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The Fine Art of Exfoliation

Q: Are some scrubs better for exfoliating the face and some better for the body? I've heard there are ingredients that can irritate the skin.

A: The ingredients you want in a scrub — whether they're larger, more abrasive particles or softer, smaller granules — depend on your skin type, explains Gary Monheit, M.D., dermatologist, and an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center. Since exfoliating scrubs work by physically sloughing off the top layer of dead skin to reveal fresh cells underneath, the thickness and sensitivity of your skin play a big part. Oilier complexions have larger sebaceous glands, making the skin thicker and better able to tolerate a more abrasive scrub. (Scrubs of any kind, however, can irritate blemishes, so use with caution if you have acne.) Those with sensitive complexions should stick to products with fine granules, like jojoba beads or ground oatmeal, which are less likely to irritate the skin.

And when it comes to facial scrubs, know that natural isn't always better. Some natural products, such as those that use apricot seeds and crushed walnut shells, may not be the best for your skin type; these particles can be irregularly shaped and, as a result, may create tiny nicks or tears in delicate facial skin. Such scrubs, as well as natural-based products that are salt- or sugar-based, are best used on the body, which has thicker skin. A good body bet: Davies Gate Garden Made Walnut Scrub ($14; sephora.com).

If you prefer to use a natural-based scrub for the face, look for a product with jojoba beads. These tiny spheres, derived from the seeds of the jojoba plant, are uniform in size and shape and are far less irritating to the skin. Editors' favorites: BeneFit Pineapple Facial Polish ($24; sephora.com) with jojoba beads and pineapple and kiwi extracts, and St. Ives Gentle Apricot Scrub with jojoba beads and apricot-kernel oil ($2.89; at drugstores).

Many cosmetic companies have also started to produce synthetic scrubs. Made out of polyurethane or other plastics, these microscopic beads work in just the same way as natural exfoliants, but are usually smoother and more uniform in size, which lessens the possibility of tears occurring in the skin. For face, try: Lancôme Exfoliance Confort ($22; lancome.com) and Aveeno Skin Brightening Daily Scrub ($7; at drugstores). Gentle favorites for body: Dove Gentle Exfoliating Beauty Bar and Gentle Exfoliating Moisturizing Body Wash ($2.39 and $4; at drugstores). No matter which scrub you choose, exfoliate only two to three times a week; any more frequently can cause irritation.

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