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Can Face Scrubs Cause Micro-Tears On Your Skin?

Is it bad to exfoliate every day? Get the answers to all your pressing face scrub questions in Kiehl's guide to face scrubs.

Here at Kiehl’s, we love face scrubs. When used properly, they can help smooth and soften the skin, boost radiance, and encourage a healthy-looking glow. But not everyone takes the same stance on scrubs. Some claim that while physical exfoliants may be satisfying to use, they can cause micro-tears in the skin and lead to irritation, among other skin concerns.

To help get to the truth, we spoke with New York-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick. Here, Dr. Garshick weighs in on the pros and cons of face scrubs and reveals whether or not the “micro-tear” argument is fact or fiction. You’ll also learn some of our top tips for exfoliating safely at home (and the best Kiehl’s products to do it with). Keep reading for the nitty-gritty details.

Are Scrubs Good For Your Face?

We’ll get right down to it: Yes, scrubs can be beneficial, but only if they’re used properly. As a refresher, the purpose of exfoliation is to remove dead cells from the skin’s surface. Dr. Garshick says that the removal of dead cells can “help improve the overall texture and tone of the skin,” boost product penetration, and reduce the likelihood of developing clogged pores. Both chemical and physical exfoliants share these benefits, but the former tends to work more slowly, and the latter can deliver near-instant results.

However, Dr. Garshick notes, while face scrubs can be “a good option for exfoliation,” they’re not for everyone. Specifically, people with highly-sensitive or damaged skin may want to steer clear of physical exfoliants until their skin recovers. “You want to make sure your skin barrier feels healthy and restored prior to [exfoliating],” she says.

Is It True That Face Scrubs Can Cause Micro-Tears?

“Not all face scrubs are created equal[ly],” Dr. Garshick says. Those made with large, irregularly-shaped particles, such as salt, “can injure the skin barrier or cause little micro-tears,” which she says “can contribute to redness, irritation, and sensitivity.” Instead, she recommends looking for scrubs made with gentler exfoliating particles. “The smaller, honestly, the better,” she explains. “Small, regularly-shaped granules or powder-based scrubs tend to be my more recommended options.”

One option we love is Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion. It’s made with diatomaceous earth and shea butter and helps exfoliate for instantly smoother skin. When used consistently, it also helps diminish the appearance of fine lines, discolorations, and enlarged pores. It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used once to twice per week for smoother, softer skin.

Another thing to keep in mind when using a physical exfoliant is how much pressure you use: Scrubbing too vigorously can damage your skin. “You don’t want to be too harsh,” Dr. Garshick says. She recommends using your fingertips to lightly massage the scrub onto your skin for the best (and gentlest) results.

Can You Exfoliate Your Face Every Day?

Kiehl’s Customer Representatives are often asked if it’s bad to exfoliate every day. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy question to answer: How often you should exfoliate depends on a number of factors, including your skin type, concerns, and the types of products you’re using, Dr. Garshick explains.

Mild chemical exfoliants, like alpha-hydroxy acids, can often be used every day. Our Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner is one example of an exfoliant that can be used daily. The dual-phase toner with lipo-hydroxy acid and 23% emollients provides gentle exfoliation without causing discomfort. It’s clinically-demonstrated to help smooth, soften, and brighten the skin within one week.* The unique formula also helps replenish skin’s natural moisture levels to reveal a clearer-looking, more refined appearance over time.

*Results based on expert grading in a clinical study of 44 panelists, age 30-50, after 4 weeks of use.

For physical exfoliants, it varies. Ultra-gentle formulas may be suitable for daily use, while more intense scrubs may provide better results when used sparingly. Dr. Garshick recommends limiting use of scrubs “to once or twice a week” for the best results. If you’re unsure how often to use your chosen formula, take a look at the package directions: It should provide clear instructions on when and how to use it.

How Can You Tell If You’re Over-Exfoliating?

With exfoliation comes the risk of overdoing it. If you’re over-exoliating, Dr. Garshick says, “your skin might feel more sensitive,” tight, or dry. Over-exfoliation may also cause burning and stinging sensations. If you’ve accidentally over-done it, your best bet is to take a break from all exfoliants and let your skin recover. Using a moisturizer designed for sensitive skin, such as Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream, can help strengthen your skin’s natural moisture barrier and relieve discomfort.

Our Recommendation On How To Use a Face Scrub Properly

If you choose to use a face scrub, it’s imperative that you do so properly. Here, find three tips for exfoliating with a face scrub for healthy-looking (and healthy-feeling) skin.

Tip #1:

Start With a Gentle Exfoliant

Facial Fuel Scrub

To begin incorporating a scrub into your routine, we recommend reaching for a gentle formula suitable for all skin types, such as Facial Fuel Scrub. This men’s face scrub sloughs away dead skin, dirt, and oil and helps alleviate roughness. The invigorating formula also helps soften tough facial hair to facilitate a closer, more comfortable shave. Use it once weekly to start; if desired, you can increase usage to twice per week as part of your regular skincare routine.

Tip #2:

Apply a Kiehl’s Moisturizer After Exfoliating

According to Dr. Garshick, you want to make sure that you’re “soothing the skin after” using a face scrub. She explains, “just putting a moisturizer on can be very helpful.” We recommend reaching for a mild, fragrance-free formula, such as our cult-classic Ultra Facial Cream with Squalane. This customer-favorite moisturizer (it’s our #1 best-selling face cream worldwide) contains olive-derived squalane and glycerin. The ultra-lightweight formula provides immediate and long-lasting hydration and is clinically-demonstrated to help strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier.* It’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, and can be used morning and night for softer, healthier-looking skin over time.

*Based on expertly graded clinical studies and consumer trials.

Tip #3:

Protect Your Skin From The Sun

Sun protection is always a must. Complete your skincare routine by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. We recommend Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+: In addition to its broad-spectrum sun protection, the lightweight formula provides antioxidant defense to help protect your skin from damaging free radicals. It’s suitable for all skin types and absorbs quickly with a natural-looking matte finish. Remember to reapply your sunscreen every two hours (or after sweating or swimming) and stick to the shade whenever possible to keep your skin shielded from the sun’s damaging rays.

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