While you know it’s important to take care of your skin 365 days a year, it’s also crucial to change your routine based on seasons. After all, many people experience dry skin in the winter, and many experience more breakouts from clogged pores in the summer. As we enter the hottest months of the year, dermatologists recommend taking time to exfoliate your skin. This practice helps remove sweat, sunscreen, and bacteria that could create inflammation. However, as with any regimen, there’s a right way to do it — and a wrong way. Here, we spoke with derms about the do’s and don’ts of summer exfoliation:
Why exfoliation matters in the summer.
Exfoliation removes the top layer of dead skin cells, explains Dr. Lina Kennedy, a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. While our skin cells naturally turnover and shed dead cells to make room for new ones, they sometimes need a little help. This is because they don’t always shed them completely or as quickly as needed, leaving our skin looking dull, Dr. Kennedy says. Also, exfoliation is a way to deep-clean your pores, so nothing cumbersome is left lingering.
In the summer, especially, you may have noticed that your skin is oilier due to increased heat and humidity. This makes exfoliation that much more critical. “Sweat glands become more active, and they, in turn, rev up our oil glands. Now your pores are getting filled with the daily environmental exposures — dirt, makeup, debris — plus oil, sweat and air moisture,” she explains. “All of this becomes more noticeable during summer months, and this combination ultimately can lead to larger appearing pores and increased acne.”
But with exfoliation, you can remove all of this build-up, which unclogs your pores, smooths your skin tone, battles acne and increases skin cell turnover.
The do’s and don’ts of summer exfoliation.
Ready to give your skin a health boost? To reap the most benefits out of exfoliation, follow these expert-driven do’s and don’ts.
Do exfoliate regularly…
Dr. Kennedy says it’s best to exfoliate one to three times a week. By keeping up with the habit, you will have brighter, glowing skin. As always, start low and slow. “You can start with exfoliating once every 7 to ten days and slowly increase your frequency up to three times a week if your skin does not become irritated,” she recommends. But gentle products like Sunday Riley Good Genes you may use every day, it depends on your skin needs.
…but don’t overdo it.
Dr. Kennedy says one of the most significant issues with exfoliation is doing it way too often. “It’s important to keep everything in the skin balanced,” she continues. “If you over-exfoliate, you leave your skin dry, irritated, and damaged.”
While many people see the layers of dead skin as a negative, they actually play an essential role in our skin health, providing a barrier to our most sensitive layers. And while you may want to remove some of them, you don’t want to remove too many, which can leave your skin unprotected, Dr. Kennedy warns.
Do use sunscreen.
Since exfoliation leaves your pores a bit exposed, you need to give them an extra layer of support via sunscreen. Additionally, depending on the type of exfoliator you use, your skin could be more at risk of sun damage. Specifically, Dr. Kennedy says to look out for chemical exfoliants (incl. alpha hydroxy acids) and retinol. You can still use them, but you should be extra mindful of applying an SPF throughout the day to be on the safe side.
Don’t apply too much pressure.
One of the most effective ways to exfoliate is the mechanical method. This means going in a circular motion around your face and body with your exfoliator of choice. However, when you do this, remember to be gentle! You don’t want to cause damage, and you don’t want the experience to be wildly uncomfortable. “Exfoliating too hard can cause micro-tears in the skin (it’s the case with manual exfoliation only). This can lead to irritation, inflammation and potentially even an infection,” Dr. Kennedy says.
Do find the right type of exfoliant for your skin type.
Most importantly, Dr. Kennedy says you want to use an exfoliant that removes the dead skin cells and addresses your unique skin concerns. For example, she says salicylic acid penetrates the pores. This allows it to remove dead skin cells and help treat white and blackheads, ideal for oily skin. “On the other hand, dry skin may need a gentler acid for exfoliation. Lactic acid is a mild alpha hydroxy acid that gently removes dead skin cells, but also increases ceramides in the skin to provide moisture,” she explains.
Don’t exfoliate irritated skin.
Lasts but not least: if your skin is already processing an injury — from a bad breakout to a sunburn — exfoliation isn’t a great idea. How come? It will only cause more irritation and make whatever condition you have worse. “Your skin barrier function is compromised if your skin is irritated. Exfoliating will only further compromise this. Ultimately this may cause more harm than good,” Dr. Kennedy warns. Instead, wait for your skin to heal and then gradually build back up your exfoliation practice.
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.