Can You Exfoliate If You’re Already Using A Retinol? Asking For A Friend


Exfoliation does offer a gratifying, highlighter-like glow, yes, but your skin doesn’t need to shed skin cells that consistently. In fact, your skin is supposed to have dead skin cells—they help lock in moisture and keep the precious water from seeping out. It’s the buildup of those skin cells that can cause dullness, clogged pores, and the like. You don’t want to slough them off over and over again before they’re ready to go—immediate glow be damned. 

That said, you might want to take some recovery time, even more so if you do incorporate a retinoid and exfoliator into your routine. “It’s like when you go to the gym, you need days to recover. The same thing holds true for the skin barrier and the microbiome,” says board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., on the mindbodygreen podcast. “You want to use a retinol? Go for it. You want to use an AHA, like glycolic acid? Go for it, but give yourself two nights off when you’re just using nourishing, hydrating ingredients.” 

For example, she suggests prebiotics, jojoba oil, sunflower seed oil, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and aloe on recovery nights to replenish the skin barrier.