Time to Shed that Layer: Exfoliation Simplified

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It’s news to no one that as the temperature drops our skin gets dryer and dryer…and did we mention dryer? The winter turns into a battle to stay warm under layers of wool, cashmere, and goose down, while keeping what little skin remains exposed from getting blasted off your face by arctic winds. Your initial reaction for fighting off the flakes + scales may be to slather on the extra moisturizer, but the true solution to your winter skin woes is to be proactive and bust out the big guns. That’s right, it’s time to talk exfoliation, babes.

My first introduction to exfoliation was, I’m sure, very similar to yours. My descent into the skincare obsession that would follow me for the rest of my life (thank you Emily Weiss) began when my mom presented me with a tube of the humblest of gateway skin care products: St. Ives Apricot Scrub. Ever since that eureka moment that that rough, grainy scrub hit my elbows, I was hooked. In my quest for baby-softness, I’ve tried everything (acids, peels, scrubs, clays, creams, masks…goldfish nibbles) so you don’t have to. I’m here to tell you: we might be inclined to baby our skin in these cold months—along babying ourselves with unlimited red wine and hours engrossed in Westworldbut sometimes our skin needs a little tough love to get it back in shape.

Read on for an expert’s guide to exfoliation, simplified.

What is it?

In the most basic sense, exfoliation loosens and removes dead skin cells to reveal newer skin underneath. A physical exfoliant (such as the beloved apricot scrub) uses microbeads, seeds, or crushed nuts to physically exfoliate the skin. A chemical exfoliator uses, you guessed it, chemicals, to loosen the bonds between the dead skin cells and reveal the new skin underneath. Chemical exfoliants rely on AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), and natural fruit enzymes such as pineapple and papaya. Ahhh, science.

Why Chemical Exfoliation?

While any exfoliation is better than none, there are reasons to choose chemical exfoliants over their physical counterparts. While physical exfoliants provide that just scrubbed feeling, the harsh scrubbing can lead to microtears (yikes). Chemical exfoliation has other benefits such as providing hydration, reducing signs of aging, reducing acne and help diminishing dark marks and acne scars. Keeping skin exfoliated is also crucial in assisting the skin absorb products full of yummy ingredients like serums and moisturizers. We all know moisturizing is key during this time of year to keep our skin bouncy, and chemical exfoliation is just as crucial. Introducing an acid into your routine will help slough off dead, flaky skin and reveal a smooth, glowing complexion, even in the middle of the next snowpocalypse.

How to start?

The easiest way to incorporate exfoliation into your routine is by adding an exfoliating toner. Start slow with a low percentage around 5-10% about every other day. I’m a big fan of the Pixie Glow Tonic or Mario Badescu Glycolic Toner. Both are budget friendly, create a glow overnight, and help clear acne. For a step up from that, try the cult classic P50 lotion, a staple of every French Girl Beauty routine and the star of many a top shelf, trust me.  

P50 exfoliates, hydrates, and balances the skin, and many refer to it as a facial in a bottle. Then there’s what I like to refer to as the “special occasion” products: the big guns before that big date, that amazing party, or just to get out of your winter rut. Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta peel pads exfoliate with 7 types of acids and uses both AHAs and BHAs to help clear and rejuvenate skin. Tip: use the night before a big event for a guaranteed glow.

Sunday Riley Good Genes is the product that got me hooked on acids, it uses lactic acid which is a good beginner acid because it’s very gentle and moisturizing. It instantly plumps skin and fades spots, and should be used whenever your skin is feeling blah (aka in the middle of January through March). If after all this you’re still missing the feeling of manually scrubbing flakes away, take it up a notch— combine physical and chemical exfoliation for the best of both worlds. I like Eminence Organics Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant which has lactic and salicylic acid and fruit enzymes  as well as rice powder to reveal baby soft skin.

Think of it this way: how do you feel when spring finally returns and you’re able to unwrap that scarf, shrug off that heavy coat, and toss the hat to the depths of your closet? Your skin’s just as ready to lose those layers.

by Bella Cacciatore

Photo courtesy here.