Is Exfoliation Making You Darker?

Our skin constantly undergoes renewal where dead skin cells that have completed their life fall off, and new, fresh skin cells come to the surface. This keeps the skin smooth and young-looking. Babies and children have an efficient system of exfoliation. As we age, this renewal slows down.

By using exfoliating products, you can speed up this cycle and get some of the glow back. Exfoliation also keeps the pores clean which in our case means fewer pimples.

Examples of exfoliating products are those containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid, vitamin C, retinol, tretinoin, sulphur and benzoyl peroxide, among other lesser known ones.

But is there a downside to it? Watch the video:

Dr. Schultz of DermTV warns of skin darkening when Indian skin is subjected to any kind of injury that would not normally cause darkening in Caucasian (white) skin.

Before you press the panic button, understand the circumstances under which the skin may darken from exfoliation.

He says that all human skin darkens when subjected to sun damage or strong heat or mechanical injury. Damage to skin shows up in the form of a tan after an injury as the skin tries to produce more melanin, the darkening pigment.

While I don’t always agree with Dr. Schultz, in this case I do. Many times the same clinical peels and laser procedures that work very well for white skin can cause undesirable skin darkening in Indian skin.

We have had some community members in the past who posted about their experiences with medical grade peels and lasers darkening their skin.

At home treatments causing darkening?

While Dr. Schultz is talking more about medical grade chemical peels and procedures, you may notice the same effect if you use too much exfoliation at home as well.

A very aggressive exfoliating regimen such as for example combining say 0.05% tretinoin (Retino-A) with 12% glycolic acid (Glyco A) and 15% vitamin C (Epishine) all together may cause skin darkening, even if not in everyone.

While these exfoliants are peeling the skin and should theoretically lighten marks, the combined strong effect is also injuring the skin in the process.

This is perhaps the same reason why Benzoyl Peroxide being a harsh exfoliating treatment causes major marks when used on Indian skin.

I have shouted about this from the rooftops to anyone who will listen that Benzoyl Peroxide, while very effective, may not be the best choice for Indian skin for the risk of massive Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) or brown marks.

This darkening cannot be prevented by simply applying sunscreen, since this is not sun induced. This injury is induced by too much exfoliation.

My experience

Have I personally experienced it? Yes.

My skincare routine does not include excessive exfoliation (I barely manage to use Triacneal a few times a week), so there is no daily evidence of such injury. But there was one time when I noticed this effect myself.

complexion-brushLong ago, I experimented with face brushing. A face brush is just like a toothbrush, only with more bristles. It is a great way to increase blood circulation on the face and get some exfoliation.

The first day I used a face brush, everything went well, my skin glowed. That was because of all the dead skin it had sloughed off.

I got greedy. I tried it again the next day. The skin continued to glow.

The third day of face brushing I noticed something – my face was looking darker, duller and tired. How could that be? Wasn’t I exfoliating daily and making sure new, fresh, baby skin came to the surface?

Then it dawned on me that I was perhaps injuring my skin in the process of exfoliating. It was not a surprise then when I came across Dr. Schultz’s video mentioning the same.

Once I reduced the frequency of using the face brush, the darkening all subsided and the glow was back. So there is such a thing as too much exfoliation.

Are you overdoing it?

Many people are going to completely freak out and start throwing away their exfoliants in panic. Ask me how I know. 😉

It’s important to note that this post talks about skin darkening when exfoliation is taken to extremes.

To know if you might be over-exfoliating, there is a simple test. Check in the mirror if your skin looks brighter since you incorporated an exfoliant, or duller.

If you notice more dullness on the skin than before, it may be just a sign that you need to cut back on its use, not throw it away entirely. Like when I reduced the frequency of face brushing, my skin calmed down.

Lessons to take away

Scrubbing or face brushing too often can lead to skin injury, which in the case of Indian skin can cause undue darkening of the skin.

Same goes for abrasive chemical peels and lasers. Normally, Indian doctors are aware of which procedures are suitable for Indian skin and which ones can cause hyper pigmentation and they steer clear of them.

Dark skin isn’t bad, it is even desirable in many cultures. What is bad is that you are injuring your skin.

It is also about knowing how far to push your limits with exfoliation. Your limit may be different from others. Your skin may be able to tolerate much more or much less exfoliation before it starts to show signs of darkening.

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