After months of enduring dry air and chilly temperatures, the land isn’t the only thing that needs some much-needed renewal this spring. We’re talking about your skin. Your face may have kept its radiant glow, but some of us are guilty of neglecting the rest of our body. A crime—really—considering we naturally shed between 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells every hour that, when left unaddressed, build up on the skin’s surface and can lead to ingrown hairs and acne. But not to worry—that’s what exfoliation is for.
“Proper exfoliation removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, uncovering fresh new skin and improving skin tone. It allows for products to penetrate deeper and work more effectively and also serves to unclog pores,” says board-certified dermatologist Rhonda Klein, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.D.
New York dermatologist Bobby Buka, M.D., contributing founder and chief science officer of First Aid Beauty, seconds this, adding, “The other thing about exfoliation is that it improves circulation, which, in addition to the overall health benefits, improves the skin’s elasticity and helps alleviate signs of scars and cuts.”
Types of Exfoliators
Exfoliators are classified as either chemical or physical and depending on your skin type, both can be incorporated into your beauty regimen. “Chemical exfoliants are good for most skin types as they work to dissolve dead skin cells rather than using grains or particles. Non-abrasive exfoliators often tend to hydrate the skin as well,” explains skin care expert and spa industry professional Julie Pankey.
Physical exfoliators or scrubs, on the other hand, use grains—from sugar, clay, plants or nuts, to name a few—to rid the skin of surface impurities. They work best for those with dry and flaky skin as the fine granules can immediately slough off dirt and debris to reveal a fresher, brighter complexion. But if you have sensitive skin, Pankey says to proceed with caution as larger-grained body scrubs can cause irritation and micro-tears.
Glycolic acid works best for chemical exfoliation, says board-certified dermatologist and beauty expert Anna Guanche, M.D., “because the acidity allows sulfide bonds between the dead skin cells to break down so that the cells will let go,” she explains. Additionally, Dr. Klein recommends exfoliants with lactic and salicylic acids, willow bark extracts and proteolytic enzymes (like papain and bromelain—enzymes that break down protein and aid in tissue growth).
How Often Should You Exfoliate
While exfoliation is essential in boosting cell turnover, Osmosis Pur Medical Skincare founder and formulator Ben Johnson, M.D., says that too much scrubbing and peeling can actually do your skin more harm than good. He explains that forced exfoliation creates holes in the epidermal layer and “forces the epidermis to go into survival mode,” causing the skin to divert collagen, antioxidants and crucial nutrients from the dermis in an attempt to repair the damage. “This, combined with the increased risk of inflammation and micro-scarring and the resulting stress to the immune system, creates a stage for premature aging and an increase in free radicals, dryness, irritation and redness, sun sensitivity and melanin activity,” adds Dr. Johnson.
For those with dry and dehydrated skin, Dr. Johnson recommends using a mild enzyme exfoliant two to three times a week to help “smooth out the upper epidermal layers without causing inflammation.” Pankey echoes this and adds that for sensitive skin, “Once a week is a good start to see how your skin responds.”
Now that you know how important exfoliation is for your skin, it’s time to give your body some well-deserved TLC. Here are our top picks for best exfoliating products for your body, hands and feet.
Our Top Picks for Physical Exfoliants
1. Archipelago Botanicals Coconut Sugar Scrub
If you haven’t acquainted yourself with the wonders of coconut oil, let this scrub be your introduction. With the added nourishing benefits of jojoba esters, shea butter and natural fatty acids, this purifying scrub is a moisturizing powerhouse that will leave your skin refreshed and rejuvenated.
2. C.O. Bigelow Honey Almond Scrub
Whether it’s dryness or oiliness that troubles your skin, this scrub definitely deserves a spot on your bathroom shelf. Featuring honey and chamomile, ginger root and parsley extracts, it moisturizes and balances your skin, heals and reduces inflammation, evens out skin tone and improves elasticity.
3. Eminence Organic Skin Care Coconut Sugar Scrub
There’s no better way to pamper your skin and keep it free of dirt and dead skin cells than with this hydrating body scrub that features raw sugar cane granules. With a Biocomplex formula that’s infused with vitamins A, C and E, antioxidants, coenzymeQ10 and coconut water, it restores, conditions and strengthens skin, leaving it more radiant and youthful-looking.
4. Zents Unzented Body Polish
We all know that having dry skin makes you more prone to developing signs of premature skin aging, and using the wrong body scrub can only make the problem worse. This sugar and salt Body Polish is packed with ultra-hydrating and deeply moisturizing ingredients (coconut oil and sunflower seed oils, shea butter and lavender extract) that leave skin softer, smoother and more radiant.
5. Lancer Skincare The Method: Body Polish
This exfoliating body scrub is a luxurious treat for your skin. Infused with finely milled grains of pure quartz crystals, salicylic acid, kigelia fruit extract and marula oil, it clears surface impurities, boosts collagen production and smoothens and balances your skin, leaving it soft and silky to the touch. It also features zeolite, a natural mineral that creates a comfortable and warming sensation for ultimate skin pampering.
Our Top Picks for Chemical Exfoliants
6. SkinCeuticals Body Retexturing Treatment
True to its name, this gel body treatment, featuring a formula that blends a 17.7 percent hydroxyethyl urea/aminosulfonic acid compound with 4 percent niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, improves, hydrates and renews dry and damaged skin in your entire body—from your arms and elbows down to your knees and heels.
7. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pad for Body
Now that we’re well into spring (and summer isn’t too far ahead), it’s time to leave that winter skin behind and amp up your glow with this set of pre-soaked exfoliating towelettes. Infused with vitamin E, soy proteins and AHAs (lactic and glycolic acids), this sunless tanner delivers natural-looking color deep into the skin while helping reduce blackheads, acne scars and roughness.
8. Karuna Exfoliating Foot Mask
Whether it’s high heels, running shoes or hiking boots, there’s no denying that your feet endure a lot of torment. Give them the pampering they deserve with this deeply moisturizing foot mask—infused with glycerin, coconut oil, aloe, shea butter and tea tree oil—that exfoliates dead skin cells and conditions through even the most calloused, rough and dry feet.
9. L’Occitane One Minute Hand Scrub
Make sure your handshake always leaves a good impression with this hand scrub that gently exfoliates and renews dry and damaged skin, thanks to its nourishing blend of sweet almond and grapeseed oils. Simply mix the formula with the spatula and massage into hands and cuticles.