As the frigid winter weather approaches, your skin takes a beating with the one-two punch of cold air outside and hot, dry air inside. This can lead to a pileup of dead skin cells, which can make your complexion look flaky and patchy. The best way to maintain smooth skin even when the mercury drops is all about exfoliation. We asked the experts for their advice on how to do it right.
How often should you exfoliate in the colder months?
"You can do it once every two weeks in warmer months, but you need to up that to once a week in fall and winter," says dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla.
Is it ok to do it every day?
There can there be too much of a good thing. "If you exfoliate too often, as in a few times a week, your skin will paradoxically become more dry and irritated," Mariwalla says. "Then you will feel like you need to exfoliate more, and you enter a cycle that's difficult to break." If you love that super-soft skin feeling, dermatologists recommend using a gentle non-scrub cleanser every night with a rotating brush, like the Clarisonic.
Is it better to use physical scrubs or chemical peels to exfoliate?
While physical scrubs are effective, beware of those containing apricot pits and ground nuts. "While they make your skin feel smoother in the moment, they can also be irritating and can inflame acne-prone skin," says dermatologist Noelle Sherber. "Their jagged edges can create tiny tears in the skin that promote redness and can lead to acne and an uneven skin tone. Even some synthetic beads do this." Also steer clear of salt scrubs. "They're too rough for the skin, even elbows and knees," Mariwalla says. "People once tried to use sea salt to remove tattoos—that's how harsh it is."
Instead go for an alpha hydroxy acid or beta hydroxy acid exfoliant, which eats up dead skin cells and also offers anti-aging and pore-clearing benefits. Try: Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment, which includes both.
How can you best fight super-dry skin?
Slathering on moisturizer won't do the trick on its own. "Rough dead cells sitting on the surface of the skin just get in the way of your moisturizer's absorption," Sherber says. Start with a moisturizing face wash. Then, once a week, "exfoliate with a sugar scrub and warm water," Mariwalla says. "This will open the pores and ready them for moisturizer, which should be applied immediately after washing the face while the skin is still damp." A good sugar scrub that also contains moisturizing oils is the Fresh Sugar Face Polish.
Can you still exfoliate if you have sensitive skin?
Yes, but choose your potion wisely. "I recommend enzymatic exfoliants that rely on ingredients from papaya (papain) and pineapple (bromelain) to dissolve dead cells on the surface of the skin," Sherber says. "They don't absorb into the skin to cause sensitivity, and don't cause nicks on the skin's surface." Try: Kiehl's Pineapple Papaya Facial Scrub, which also contains natural vitamin oils to further coddle delicate complexions.