The combo of freezing temps and blazing indoor heat takes a toll on skin by the end of winter. So when denim jacket weather rolls around, skin is flaky, rough, and uneven. If panic starts to set in as you think about leaving the house sans tights, fear not: I consulted skin-care pros for the essential advice you’ll need to slough off the drier days gone by.
Exfoliation is the essential first step to getting glowing skin. “Winter can be extremely depleting to the skin, leaving it dry and sensitized, so gentle, yet effective exfoliation is essential for removing that dead layer, which allows for your moisturizer to penetrate more effectively,” says Courtney P. Chiusano, a holistic facialist and owner of Courtney Chiusano Skincare in Los Angeles.
There are a couple ways to do this: You can physically scrub with a face cleansing mitt, brush, washcloth, or grain cleanser—or instead, opt for a chemical agent such as alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs). Here’s when you should rely on each.
Scroll down for essential tips—and product recs—from skin-care pros that make the exfoliation process so much smoother.
For the face
You’re used to applying different moisturizers to your face and your body, right? Same goes for the exfoliant that you choose. “The body has thicker skin than the delicate facial area, so it’s important to treat them differently,” says Chiusano. While the body can handle more aggressive grains such as sugar- and salt-based scrubs, according to her, the face needs a little more TLC.
For oily skin, Chiusano recommends using a mild salicylic acid-spiked product to help control oil buildup inside pores and sweep away dead skin on the surface. For normal and dry skin types, reach for gentle scrubs in the form of a powdered cleanser, which have small grains that gently slough away buildup. “Stay away from walnut-based scrubs, which can inflame the skin,” she says.
The main key to keeping skin happy is not overdoing it. “Exfoliation should only be done one to three times per week,” Chiusano says. Start off by trying it once a week and work your way up from there, and keep an eye out for products that have exfoliating properties in your existing regimen. “Some people don’t realize that they’re using a glycolic-based cleanser or acid-based serum daily, which can strip the skin, leaving it drier and more prone to breakouts.”
For the body
If you have oily skin, the best way to exfoliate is with a BHA like salicylic acid. “It’s oil soluble, so it can help penetrate into the hair follicle. It removes excess oil from the skin and can help dissolve the connections between skin cells so that they can be shed,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist.
People with normal skin can use a gentle scrub to polish off dead skin or opt for a chemical exfoliant. “I generally recommend AHAs like glycolic, lactic, or mandelic acid for those with normal skin,” he tells me. “These alpha-hydroxy acids are water-soluble, and effectively exfoliate dead cells from the surface of the skin.”
If you have dry or sensitive skin, the first thing you want to do is hydrate. “Don’t mistake dry, inflamed skin with dull skin that needs exfoliating,” Dr. Zeichner says. Once skin is well hydrated, you can use a gentle scrub or poly-hydroxy acid (PHAs) like gluconolactone and lactobionic acid. “It is very gentle and actually has humectant properties making it most appropriate for patients with dry and sensitive skin.”
Another alternative is dry brushing. “For the body, I am all about dry brushing. Not only does it remove dead skin but it stimulates lymphatic drainage,” Chiusano says. Right before you shower, use an all-natural bristled brush to gently exfoliate, working from your feet to your arms and back in the direction of your heart, with gentle strokes.
For the feet
Prepping the feet for summer (AKA sandals season) typically means getting a pedicure, but if you’re in more of a DIY mode, remember this: “If the skin is very thick, you may need some form of physical exfoliation to help with the thick calluses that have developed. Be careful not to overdo it, as those calluses develop for a reason,” Zeichner says. Otherwise, slather on an AHA or BHA lotion or serum (one for your body can also be used for your feet) and achieve baby soft feet from the comfort of your own home.
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