When your face feels tight and itchy mere hours after you’ve applied moisturizer, the furthest thought from your mind is introducing products created specifically to shed even more skin. Exfoliating during the winter might sound counterintuitive, but it could actually be one of the best wintertime skin care hacks.
Exfoliation is a great treatment for signs of aging, acne, and post-inflammatory pigmentation because it accelerates the natural cell turnover process, shedding dead cells to allow newer, healthier ones to take their place. It’s important for anti-aging and hyperpigmentation fading purposes, because the rejuvenation process takes longer the older we get, making blemishes a lot more visible and increasing the frequency of discoloration occurrences.
Exfoliation Helps With Acne
A buildup of sebum and dead skin cells in pores and follicles combined with a slower rate of cell turnover increases the probability of acne flare-ups. Whiteheads and blackheads are at the milder end of the spectrum, caused by surface-level pore blockage, while more extreme cases, like cystic acne, occur when bacteria gets trapped in our hair follicles.
While cell turnover isn’t the only factor that increases the risk for developing acne, it’s one that can be controlled to a certain degree since exfoliation can speed up the process, unclogging pores, fighting bacteria, and regulating sebum. Exfoliating also stimulates collagen production and improves circulation, which can enhance the absorption of products, a key benefit for a winter skin care routine.
Exfoliation Helps With Dullness
Speaking of factors that contribute to acne, the combination of harsh lower temps, indoor heating, and layers of cozy clothing can add up to a layer of dead, flaky skin that, when left unattended, can cause a litany of problems ranging from ingrown hairs to dull skin. Don’t forget that this applies not just to the skin on your face but to the rest of your body as well. Try to use a sugar or coffee scrub in the shower at least once a week, and follow up with a nourishing body lotion afterward.
Try Chemical Exfoliants: How to Choose One
Chemical exfoliants are increasingly popular lately, as they provide a safe way to achieve a clearer complexion at home. You can take your pick from a variety of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) or a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) depending on your skin type and exfoliation needs. For instance, glycolic acid, which is the most commonly used AHA, has a smaller molecular weight than lactic or mandelic acid, enabling it to penetrate the layers of skin deeply. Additionally, it naturally boosts moisture levels, making it an optimal for skin that needs hydration.
Lactic acid has a larger molecular weight than glycolic acid, so it doesn’t penetrate as deeply, instead working at a surface level. Like glycolic acid, it’s hydrating and has the added benefits of brightening and smoothing with a decreased probability of sensitivity.
Mandelic acid has the largest molecular structure of the three, which translates to a gentler, less irritating experience. Mandelic acid is also said to be the best AHA for darker skin tones as its ability to inhibit melanin makes it adept at targeting hyperpigmentation.
BHAs, like salicylic acid, actually have a lot in common with AHAs. They also loosen the bonds between the skin’s surface and dead cells, diminish signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines, smooth texture, and firm skin. It’s favored by oilier skin types because of its clog-busting abilities and antioxidant properties. It can be a bit overwhelming to choose the best one, but with time and research, you can find a product that works wonders for your skin.
Personally, I prefer AHAs to most physical exfoliants because there’s less of a chance of developing microscopic tears in the skin from granular substances like coffee, walnut shells, or sugar, which are commonly used in scrubs. That’s not to say that there aren’t any gentle options. A greater awareness of good skin care practices and advances in science have yielded products that provide light dermabrasion without wreaking havoc on the skin. Just don’t pull out the St. Ives Apricot Scrub the next time your skin needs a good sloughing.
Exfoliate—But Take It Easy
I would be remiss if I didn’t leave you with a few words of caution as far as chemical exfoliants are concerned. Start slow, spacing out applications at first, and then build up to more frequent use if your skin can tolerate it. Be especially careful if you have sensitive skin, as AHAs dial that up significantly, and it’s easy to tip over into skin damage if you’re not careful.
All skin types should make sure to have their SPF game on lock because some UV rays can still penetrate cloud cover during dreary winter days. And so, even though it might be a better idea to exfoliate during the winter because UVB rays are less intense during these months, there’s still the potential for UV damage if skin is left without SPF protection.
Going full tilt with acids can lead to overexfoliation, which can wreck your acid mantle, accelerate skin aging, and cause irritation. Think of it this way: Exfoliation works by extricating dead cells from the surface of the skin, and overexfoliation removes a lot more skin cells than your body is naturally ready to give up. That disruption leaves it vulnerable to bacteria and other environmental stressors.
If you ever find yourself in this pickle, eliminate acids from your routine immediately, and stick to a routine of calming and hydrating products to soothe your skin and promote healing.