Should we really exfoliate our skin?

You need to hear what this expert has to say

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / July 15 2019

Like cleansing and moisturising, it’s been drilled into us that exfoliating is just another essential step in our skin care routine. We’ve all been taught that exfoliation is the best way to get rid of those dead skin cells, which is key to a glowing and refined complexion.

Used one to two times a week, a good face scrub can unclog pores, control oil production, detox the skin, and help speed up the cell renewal process (read: it keeps skin looking young and peachy). 

But, what if we were to tell you that there are some dermatologists out there saying you shouldn’t exfoliate your skin. According to medical physician and founder of Cosmedix and Osmosis Skincare, Dr Ben Johnson, exfoliation is one of the worst things you could be doing for your skin. 

You’re going to need to sit down for this one, guys.

Why is exfoliating bad?

“Recommending exfoliation has been one of the worst misdirections in dermatologic history,” says Dr Johnson. “The skin is in full control of its turnover rate, and if older or compromised skin is slowing down, it is an intentional and intelligent response to changing conditions.”

Basically, there’s supposed to be a layer of dead skin cells that sit on top of your skin (the stratum corneum) to protect the living cells in the epidermis underneath. However, when you exfoliate your skin, Dr Johnson says you expose your skin’s surface barrier, increasing sensitivity to environmental toxins. “Exfoliating increases sun damage due to the reduction of the reflective capacity of the skin and therefore increases ageing, DNA damage, and cancer risk,” says Dr Johnson.

The worst culprit? Those glorious AHAs and BHAs we’ve come to love. “Acids are the worst exfoliant because they burn the deeper layers of the epidermis while exfoliating,” says Dr Johnson.

He says exfoliation can strip the skin of lipids, which would normally protect your skin from dehydration. Stripping your skin of natural oils can then cause your skin to overproduce oils, making breakouts even worse. “Exfoliation often leads to an oily T-zone as the sebum is created to compensate for the dryness,” says Dr Johnson. 

Should we stop exfoliating? 

According to Dr Johnson, yes, we should. So then how are we meant to keep our skin looking glowing and healthy? Well, for a start, Dr Johnson says that post-exfoliation ‘healthy glow’ isn’t exactly a sign that your skin is happy and healthy – it actually means the opposite. “It is true that scrubbing your skin brings a healthy glow to it, and that is what entices consumers. However, the glow is actually inflammation generated and is therefore not healthy at all,” he says.

Okay, that hurts a little.

Instead, Dr Johnson says we should be focusing on the repair and maintenance of the skin barrier, as this is the key to healthy, youthful-looking skin. “The scientific term for this philosophy is called corneotherapy. It is well established that skin does better in every way when the surface barrier is intact. Osmosis believes in restoring the turnover rate by increasing the food supply of the skin, which directly affects how quickly it can replace itself.”

If you’re worried about blackheads, congestion and clogged pores, Dr Johnson says you should focus on improving your gut health, and things like face mapping can help give you clues about what’s causing it in the first place. “We have found that the number one cause of blackheads is increased mucus in the digestive tract. In fact, we have mapped the face zones that reflect this mucus congestion and connected them to organs with our revolutionary Osmosis Skin Mapping approach,” he says. Interesting!

“Skin congestion should be treated internally for the most effective and lasting results,” says Dr Johnson, who recommends his Osmosis Skin Clarifier – a 10-day cleanse for mucus and skin congestion. You might also want to look into incorporating a daily probiotic supplement to rebalance bacteria in your gut and promote good skin health, like Blackmores Probiotics + Daily Health.

What about moisturisers? Do we actually need to use them morning and night? We spoke to an expert to find out if you really need to moisturise your skin.

Do you use an exfoliator in your skin care routine? Let us know your thoughts on Dr Johnson’s anti-exfoliation advice in the comment section below.

Main image credit: @sarasampaio

Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.