To rub off dead skin cells, you should use a gritty scrub on freshly cleansed, wet skin. Choose one designed for facial skin; it should feel soft and not too gritty, with minute grains, when you rub it between your fingers. Avoid coarsely ground fruit-pit scrubs; they’re uneven and sharp and can cut your skin. You can’t go wrong with scrubs that contain tiny polyethylene beads, which have no rough edges. Oatmeal scrubs are also gentle. To apply, use your fingertips (not a washcloth) to gently roll the scrub over your skin for 15 to 30 seconds.
If your moisturizer stings after your scrub, you’ve overdone it; lay off for at least a week.
You shouldn’t use scrubs if you use Retin-A, or if you’ve got broken capillaries, rosacea, or cystic acne (under-the-skin bumps).
In warm, humid weather, you can exfoliate more frequently.
To loosen dead skin cells chemically, you can use a cleanser, lotion, toner, or moisturizer containing fruit acids called alpha hydroxy acids, which work by dissolving the bonds that hold dead cells on the skin. AHAs often appear on labels as glycolic acid, citric acid, or lactic acid. Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid, sloughs in a slightly different, though effective, way.
Clay-based masks, or any mask that hardens as it dries, make great once-a-week exfoliators, gently carrying away dead cells and excess surface oil when you rinse them off. Don’t, however, use a daily exfoliating scrub or AHA product on the day you use the mask.
Until your skin gets used to AHAs, they may sting a little. But if an AHA-containing product causes burning or redness, it’s not for you.
You shouldn’t mix AHAs from different product lines: The formulas may clash and cause irritation.
You should never use AHA products more often than recommended, but feel free to use them less often. Do what feels good for your skin — use them every other day, or three days on/three days off.