We all want smooth, glowing skin. While the glow can come after a good run or bike ride, the smooth isn't as easy to get.
To get rid of dry uneven skin and rough spots, many women exfoliate with some sort of a scrub in the shower--most likely St. Ives Apricot Scrub, one of the top selling facial products in the country. But these days, there are dozens of other ways to exfoliate, from mechanical brushes and hydroxy acid kits to microdermabrasion and many types of peels.
We've sloughed through all the options--here's what you need to know.
Why It's Good For You
Exfoliation speeds up your skin's natural renewal process, removing dead skin cells that build up on the surface of your skin. Once the dead cells are gone, your complexion looks brighter and healthier. Exfoliating also can stimulate collagen synthesis, which improves the appearance of fine lines. If you don't exfoliate, you can get build-ups that cause clogged pores, leading to uneven skin tone, whiteheads, blackheads and other blemishes. Makeup, pollution and stress can make it worse.
After a hard workout, it's even more important to exfoliate, says Tonya Daoura, co-owner of Beehive Day Spa in Snohomish, Washington. "Exfoliating will detoxify, decongest, and improve your skin tone--all while healing breakouts."
However, if you can't exfoliate regularly, don't fret. "It's not like your skin is going to get four feet thick," says dermatologist Dr. Rick Noodleman, medical director of Age Defy Dermatology and Wellness located near San Jose, California. "The advantage is that exfoliating helps it along, and your skin is going to be more supple. Plus, it feels good."
How often you exfoliate depends on your skin and your age. Twice a week is standard. "Don't do it more than that," says Noodleman. "You have to give your body time to make that outer layer again." In your 30s and 40s, your skin doesn't shed as readily as it does when you're younger, he says, so you might have to exfoliate more often, perhaps three times per week (although this can vary due to your skin type).
Don't scrub before going outside to exercise. Your dead skin layer serves as a barrier between your body and the wind and sun, and after you scrub, your skin is more sensitive. So wait until after you come inside and shower to remove that top layer of skin.
And when it's warm outside, you might have to scrub a bit more frequently. The heat increases perspiration and oil production, leading to speedier accumulation of dead cells.
Pick products made for your skin type and sensitivity level. "Perfectly round, lab-created granules (like jojoba beans) are safer on the face than natural shells or pits, which might be jagged or uneven," says Noodleman. A few products we like include Essencia's Lavender, Oats & Nuts Facial Scrub ($13.50, essenciaonline.com) that you mix with water or plain yogurt, and Juara Rice Facial Scrub ($27, juaraskincare.com), which softens as it exfoliates.
To get the best results at home, massage a scrub into damp skin in a light, circular motion. Rinse with warm water, and don't let it get too hot. Avoid getting the scrub near your eyes, and place most of it on your nose and chin. If your skin is sensitive, don't use anything scented. It's normal for your skin to get a little red right after you exfoliate, since you're increasing blood circulation, but discontinue use of any product that leaves your skin red or itchy hours later. If your skin is dry, try a scrub that includes a moisturizer.
The skin on your legs, back and stomach is tougher than your face, so you should use different products for these areas. And remember, be careful in certain spots--the bikini line, for example--because if you rub too hard, you can get a rash.
Good exfoliating products for the body include Aromafloria Honey Papaya Nut Meal Exfoliant ($25, aromafloria.com), with crushed almonds, rice and oatmeal; Zia Ultimates Age-Defying Body Buff ($15, zianatural.com) made of brown sugar and honey; and Vitabath Exfoliating Sugar Scrub ($10, myvitabath.com) containing Vitamin E so it won't dry out your skin.
If your skin is too sensitive for scrubs, try gritless exfoliates, like alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy lotions. You won't shed dead skin as fast, but over time your skin will improve.
Many cleansers and soaps, including the Thera Neem Facial Complexion Botanical Cleansing Bar ($7, organixsouth.com) and the Garnier Nutritioniste Nutri-Pure Microbead Cream Scrub ($6, drugstores), have gentle exfoliating ingredients and are safe to use regularly.
Hydroxy acid kits (like glycolic) and beta hydroxy acid (salicylic) dissolve the bonds that hold dead skin cells to each other. Dermatologists recommend using these kits once a week to stimulate collagen production and help reduce acne. To use, brush the solution onto your face and wait five minutes before washing it off. Try L'Oreal ReNoviste Anti-Aging Glycolic Peel Kit ($25, drugstores).
Enzyme peels dissolve the protein in dead skin cells, and are great for sensitive skin. You smooth them on, wait 10 minutes, and then rinse. We like Renee Rouleau Enzyme Exfoliation ($29, reneerouleau.com), a smoothing peel made of pumpkin.
Other options include microdermabrasion scrubs, which have tiny sloughing beads that are gentler on your skin than acids or peels, and exfoliating creams that use lower time-released doses of chemical exfoliates that you can use every day. Just don't apply a cream in the morning, because it could slough off your sunscreen. And if you don't want to use any products, try "dry brushing" your skin with a natural bristle brush before getting in the shower.
Whatever you use to exfoliate, don't overdo it by scrubbing too hard or too often. Be gentle.
Sally Farhat Kassab, based in Boston, Massachusetts, is the editor of the guidebook Best Places Northwest and contributes to In Style, Natural Health and Parents.