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Go Gentle Into That Good Night: Rules for Exfoliating

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,
Love love love love love the smackdown. I followed your foundation routine religiously (including buying a Sephora brush) when I wore makeup… I stopped turbaning my hair as soon as you suggested it (and yes, my hair is happier.)
Ok, so my skin has bigger problems than can be solved over e-mail. But I’ll try to keep this focused: how much exfoliating does a face need? what’s the best way to gently accomplish this?
Background: I’ve had acne varying from moderate to horrific since I was 13 (I’m 26 now.) My face is supersensitive and dries very easily, so I had a nice solid habit of picking, rubbing, or
scratching at the itchy, scabby, peeling mess (sigh). I really tried to stop, I really did.
About four weeks ago, I thought about your advice to apply moisturizer “gently!” and I had an epiphany — time to be really gentle with my skin! NO MORE rubbing picking scratching pushing
touching AT ALL — including during washing.
So now my routine is: splash with lukewarm water, apply Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleanser by sliding fingertips over skin, rinse with 4 splashes of lukewarm followed by 4 splashes of cold, dry by patting VERY! gently with handtowel, apply Aveeno Positively Radiant Moisturizer with tip of pinky finger. This is in the morning — I don’t do anything at night because I don’t wear makeup anymore.
Since I started this, I’ve had a much easier time keeping my hands off my face throughout the rest of the day, because my skin doesn’t feel dry, tight and itchy. My acne is much, much better.
But….. It’s not great. Today is a good day — and I have 4 whiteheads on my chin and cheek, 4-5 other red bumps on my chin, one large red cyst on my lower cheek, and several blackheads on my forehead.
Plus, my skin is rough and scaly to the touch on my forehead and chin (although it doesn’t look like it), and peeling on my nose (the moisturizer is getting caught in the dead skin and looks gross I think). And I can’t wear any skin makeup because of this rough texture.
I want to have smooth skin on my face — but I’m not sure how to accomplish this. What’s a good way to exfoliate without drying or overrubbing? What do you do?

Okay. So.
Before I get to the general for-everybody sort-of rules re: exfoliating, let’s focus on JUST YOU for a second, and on the mistakes I think I see in your skincare routine.
aveeno1.jpgFirst, I gotta be honest. I do not like the Aveeno Positively Radiant line. I tried the moisturizer/sunscreen thing and it really did nothing for my skin, and even clogged my pores up a little bit. Aveeno has some wonderful products for sensitive skin, but I’m not sure this particular line is the best they have to offer. But! Just me. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have NOTHING against drugstore brands because they are drugstore brands. I simply have no tolerance for products that don’t WORK, whether they cost $6 or $60.)
HOWEVER, I don’t think that’s the biggest concern here. This is: I don’t do anything at night because I don’t wear makeup anymore.
*runs screaming*
You NEED to wash and moisturize your face at night, even if you don’t wear makeup. You must! Makeup is only ONE of the skin-polluting things that you should wash off at the end of the day, and your current routine is leaving all kinds of dirt and oil and sweat and environmental crap on your face overnight.
I’m so very glad to hear you’ve embraced the gentle approach to skincare (dudes, remember when we were all so crazily masochistic about it? With the Biore strips and astringents and peel-crap-out-of-your-pores mask things?), and yes, plucking and squeezing and picking at your face is BAD and WRONG and FAIL. But…your face needs to be washed twice a day. And moisturized. Especially now that winter is coming…the air in our bedrooms can be SO DRYING. (If you really hate moisturizing at night, then at least get a humidifier for your room, dear Lord.) The right products will let you wash and moisturize twice a day without dryness or irritation.
If you really like the Aveeno cleanser and moisturizer (and it does sound like you’re seeing some good results with them) keep using them. TWICE A DAY. (Unless you’re using the moisturizer with SPF in it. No SPF at night, chickies, so maybe try one of Aveeno’s non-SPF moisturizers. Perhaps to fight the rough texture? for the acne? for all of the above?)
So, for the general rules, as promised: Everybody needs a morning and night skincare routine. I use a stand-alone sunscreen in the morning (), so I just omit that at night. Otherwise, it’s the same deal: cleanser, moisturizer, eye cream, acne spot treatment as needed. If you use a moisturizer-and-sunscreen in one, you should use an SPF-less night cream at night. And then once a week, I do a more intense exfoliating treatment (Microdelivery Peel). I think everybody — even the very sensitive — can benefit from a mask or peel or some kind of deep treatment. OCCASIONALLY.
I remember the first time I used a deep pore-sucking clay mask in high school…and oh! how cleeeeean my skin felt afterwards…and I decided to ignore the “once-a-week” instructions and used it everyday for an entire week. Uh. Dumbass. Burny hurty red-faced dumbass. But once a week, five minutes of a more intense treatment can really rid your skin of a lot of underlying crap without going overboard on the scrubby-scrubby. (And will maybe get your skin back to a point where you can wear makeup again? And use that nice Sephora foundation brush again? Hmm?)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • appelsauce

    September 24, 2007 at 10:28 am

    I really have to agree with Amy on Aveeno. I’m a big fan of their stuff for the body – moisturizer, oatmeal bath, etc. But I’ve tried several different products for my face (mostly from the line for sensitive skin), and they all did absolutely nothing for me. In the short-term, nothing really happened. Except it always felt like the moisturizer was sitting like a film on top of my skin. Ew! And in the mid-term, they all made my acne worse. The one Positively Radiant product I used (moisturizer) was the WORST of the lot. So I never stuck with any of them long enough for a long-term evaluation.

