My Favorite Face Scrub Turned On Me After 10 Years Of Loyal Service

How to move on with your head held high after your favorite exfoliator does you wrong.
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Pia and Runa
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How to move on with your head held high after your favorite exfoliator does you wrong.

What do you do when the one beauty product that has never let you down suddenly turns evil and screws with your skin? Move on, of course, perhaps after giving it the middle finger. (Why is it so satisfying to flip the bird at an inanimate object?) But first, a little damage control is necessary--and maybe a little wallowing.

If you were all flies on my bathroom wall (I guess that would make my bathroom an outhouse) you’d know that exfoliation is the one part of my beauty routine that I, Runa, truly commit to. I’m a serial exfoliator. I scrub everything, everywhere, at least once, maybe even twice a day. I’ve got a Clarisonic that I’m addicted to (you’d have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands to get me to part with it and I’d come back and haunt you until I found a way to bring it with me into the afterlife).

As a beauty editor, I know better than to do this to my skin every day, but when it comes to scrubs, I’m guilty of not taking my own advice. (That and shampooing every day. Countless hair pros have berated me for my shampoo habits, but when my hair feels like a fountain of grease after walking around NYC all day, daily washing is non-negotiable.)

My scrubbing addiction practically calls for a Barry White soundtrack. I slowly saunter in to the bathroom, ready to strip my skin of all that makeup. I squeeze the gritty goodness on to my fingertips and buff away. I love the feeling of getting all of that makeup and dirt out of my pores while rubbing away dead skin cells.

I convince myself that my skin is glowing and that I’m happy, but a little voice in the back of my head screams, “Bad, Runa, bad!” See, scrubbing more than two or three times a week can actually do bad things to your skin, like causing breakouts, redness and discoloration, which have never been an issue for me--until now.

There’s one face scrub that I’ve been using for at least a decade, going through at least three bottles a month and even squeezing it into empty contact lense containers when I travel for fear that I’d be without it for more than 24 hours.

A few weeks ago, after following my usual routine--face wash, face scrub, moisturizer, bed--I woke up to a horrifying sight. My face was beet red (yes, brown people can get red) and stung like crazy, and I had a crazy breakout that looked like tiny dots underneath my skin.

I freaked out, thinking I had bed bugs. I looked like I had fallen asleep face down in a den of fire ants. I locked myself in my bathroom and went into crisis-control mode, trying to figure out what the eff I had used to make my skin freak out the way it did.

I don’t often dabble in face masks, serums or peels, so deep down, I knew: it was my scrub. We were dunzo.

These boots were made for squishin'.

These boots were made for squishin'.

I ran to the store and bought the most benign cleanser I could find, Cetaphil, which turned out to be a lifesaver. I’ve stuck to that twice a day and completely abstained from my scrubbing addiction for two weeks.

It took about a week for my face to return to its normal state, but a few dark spots remain from the breakout. Dark skin scars super easily--so not fair. I’ve been treating the spots with Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Bright Skin Tone Correcting Serum and I’m seeing an improvement.

What’s really weird about this whole thing: Pia was never been a fan of this offending scrub before because it used to make her breakout, but ever since I stopped using it, she’s become addicted to it, and it’s making her skin more clear and glowy then ever. THE BENEDICT ARNOLD OF SCRUBS.

HOW TO HAVE A HEALTHY SCRUB ADDICTION

  • Limit your scrub action to two to three times a week. Over-exfoliating doesn’t help keep skin clear--it can make breakouts worse.
  • Use a gel or cream cleanser on days that you are not using a scrub. Gel cleaners tend to be more suited towards oilier skin, while cream cleansers are typically made for normal to dry skin.
  • If you have one of those rotating face brushes, do not use it with a scrub. Use it with a gel or cream cleanser and skip the scrub on those days.
  • Look for a scrub that has small, round “scrubbies” or exfoliating beads. Ones with large, jagged pieces create tiny wounds in your skin. My current fave: Fresh Soy Face Exfoliant.

IF YOUR SCRUB SUDDENLY TURNS ON YOU…

  • Stop using it. Cease and desist!
  • Grab some ice cubes, wrap them in a towel and blot your face to help take the redness down.
  • Toss the evil scrub and get a super-gentle face wash like the Cetaphil one I now . Use this daily to avoid exacerbating irritation.
  • Moisturize with a super-gentle, fragrance-free lotion. Cetaphil is pretty much the queen of gentle stuff.

And obvi, if your situation isn’t calming down and your face is on fire, hit up your derm. (If you face is literally on fire, stop, drop and roll.)

Has a favorite beauty product ever betrayed you? What was the damage and how did you deal?