Over-exfoliation is real and the results aren’t pretty – you can end up with everything from increased sensitivity to redness, flaking and even burning on the skin.


If you’ve over-cooked it, get our tips for soothing over-exfoliated skin and how to avoid it in the first place, the K-Beauty way!





The tell-tale signals of over-exfoliation include excessive dryness, irritation, redness, and sensitivity. Some people also experience a burning sensation on their skin.

The reason is that exfoliation targets the outer layer of the skin – the stratum corneum. This layer is composed of dead skin cells and natural lipids, and is naturally designed to prevent irritation, infection and keep the barrier hydrated.

When the skin’s outer layer – it’s barrier – is compromised, it is unable to perform this function as the healthy skin cells are disrupted.

Once the skin’s barrier is exposed, you are vulnerable to hypersensitivity and bacteria, meaning over-exfoliation can even result in acne – the very thing you were probably trying to avoid in the first place!




Over-exfoliation not only occurs by exfoliating too frequently (although this is often a problem) but can also be exacerbated by the types of products you are using.

Especially with Western skincare products, the focus is often on scrubbing, buffing and peeling to reveal new skin. Many people mistake cleanliness for scrubbing and end up damaging their skin’s barrier in the process.




If you’re experiencing over-exfoliation, there is good news – first, the results aren’t permanent and second, you can help soothe the skin to minimise the effects while it heals.

As soon as you can, apply a cool compress to the skin. Once it has calmed down, apply a product containing aloe vera to assist with the remaining redness and sensitivity. We love Benton’s Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel, which contains a combination of natural skin soothing and anti-inflammatory ingredients. A soothing sheet mask like Tosowoong Pure Aloe Mask will also help.

While the skin recovers, strip out any unnecessary products from your skincare routine (this includes things like acids, Vitamin C serums, scrubs and any actives). Aim to remove anything even remotely sensitizing or abrasive from your routine and use the minimal amount of products necessary.

It will also help to change to a gentle, low pH cleanser like Tosowoong’s Enzyme Powder Wash to help the skin’s barrier.




While it can be tempting to scrub your skin to remove dead skin cells, opt for a gentler option like Skinfood’s dissolvable Black Sugar Scrub.

The golden rule with all exfoliation is to keep it to a minimum – you shouldn’t be exfoliating more than 2 – 3 times a week or you risk overdoing it and damaging the skin’s barrier.

The focus of Korean beauty products is to care for the skin gently by nourishing it and adding hydration, rather than stripping away old skin to reveal new skin.


Choose less abrasive scrubs

Korean beauty products have several methods to avoid over-exfoliation, including manual exfoliators that allow you to choose the level of abrasiveness of your scrub, such as Skinfood’s Black Sugar Wash Off Mask, which you can dilute by dissolving the sugar crystals in water.


Use chemical rather than manual exfoliants

Other products, like cult-favourite COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid use chemical exfoliation rather than manual exfoliation. This uses gentle acids to remove dead skin and oil from the skin’s surface, which is less sensitizing for acne-prone and irritated skin types. However, as with all acid products, BHAs should be introduced into your routinely very slowly – no more than once a week at first. Ideally, BHA use should be kept to twice a week, to avoid over-exfoliating.


Choose gentler exfoliating ingredients

Korean Beauty products also focus on gentle ingredients, such as Betaine Salicylate, a fatty-type of BHA derived from plants. Betaine Salicylate is great for gently exfoliating while also soothing and moisturising skin. You’ll find Betaine Salicylate in a wide range of K-Beauty products, including COSRX One Step Pimple Clear Kits, COSRX One Step Moisture Up Pads, COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol and COSRX One Step Original Clear Pads.


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