IRL beauty horror story: I over exfoliated my face and wound up looking like the Crypt Keeper


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Photo: Stocksy/Sergey Filimonov

Once I discovered that exfoliation is an essential tool in fighting acne, I went bananas. So besides my collection of pimple patches and spot treatments that I use to treat my breakouts, I began to hoard exfoliating e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g—from facial scrubs to peel pads to acid toners to enzyme masks. And then I went to work.

Rather than a streamlined, simple skin-care regimen that all dermatologists and facialists tell me to have, my routine became jam-packed with steps. One peek into my beauty cabinet and you’d think you were looking in a laboratory for, I don’t know, rocket fuel. I still washed my skin, moisturized, and used serums, but I also used as many exfoliants—physical, chemical, you name it—as I had the patience for all in the hopes of ridding my face of hormonal pimples. That literally meant I used so. many. exfoliants. that were all meant to slough away the old, dead skin cells to reveal happy new ones in their place.

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I’m sure you could imagine what happened to my skin. After acid upon acid, physical exfoliant upon physical exfoliant, I looked a lot like the Crypt Keeper from Tales from the Crypt, which used to scare the crap out of me as a child. I mean, maybe I had just a tad more skin intact than that guy did, but let’s be honest: not much. That was when I learned an important beauty lesson. Your skin barrier is there to protect you and guard you from things that are going on in the outside world, and if you turn it away with harsh ingredients, then you don’t just wind up looking like a terrifying scene from a Halloween movie—you also perpetuate inflammation that you’re trying to guard against in the first place.

To help my skin deal in the weeks following, I used only a milky cleanser, piled on the hyaluronic acid serums, and layered on a ceramide-heavy moisturizer to help rebuild my skin barrier. It took two weeks of gentle, skin-repairing TLC to nurse my complexion back to its thriving, healthy self (which as you can see included zero acids or physical grains). So just how often should you be exfoliating? Dermatologists say to start with once a week to see how your skin handles any new exfoliation product, and then as your complexion gets used to it, work up from there. While sturdier skin types that are dealing with conditions like acne can often handle harsher ingredients (and more of them), the pros I polled said to just start out with one. It’s always easier to slowly add more rather than deal with the ramifications of using too much, too soon (reminder: I looked like the Crypt Keeper, people).

Until then, I had to face the world with my self-inflicted skin-care nightmare, and walked the streets hearing screams and gasps from everyone who laid eyes upon me. (Just kidding, but… a sabotaged skin barrier? The horror!) And if you want to seek out solutions to acne that won’t leave you feeling this way, check out our latest episode of Dear Derm:

Facialists and dermatologists give us the breakdown on chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs—read up. And here’s how to get strong skin, so you’re never without a wrecked barrier… as I once was. 

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