Where a lot of people stumble, however, is what it looks like in real life. Of course, wiping the skin with a peelable swab or grabbing an enzyme mask is pretty easy to identify as exfoliating your skin. But are we counting a mud mask? Or what should you do with serums with strong exfoliating acids, like alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids? And how do facial cleansers play into this? It’s true that exfoliation comes in a wide variety of forms, so in some cases you can over-exfoliate without even realizing it.
For example, masks that target oily, clogged pores, or acne typically contain some exfoliating agent of some kind (including, but not limited to, clay, charcoal, AHAs, BHAs, and physical scrubbers). Think of them as exfoliators, even if they are not directly marketed as such.
And don’t forget that glycolic and Lactic acid Serums are chemical exfoliators and therefore should be used in moderation, especially if they contain strong doses. (Some sera will have low enough concentrations of mild acids that they are suitable for daily use, but ultimately that will depend on the individual.)
Many facial cleansers contain both chemical and physical exfoliators, be it salicylic acid or microparticles. While some will be able to tolerate them daily (or even twice a day), for the most part we recommend using them only a handful of times a week and using a more gentle cleanser the rest of the time.