I think all of us who have experienced the traumatic winter of 2014 can feel you on this one—it did a major number on my face, as well! And your question is a good one, because while there are some basics to prepping your skin for warmer weather, which can include using a good facial scrub, the most important thing your skin needs right now (and always) is moisture.
“The skin is the largest organ of the body and has several functions,” says Fayne Frey, a 20-year board certified dermatologist and founder of the incredibly resourceful skincare site FryFace.com. “But its most crucial function is the ability to create a barrier to prevent water loss.”
Over time, however, especially when the skin is subjected to damaging environmental factors, such as frigid temps and dry, indoor heat, “the devices that the skin uses to maintain appropriate water content (such as lipids, which surround and protect skin cells) stop functioning properly,” Frey explains. “Adequate water content is not maintained and ‘dry, flaky skin’ becomes evident.”
So above all else, using a good moisturizer on a regular basis (which we hope you’re already doing!) is key to getting your skin back in tip-top shape.
That said, facial scrubs are also a great way to refresh dull winter skin and get it glowing for spring. And a good facial scrub is a facial good scrub, so you’re right, St. Ives is still around for a reason—it works. We love the tried-and-true Fresh Skin Invigorating Apricot Scrub, $5, however if you have acne- or blackhead-prone skin, their Blemish & Blackhead Control Apricot Scrub, $5, might be a better bet.
Something else to keep in mind about scrubs is that, while they are great for exfoliation after a long winter, there’s a benefit to including them in your regular skin care routine, as well. Using a mild exfoliator two times a week will keep your pores clear of built up oil and debris, which will in turn help keep those pores nice and tiny. As we age, our skin loses elasticity and becomes less adept at keeping pores as tight. So anything that’s clogging them will also enlarge them; a gentle, sandy scrubbing on a regular basis can help avoid this. (Because we all know large pores suck and are unsightly. And while they are unfortunately inevitable, if you can take measures to keep them minimized, you should do so sooner rather than later.)
However there is such a thing as overdoing it. “Aggressive exfoliation can strip the skin of the lipids and protein compounds that it needs to maintain a healthy water barrier,” cautions Frey. “It can cause the skin to appear dull, irritated and older looking.” So basically, go easy.
I whole heartedly recommend St. Ives and always have a tube of the Fresh Skin Apricot Scrub in my cabinet. I LOVE the way it makes my face feel—so smooth, soft and flake-free. Plus, it’s cheap! I follow immediately with moisturizer (as you should after using any scrub). A few other gentle and effective physical exfoliators we recommend: The Body Shop’s Aloe Gentle Exfoliator, $9; Juara’s Rice Facial Scrub, $29; and Fresh’s Sugar Face Polish, $58.
And as for your question regarding chemical exfoliators (which, unlike physical scrubs, add additional ingredients to aid in the skin-sloughing process—most notably alpha and beta hydroxy acids, salicylic acid and retinoids; physical scrubs rely only on grains, beads and texture to buff away dead skin cells). If your skin is a tad sensitive, and you find a physical exfoliator you like, stick with it. There are some great chemical exfoliators out there, but you may not want to risk the irritation that can often come along with their added ingredients.
We hope these tips and info have helped, Nancy—and that your skin is is soon rid of all signs of winter!
And do let us know what you decide in terms of the type of exfoliator you choose. If you do decide to venture into the world of chemical options, we’ll get the skinny on the subject for you ASAP—and find the best ones for your mature, sensitive skin.