Can Exfoliating Actually Thin Out Your Skin?

By August 15, 2017

So you’ve finally jumped on the exfoliating bandwagon and you do it almost every single day. Congrats! But can exfoliating thin out your skin? Read below to find out.

Currently in the skin care world, exfoliators have become the go-to star product, claiming to reveal brighter, smoother wrinkle and acne-free skin.This has led to cult favorites like the Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid to Western favorites like the Biologique Recherche P50 lotion.

Skin care experts are essentially obsessed with exfoliation right now and its benefits. However, this obsession has unfortunately led to an epidemic of over-exfoliation that actually does more harm than good. In fact, people have started to question whether or not exfoliation can actually thin the skin over time. Today, we answer that question and give you tips on how to thicken skin.

Does exfoliating thin out the skin?

Quick answer: It’s complicated. Let me break it down for you. The skin itself is made up of several layers, with the epidermis being the outermost layer and the one we’re most familiar with. This layer is actually composed of five separate layers, all of which work in tandem to protect the skin from environmental stressors. You can essentially think of the epidermis as your body’s first line of defense, AKA its protective barrier.

How exfoliation works:

Our skin goes through a natural exfoliation cycle every 28-50 days, depending on our age. This process starts from the bottom up. Skin cells make their way up from the deepest layer of the epidermis to the top, outermost layer working to shed those old, dead cells and replace them with newer and fresher ones. This natural exfoliation process helps to rejuvenate the skin, keeping it looking bright and glowy. It can also help minimize the appearance of wrinkles.

Keep in mind that this process doesn’t happen all at once; we shed thousands of skin cells on a daily basis. These cells actually become a substance you’re quite familiar with: dust. Fun scientific fact: Next time you’re appalled by the amount of dust you see in your home, remember that some of that dust is actually your very own DNA.

While that dust is a reminder that you don’t need to exfoliate as much as you think, sometimes exfoliation doesn’t happen as efficiently as we would like. Not exfoliating regularly can lead to clogged pores and acne. This is when mechanical or chemical exfoliators come into play. They help speed up the cycle and prevent any dead skin cells from getting stuck along the way.

When we exfoliate, what we’re doing is shedding that outer layer of skin and temporarily thinning the skin. Dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla says that while exfoliation “can certainly remove that outer layer (depending on how vigorous you are with exfoliation), in the long run it will not thin the skin out.”

You would have to be doing something quite egregious and out of the ordinary to actually thin the skin permanently. According to Mariwalla, some products that can thin the skin are topical steroid creams. These creams are usually used in the treatment of eczema. Even in this case, you would have to be applying extreme amounts to damage the skin and cause it to atrophy.

So, what does thin your skin?

Unfortunately, as we age our skin naturally thins on its own. This happens as a result of a loss of subcutaneous fat and collagen. The fatty tissue is what keeps our faces looking plump and youthful, but when it starts to decrease, it has a deflating effect on the skin. This leaves it looking saggy while the loss of collagen helps to increase this effect.

can exfoliating thin out skin

To help thicken the skin, look for products with retinol, like the Missha Time Revolution Night Repair New Science Activator Ampoule. Studies have shown that retinol can actually help to increase the thickness of your skin by promoting new collagen production. This thickness will help to minimize the effects that the loss of subcutaneous fat can bring about. If you’re trying to thicken skin, be patient with your retinol as it takes long term, consistent use to see the effects you’re looking for.

Bottom line:

No, exfoliating does not thin out your skin, but it is important to keep in mind that over-exfoliating can make your skin appear thinner. This is because you’re constantly shedding that protective barrier. You want to allow your skin time to recuperate post exfoliation by taking a break in between sessions. Also, make sure to coat the skin with a nice, thick layer of moisturizer after exfoliating (one of my favorites is the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream) as this will help to protect and restore that barrier.

can exfoliating thin out skin
+ What do you think? Can too much exfoliating thin out skin? Let us know in the comments below.
Main photo credit: @echothegecko

Shop The Story