Spring cleaning doesn’t just apply to your closet: it’s also important for your skin health. As the weather warms, it’s time to literally shed our outer layers — to get rid of the dry, dead skin cells that have been building up during the cold winter months.
Here’s why you need to exfoliate in the spring, and which ingredients are best for the job.
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Why does dead skin build up in winter?
You’ve probably taken for granted that when the weather’s cold, your skin gets dry. But it’s worth understanding the reasons behind this phenomenon:
- Colder temperatures can slow down typical skin functions, like sebum production and cell turnover
- Drier air (cold, blustery outside and warm, forced air inside) dehydrates skin
- Hotter showers can lead to increased moisture loss
- Stress (like seasonal affective disorder, SAD) depresses skin health, too
All of this translates into water and moisture loss in the skin’s outer layers (aka the stratum corneum). And chances are high that those dead cells aren’t sloughing off as frequently, due to common wintertime factors:
- Dehydration impairs efficient desquamation. In other words, when your corneocytes (those dead, flattened outer skin cells) are deprived of water, they don’t shed properly, building up into rough, uneven patches.
- Rich creams and body oils don’t necessarily hydrate. Dry skin is mainly a water problem: unless you replenish the water before you lock it in with an oil, you’re just greasing up dry skin.
- Hibernating habits aren’t helping heal skin. Taking hot baths, snuggling up under a blanket with the heat blasting, and skipping your routine (since your skin’s dry anyway) can make things worse.
How to prep your skin for spring
If you’ve been experiencing any of those winter blahs we outlined above, we’re not here to judge. The good news is that reintroducing one simple step — exfoliating — back into your regular routine can make a major difference in your skin health.
Here’s a roundup of dermatological ingredients favored by Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) to effectively exfoliate — no matter your skin type. As always, start slowly with exfoliating, especially if you’ve been on a break all winter long. Overdoing it can lead to irritation and (ironically) dry, damaged skin.
This oil-soluble beta hydroxy acid is able to seep beneath the skin’s lipid layer and down into the pores because it’s not repelled by sebum. In fact, it mingles with those lipids that bind dead cells together and clog up your pores. Salicylic acid softens everything up so it’s easier to remove — which is why it works so well in cleansers.
If you’ve got normal to oily skin, it’s typically safe to use salicylic acid in mild concentrations daily. Those with dry or sensitive skin, start slow — try every other day, or alternating with water or a cream cleanser in the morning, for example.
- Salicylic Acid Cleanser: exfoliates, removes dirt, dead cells and excess sebum, and is gentle enough for daily use.
- Clear Out Purifying Treatment Mask: exfoliates, while natural sulfur helps inhibit acne-causing bacteria and regulate sebum without overdrying.
The smallest alpha hydroxy acid molecule, this ingredient can penetrate deeper into the skin to exfoliate effectively. It works by breaking the bonds between corneocytes so they slough off to reveal newer, smoother skin beneath.
Because it also helps stimulate hydration, glycolic acid is ideal for revitalizing dull skin, addressing fine lines, and also for treating conditions like keratosis pilaris (KP) — a buildup of excess keratin protein that causes rough, bumpy patches.
- Resurfacing Acne Swipes: this blend of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids helps remove excess sebum and dead cells, while also minimizing signs of premature aging, like hyperpigmentation.
- Glycolic Acid Body Scrub: exfoliates with both AHA and physical granules to tackle dry skin, areas of keratosis pilaris, and help prevent ingrown hairs.
- Glycolic Acid Body Lotion: exfoliates and also hydrates and moisturizes with added shea butter.
Those of you into the science of skincare know that retinoids aren’t technically exfoliants: they speed up the skin cycle, so that cells slough off sooner. It’s a slight — but significant — distinction, and it means that you can carefully combine retinol with true exfoliants for enhanced results.
If you have normal, combination, or dry skin, Dr. Lee recommends alternating your retinol and exfoliant use — for example, alpha hydroxy acid in the morning, retinol at night. Those with oily skin can experiment with frequency and watch for signs of irritation.
- Retinol Serum: a time-released, vitamin C-infused formula that’s ideal for those with normal to oily/acne prone skin.
- Dream On: a retinol night cream with added squalane and probiotics to nourish and renew skin.
- Night Light: a nighttime eye cream with retinol, caffeine and hyaluronic acid to help brighten, minimize fine lines, and reduce undereye bags.
Dr. Lee’s last word
Exfoliating is a healthy skin habit to have year-round, but it’s especially important as the weather warms up. A lot of us aren’t as diligent in our routine in the wintertime, so spring is the perfect opportunity to incorporate more of those exfoliating ingredients — like salicylic and glycolic acids — to get rid of those rough, dead cells that may have built up. This is going to help your skin look smoother, allow your products to penetrate better, and help prevent acne from forming.
—Dr. Sandra Lee