The Essential Exfoliation Guide

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    By now, you know why you need to exfoliate: Removing dermis-dulling dead cells improves texture and tone, unplugging pores, lightening pigmentation, and helping skin lap up those lovely anti-agers. It also encourages cell turnover, bringing healthy, younger-looking skin to the surface. Chances are good you can even tick off a handful of effective glow-getters — from physical exfoliants (think vibrating brushes and microdermabrasion) to chemical ones like retinol creams and glycolic peels.

    What’s not so obvious? How to incorporate these products and treatments into your beauty regime. In the quest for a brighter, smoother complexion, many of us have become exfoliation overachievers, slathering and scouring to extremes. And, that can definitely backfire.

    “Exfoliate too often or aggressively and you’ll risk shedding too much of the skin’s protective barrier, which can lead to excessive dryness, redness, and inflammation, in addition to rashes and blemishes,” says David Bank, M.D., a dermatologist based in Mount Kisco, New York. “Unless you have very oily skin, there’s no need to do it more than once or twice a week."

    Choosing the wrong sloughing strategy can also lead to some unwanted side effects. “Exfoliation isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription,” says Bank, who recommends introducing a new product or treatment gradually, watching to see how your skin reacts. “If it’s irritated, or you’re not getting the results you’re after, stop, and try something else or consult a dermatologist.” Whichever methods you opt for, moisturize right after to lock in hydration and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily to protect fresh skin from damaging UV rays.

    To clear up any confusion, we asked Bank and other experts for the lowdown on a dozen-plus at-home and in-office exfoliation treatments. Ready to give your skin some slough love? Start clicking.

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