No matter where you're from, or whether you have acne, rosacea, or dry skin, or some combination thereof, there are two universal truths when it comes to skin care: Everyone loves a good multitasker, and above all, we are all just doing our best to reach the pinnacle of healthy skin — which is not only clear, but truly glows. This is something that beauty brands have no doubt picked up on, because exfoliating moisturizers — one of the latest innovations in skin care — address both of those needs in one fell swoop.
Unlike many exfoliating scrubs, serums, toners, at-home peels, or even retinoid-spiked night creams, this new breed of moisturizer (many even geared for day) tend to offer a gentle entry into exfoliation without drying out the skin. What’s more, they pull off a clever trick: appointing alpha and beta hydroxy acids and other smoothing ingredients to brighten complexions while boosting hydration at the same damn time.
“These acids are effective at breaking down the glue in the top layer of dead skin, leaving skin smoother and more uniform in color,” says Heather Rogers, a Seattle-based dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington. “Combining the AHA/BHA treatment in a moisturizer can make the acids more tolerable by hydrating the treated skin.”
But that’s not all. What’s less celebrated, but just as impressive, about these acids is their ability to keep skin hydrated and dewy. “AHAs also have humectant properties, helping to pull in hydration to the outer skin layers,” says Joshua Zeichner, a New York-based dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “They exert more hydration benefits at lower concentrations, and more exfoliative properties at higher concentrations.”
When combined with proven hydrators like hyaluronic acid and ceramides, these ingredients are poised to combat the kind of dull, rough, dry skin that seems to befall us as soon as the A/C kicks in every spring. “An exfoliating moisturizer is wonderful to help smooth and brighten your complexion while providing hydration,” Dr. Rogers says, before offering this caveat: “But remember, when the skin is dried out the skin barrier is less effective at keeping things out and the risk of irritation is greater, so start slow with these products.”
With other formulations that tap even gentler skin smoothers like fruit acids and willow bark, there's an exfoliating moisturizer for nearly everyone — with the exception of extremely sensitive skin. “Exfoliating moisturizers tend to cause irritation for those with extremely fair, sensitive skin, making it more likely to burn than it already is," Dr. Zeichner warns.
Ahead, check out the brightest new things in hydration, and get our pros’ tips for how to make the most of them (hint: no skipping the SPF). Come summer, our complexions will be glowing — and not a second too soon.