The Golden Rules of Winter Exfoliation—And the Gentle Product a Dermatologist Recommends That Won’t Dry You Out

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Your lips are never not chapped, your temples feel tight, and your cheeks might as well be sandpaper. Happy winter, fam. The combination of cold and windy weather, low humidity, and dry air from indoor heating isn’t exactly gentle on your face (please, someone, send us a steam room)—but that doesn’t mean you can’t be.

Before you decide to hibernate with your humidifier until spring, it might be time to consider adding one simple step to your winter skin treatment. According to board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, FAAD, gentle exfoliating is the key to glowier (read: happier, healthier, more hydrated) skin, especially this time of year.

Exfoliation works by removing the outermost layers of epidermis, which unclogs your pores, keeps your skin clean, and helps reduce breakouts, Dr. King says. “It also exposes a fresh layer of skin that is ready to retain hydration when moisturizer is applied afterwards, helping to plump the skin...and brighten the complexion, revealing fresh new cells underneath," she says.

Pause before you grab the nearest heavy-duty scrub, though. Not all exfoliators are created equal, and Dr. King recommends following a few golden rules to ensure you’re cleansing correctly—and with a tender touch. Rule number one? “Use a gentle formulation that has a [light] physical exfoliant, in a base that is rich in emollients,” aka ingredients that help soften and soothe skin, she says.

The Elemis Pro-Collagen Glow Boost Exfoliator checks those boxes with skin-softening oils (such as starflower, elderberry, and optimega), rose and mimosa waxes, and eco-friendly cellulose beads. At Dr. King's recommendation, I snagged a tube myself and committed to giving it a try, despite my nearly non-existent skin-care routine. Good news for me, though: All I had to do was dab it onto damp or dry skin, add a bit of warm water to form a milky consistency, give myself a quick facial massage (hello, winter self care), and rinse. That's it.

Elemis Pro-Collagen Glow Boost Exfoliator — $76.00


  • Removes dry, dead skin without any irritation
  • Good balance of exfoliating and hydrating
  • Packed with natural ingredients in spa-worthy scents
  • Makeup application is smoother after using


  • On the expensive side when it’s not on sale
  • Earthy aroma may not suit everyone

Alongside its formula of humectants, emollients, and occlusives—which join forces to hydrate your skin and support the skin barrier—Dr. King recommends Elemis’ milky formula because “it does not contain chemical exfoliants that could potentially irritate or dry out the skin.” Plus, “the spherical cellulose beads offer gentle physical exfoliation without being too abrasive.” And I can attest that my skin never felt overly dry after using it, like it has with some exfoliators I've tried in the past.

A little bit goes a long way, too (score). According to Dr. King, gentle exfoliation is essential, but it’s not necessary every day. “It is possible to over-exfoliate, which dries and irritates the skin,” she says. That brings her to golden rule number two: “Start with gentle exfoliation once or twice per week. If the skin is not irritated or dry, then it is safe to increase the frequency or strength of the exfoliant as tolerated.”

Dr. King's third golden rule is to use very gentle pressure when you exfoliate to avoid micro-tears. And once you’ve washed away every little bead? Rule number four is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. “Always follow [exfoliation] immediately with a moisturizer that contains humectants, emollients, and occlusives.” You’re a step ahead with the moisturizing ingredients in the Elemis exfoliator, which means you're that much closer to decreased dryness, a soft and smooth feel, and seriously radiant skin.

My prediction? When you follow Dr. King’s rules and add this gentle exfoliator to your winter skin treatment, you’ll face the harshness of the season with a little more comfort and a lot more glow. I should know: After trying it for just a week, my complexion feels more supple and looks much brighter (seriously). And when I feel like actually swiping on a bit of makeup and braving the elements, I've noticed my go-to products glide on *much* more effortlessly after a bit of exfoliation. Hibernating, who?

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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