Ask Jean: How Much Exfoliation

Do You Really Need?


We want to answer your most pressing questions—or, you know, just the things that you’re curious about. Please keep them coming to: [email protected] Below, a q for our beauty director, Jean Godfrey-June.

Dear Jean, How often am I supposed to exfoliate for the best results? And does it matter if a bunch of the products I’m using all exfoliate? Like cleanser and toner and serum and moisturizer? I feel like I’m overdoing it, but I want maximum power. —Dana S.

Dear Dana, Desperate to please an imperious, very old-school Vogue beauty editor for an article long ago, I agreed to get a total of nine separate skin-peeling treatments from various practitioners—over the course of two weeks. The results were decidedly not glowing: My skin turned a dullish, blotchy pink and even kind of grey. It itched like crazy, broke out horribly, and peeled so constantly and so significantly that I couldn’t leave the house for a week. Too much of a good thing, as is the case in many aspects of life, ends up a terrible, blotchy mess.

  1. goop Beauty Microderm Instant Glow Exfoliator goop Beauty Microderm Instant Glow Exfoliator goop Beauty
    GOOPGLOW Microderm
    Instant Glow Exfoliator

    goop, $125/$112 with subscription
  2. True Botanicals Vitamin C Booster True Botanicals Vitamin C Booster True Botanicals
    Vitamin C Booster
    goop, $90
  3. goop Beauty GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic Overnight Glow Peel goop Beauty GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic Overnight Glow Peel goop Beauty
    GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic
    Overnight Glow Peel

    goop, $125/$112 with subscription

The key to healthy skin is maintaining its barrier function. The outermost layer of skin, the stratum corneum, is a layer of flattened skin cells encased in fat. It works to keep moisture inside your skin and keep irritants of all sorts—from viruses and bacteria to toxic chemicals and free radicals—out. If the barrier becomes compromised, your skin becomes more prone to infection, irritation, breakouts, and extreme dryness, not to mention all varieties of itchy blotchiness.

Having too much on top of that barrier—dead skin cells, dirt, oil, pollution—can compromise it. Which is why exfoliating is so good for your skin: It promotes healthy skin-cell turnover, which improves barrier function. (Babies’ skin cells turn over the fastest. The older you get, the slower skin-cell turnover is.)

But exfoliate too much, and you start to strip away that essential barrier, a fast route to unhealthy, unhappy skin. So moderation is really important.

How can you tell what moderation looks like? You err on the side of caution. If your skin tends toward the sensitive, go super slow. Start with one product, which may end up being all you need. If you’ve been using an exfoliating serum and you try a new face scrub and your skin starts to feel a little raw, pull back. Even if you’re at the other end of the spectrum and have skin of steel (as I do), remember that even skin of steel has limits. I can use the GOOPGLOW Microderm Exfoliator every other morning in the shower and then put on the (mildly exfoliating) vitamin C powder from True Botanicals without any problems, but I can’t do either within several days of having done the GOOPGLOW Overnight Glow Peel. GP, on the other hand, can do the Microderm six days a week and the peel on the seventh (as with plenty of other metrics, GP qualifies as something of an outlier).

The thing to remember is that more will not make your skin glowier, fresher, and smoother. But the right amount absolutely will.