest a regime according to your skin type and its needs), during the warmer months it can be highly beneficial — in moderation — as part of your summer skin care routine.

Like with anything in the beauty world, there are common guidelines for exfoliation that you should stick to in order to achieve your skin care goals, but the most important is to really listen to your skin — how it’s feeling, looking, and reacting to new products (either a physical or chemical method — more on that later) so that you can reap all the benefits (like a smoother, less congested, and brighter complexion) without disrupting your skin barrier. Below you’ll find all the experts tips you need to know regarding how to exfoliate your skin this summer — and achieve that otherworldly glow as well.

Why You Should Exfoliate In The Summer

There are a number of reasons as to why your skin changes during the summer, but the most obvious is an increased amount of sun exposure. As lifestyles change and the day-to-day becomes centered around outdoor activities such as hiking or swimming in salt or chlorine water, the various environment and climate shifts could potentially wreak havoc on your skin. “Those conditions can lead to skin dehydration and higher levels of exposure to UV radiation from the sun,” explains CEO & co-founder of Furtuna Skin, Kim Walls. “Your skin needs ample nutrients and moisture as it works overtime to repair DNA damage and thus prevent skin cancer, hyperpigmentation, collagen breakdown, and rough patches.”

Next to feeling drier thanks to the elements, many people might experience a more oily complexion in the summer as well. Sounds like a catch 22 huh? Board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare mentions that during this season, as the temperatures rise, so does your sebum production. This is often caused by the added amount of sweat one tends to produce when the heat rises; plus with the extra humidity in the air said sweat doesn’t evaporate from your face, causing extra oils. “For every increase in skin temperature of one degree we produce about 10% more sebum,” she says — something worth noting for your next sunny outdoor outing.

Together, this extra oil and/or drier skin means that your complexion will look especially lackluster, congested, irritated, and generally sapped of any glow. Speeding up that natural process of shedding dead skin cells can help alleviate those issues, and help you get that dewy skin back.

While the answer is no, exfoliating alone won’t be the answer to all of your skin care woes, doing it as often as your skin needs (and can tolerate) is particularly beneficial when faced with those summer issues. “In the summer, dead skin cells can build up, clogging the pores and leading to even drier skin,” says board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology Dr. Jeannette Graf. “Exfoliating can help turnover new cells and allow moisturizing products to deeper penetrate the skin for extra summer hydration.” That means your hydrating serums and moisturizer will be able to do their job that much better.

In addition to unclogging pores and regenerating skin cells, Dr. Ciraldo stresses how exfoliating during the summer can do wonders for those with oily-prone skin by releasing some of the sebum and trapped bacteria and debris from the surface of the skin. She also mentions that if combating hyperpigmentation is a skin concern for you, removing those dead skin cells can aid in evening out your complexion and allow fresh new cells to come to the surface, thereby fading dark spots.

Exfoliation Dos & Don’ts

Now if you think you’re ready to add exfoliation to your summertime skin care routine, then there are a couple of do’s and don’ts to be mindful of before you start. While exfoliation is great for giving your skin that smooth glow, if you’re new to the step in general it might cause irritation, especially now during the warmer months. Your skin will get used to the extra skin cell turnover, but when in doubt, less is more.

1. Do

For starters it should be a priority to find the right exfoliating ingredient for your skin type. There are physical and mechanical exfoliants, such as scrubbing cleansers and polishes to tools like skin spatulas. These can be a great option for beginners as long as you’re using a product with small, gentle physical particle or granules — things like ground up walnut shells can cause micro-tears in your skin and do much more harm than good. Rice bran is a great option if you’d like to try a physical product to start (just be mindful of how hard you press and massage your skin).

Then there are chemical exfoliants; these are your ‘HAs’ acid ingredients that you see in toners or peels like AHA, BHA, and PHA. Chemical exfoliants have become extremely popular in the beauty world as a potent and highly effective ingredient. Both doctors recommend all-star alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic and lactic acid for their brightening properties and reduction of wrinkles and fine lines. BHAs, like salicylic acid, are particularly ideal for acne-prone skin as it can penetrate deeper into your pore and dissolve trapped sebum. However, if you have sensitive skin it’s best to spot test these ingredients before diving into regular use.

Both dermatologists recommend exfoliating just once a week during this season, to help your skin adjust to exfoliation as well as to help keep your skins barrier intact. Chemical exfoliants can also increase sun sensitivity, so to keep sun damage at a minimum, Dr. Graf suggests exfoliating anywhere between two to three days a week in the evening (this both minimizes sun exposure and is the time when your skin is most able to repair itself).

So all in all, go slow, patch test, exfoliate at night, apply plenty of SPF, and use your product a few times a week.

2. Don’t

The absolute No.1 thing you can’t do is skip out on sunscreen in the summer, but especially if you’ve added an exfoliating product to your routine. Without a good SPF, exfoliating your skin will leave it vulnerable to more sun damage and cause additional irritation.

Using an exfoliator too often is another one of the biggest skin care mistakes that dermatologists see, and with the added sun sensitivity in the summer, it can be particularly damaging for your skin. Dr. Graf cannot stress this enough, saying, “Over-exfoliating can cause dryness, damage, and irritation,” she mentions. “It can also weaken the skin’s barrier which leaves it susceptible to damage and irritation.” It can also lead to dry patches, an imbalance in your skin’s microbiome, as well as heightened sensitivity leading to redness and over irritation.

As tempting as it may be to use your new scrub or exfoliating toner every day, or even every other day, exfoliation is definitely a less is more situation. Work your way up to more regular usage after starting with the expert-recommended once a week application. Take note of how your skin reacts and adjust your routine as needed — that will be your best practice in order to achieve that smooth, glowing complexion all summer long.

And finally, don’t use your new exfoliating product on the same days/nights that you use retinol — vitamin A is also an exfoliator, encouraging skin cell turnover — and the one-two punch of both ingredients is way too much for anyone’s skin to handle.

If you’re looking for a new exfoliator, try six of the expert’s favorite formulas on the market right now.

We only include products that have been independently selected by TZR's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

This article was originally published on