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The Ultimate Guide to Exfoliation

Exfoliate Like a Pro

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If you think you sloughing is a step you can skip, think again. Regular exfoliation is an integral part of maintaining healthy (and pretty!) skin. "Not only does it remove the outermost layer of dead cells that make skin look dull and dry, it also ensures that any products you apply afterward better penetrate your skin and are ultimately more effective," explains Danae Markland, a licensed esthetician and PCA Skin Education Director.

Even more: Exfoliating is especially essential in cold, dry weather: "The drier it is outside, the drier the surface of your skin," she adds. So it's time to start sloughing—here's how to safely and effectively banish scaly spots from your head to your heels. (By the way, you should also try these Beauty Products for Gorgeous Winter Skin.)

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Your Scalp

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Though it may be covered with hair, don't forget that your scalp is skin too, and should be treated accordingly. One easy way to slough your scalp? Look for a shampoo with salicylic acid: "This beta hydroxy acid is a chemical exfoliant that will help dissolve the dead skin cells that can cause unsightly flaking," says Richie L. Lin, M.D., of Dermatology Consultants in Short Hills, NJ. If your scalp feels tight, dry, or itchy (or if you're seeing flakes falling), swap your standard sudser for a salicylic acid-based option a few times per week. One to try: Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo ($7; neutrogena.com). You can also find relief from dandruff, dryness, and more with these 5 Easy Fixes for Winter Hair Problems.

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Your Complexion (with Physical Scrubs)

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If you prefer a physical exfoliater, be gentle. Over-zealous scrubbing can cause irritation; use your fingertips to delicately massage the product across your skin. And be aware that not all scrubs are created equal. Those that contain large, irregularly-shaped particles, like nut shells, can cause microtears on the skin, cautions Markland. Instead, choose a product with gentler, uniformally-shaped beads (jojoba beads are one good option), or even a finely ground powder exfoliant. Try Cosmedix Purity Detox Scrub ($48; cosmedix.com).

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Your Complexion (with Chemical Scrubs)

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Chemical exfoliators offer a more controlled exfoliation—there's less risk that you'll overdo it, since the product is formulated with a set level of acid or enzymes, says Markland. Most of these products rely on alpha-hydroxy (AHA) or beta-hydroxy acids (BHA), both of which also deliver additional skincare benefits. (For example, glycolic acid—an AHA—also fights signs of aging; salicylic acid—a BHA—helps degunk pores and combat blackheads.) (Skin peels are also one of the Best Beauty Treatments to Do on Your Lunch Break.) Plus, these kinds of exfoliators are incredibly easy to use—simply apply a thin layer across your face, leave on for the amount of time directed, and rinse off. "You get an even exfoliation without much effort," says Lin.

Try the new Kora Organics Age-Defying AHA Facial Exfoliator ($60; koraorganics.com). Can't decide which route to take? Many products on the market contain both chemical and physical exfoliators, so you get the best of both worlds. Our pick: Trufora Triple Action Exfoliator ($45; trufora.com).

Photo: Corbis Images

Your Lips

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If—no matter how much balm you swipe on—your pout is cracked and flaking, it's time for a slough session. "Exfoliating your lips once a week helps keep the dry skin at bay and allows your lip balm to penetrate better," says celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas. Added benefits: smoother, more even lipstick application, and fuller lips (exfoliation stimulates circulation, temporarily plumping your pucker). Pick up a lip scrub, like Frank Body Lip Scrub ($15; frankbody.com), or make your own: Mix equal parts brown sugar and honey, then add enough olive oil to create a scrub-like consistency. Rub across your lips for a minute or two, then rinse.

Photo: Corbis Images

Your Chest

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The delicate skin below your chin requires a little extra TLC. "The skin on your chest and neck is even thinner than on the face, so you have to be very gentle," says Markland, who suggests a using a retinol treatment. Rather than removing the top layer of surface cells, the vitamin A derivative stimulates cell turnover from the bottom up, so that cells naturally slough off and shed faster. Not only will skin appear smoother and softer, retinol also helps fight any discoloration on your décolletage. Try Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Fortifying Neck Emulsion ($68; QVC.com).

Photo: Corbis Images

Your Body

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"Your body can tolerate stronger, more regular exfoliation than your face," explains Markland. "The skin is naturally drier because there are fewer oil glands, and it's also thicker and builds up more quickly." For super scaly spots (think: elbows and knees), pair a loofah, washcloth, or body brush with a scrub. Two to try: Tree Hut Pear & Chia Seed Oatmeal Scrub ($8; ulta.com) and Yes To Coconut Polishing Body Scrub ($8; yestocarrots.com). (We also like the coffee scrub from DIY Beauty Products to Get Pampered on Less.) 

For the rest of your body, an exfoliating body wash, like Dove Gentle Exfoliating Body Wash ($5; target.com), is an easy way to keep skin soft with minimal effort. As with your face, slather on moisturizer immediately afterwards. Consider a formula with non-irritating lactic acid; the chemical exfoliant gently breaks down dead skin cells, so you get two benefits from one product. AmLactin Moisturizing Body Lotion ($11; drugstore.com) fits the bill.

Photo: Corbis Images

Your Heels

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Dry, cracked heels are not only unattractive, they can also be seriously painful. For these built-up layers of dead skin, first reach for a tool, like a pumice stone or foot file, to remove the superficial layer of thick, dead skin, advises Lin. We like the battery-powered Amopé Pedi Perfect Extra Coarse Electronic Foot File with Diamond Crystals ($32; walmart.com). Follow with a scrub, then a cream with lactic acid. Another option: A foot peel, like the cult-classic Baby Foot ($25; babyfoot.com), which contains high concentrations of acids to break down the dry skin and reveal smoother layers underneath. (You can fake a pedicure with these 7 Sole-Saving Products for Pretty Feet.)

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