  • Cha

    September 24, 2007 at 10:33 am

    Not to disagree with the sage guru, Amalah, but you might want to experiment with exfoliating more lightly than a deep mask and more often. It sounds like you have a lot of dead skin/surface issues to take care of in addition to the deep downs. I’d try lightly exfoliating (possibly just using a washcloth with your cleanser) 2-3x/week in addition to a deep mask. I’d also recommend Kiehl’s Pineapple Papaya scrub as a scrub and a mask (lightly rub and then leave on for 5-15 minutes after, then rinse. The enzymes go to work). I think the big point is to lightly, gently exfoliate to take care of the surface crap and then treat with a targeted mask for what’s happening underneath.

  • Olivia

    September 24, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Yes, yes, always wash your face twice a day. I remember freaking out when I found out a friend who does wear make-up, only washed her face once a day – in the morning after SLEEPING IN HER MAKE-UP! My routine is basicaly like Amahah’s, but instead of a mask I use a facial scrub (Avon’s Brown Sugar) a couple of times a week to exfoliate.

  • Kara

    September 24, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    To elaborate on the exfoliation question, have you thought of trying a chemical exfoliant like a 1% or 2% beta hydroxy acid? Sounds scary, but if you find a good one it should be both gentle and anti-inflammatory. These products can be drying for some people but if you have a good moisturizer like Amalah recommends it may not be a problem.
    This product has really changed my skin for the better:
    I’ve also been prone to acne and dryness since the womb it seems, though it sounds like your case is more severe. I started with a light application once a day, before bed. It’s capable of a lot more than the facial scrubs without all the scratching. (Previously I was a true devotee of the scratch your face off method. Scratch it all off, start over.)
    You don’t have to go with Paula’s Choice. The name of her line clearly sucks, but she’s smart and makes some really great stripped down products that work. Plus, sample sizes. (Though I do think it’s hard to get it right when trying to coax liquid out of a tiny plastic pouch.)
    Other exfoliants she offers:
    Maybe try a 1% if you’re worried about drying. Also that page should link to helpful info about what exfoliants are right for who, and why.
    Somewhere along the way, this got lengthy… Anyway I agree that the new gentle routine is great. Do it twice a day and maybe add a chemical exfoliant at night. (And who am I? Nobody! But thanks to the internet I’ve got e-pinions!)

  • adria

    September 24, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    I’m dying to know what you think of Dr Hauschaka’s advice to skip the night cream.
    Everyone I know who’s tried his products just raves about them.

  • speak21

    September 24, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    I would agree with the advice about adding nightime cleansing to your routine (essential!) and to try adding some gentle exfoliation. Whether a mask, scrub, or chemical exfoliant is the way to go always seems to be a very individual thing and may take some trial and error. I would say that if you have had chronic, persistent acne that doesn’t seem to go away, no matter what you try, you might want to consider seeing a dermatologist. The prescription creams really can work wonders…

  • spookiepants

    September 24, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    I totally agree with this post as a girl who suffers from acne (wash twice daily with a gentle hand!). However, I would add a further comment and suggest that Bobbe might benefit from a visit to the dermatologist (if that hasn’t happened already).
    I’ve had horrid adult onset acne and a lot of it is hormones, while cleansing and moisturizing are two steps in my now healthy (with some remaining acne, it’s just who I am) skin, getting on some stronger medication (either pills or creams/gel of some sorts) might solve the acne problem. I’ve been told not to exfoliate much and only use dermatologist provided scrub.
    I love my dermatologist and would suggest a visit to a skin doctor to anyone with adult acne.

  • Kelly J

    September 25, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Okay, so here’s what I need to know. When using a separate sunscreen, when do I apply it? After the moisturizer? Before? I need an order of operations (or applications)!

  • robin m

    September 25, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Just use the regimen at It’s all you need. I’ve had acne for 16 years (am now 30).

  • jeana

    September 25, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    After having “acne” for over 15 years, I was finally told by a woman at the health food store that what I had was not typical acne, it was rosacea. She said most skin cleansers on the market, while excellent products, are too harsh for skin with rosacea (even the “gentle” ones)and she told me to stop washing it so much. I started using a Vitamin E glycerin bar soap, followed by Nutribiotic Nonsoap on my face. (If I’ve worn makeup I remove it first.)I wash my face ONCE a day when I’m in the shower, whether it’s at night or in the morning, and I started using moisturizer after I wash it. (I never would before because my skin was so oily.) At first I used oil-free moisturizer, now I use the Wal-Mart knock off of Oil of Olay.
    Logically, I agree with Amalah’s reasoning, but from experience I know that my skin is in much better shape now that I’m not washing it so much. Rosacea tends to occur on skin that is very delicate, and in this case washing it twice a day does more harm than good. It is now very rare for me to get blemishes, and when I do it’s usually after something has irritated my skin (certain sunscreens, for instance).

  • Kate C.

    September 26, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    “it was rosacea”
    I was just about to post this! I think a visit to the dermatologist is definitely in order. I just started using Finacea on my crazy sensitive, easily dried out, stings whenever I put anything on it skin and I’ve gotten great results. I second the washing once a day (I do it at night, remove makeup and then rinse with warm water in the morning + moisturizer). My dermatologist told me that many people who think they suffer from “adult acne” actually have rosacea. If you do, exfoliation is the *last* thing you want to do.

  • Brandy

    July 23, 2009 at 1:26 am

    I just watched a segment on Oprah, where this product expert Paula Begon, & Dr. OZ, & another Dr, who is a dermotoligist ( she has been on other shows over the years) says you should exfoliate everyday! This one lady had adult acne & her skin care routine was makeing it worse! I did not see the whole show, but would be worth getting the tape or even transscript!