Exfoliation is one of the most important steps in a good skin-care regimen. Removing the outermost layer of dead cells to reveal the more glowing complexion beneath helps maintain a youthful appearance and keep the skin healthy.

“As we age, our cell renewal rate slows down and dead skin cells build up almost like shingles on a roof. If we don't exfoliate, the skin looks dull and lifeless, and the products won't be able to penetrate. By exfoliating, your skin looks younger and glowing,” says Erin Murphy, medical aesthetician at Aurora Medical Spa.

However, exfoliating properly is key. Murphy recommends use of a gentle cleansing brush (such as Clarisonic). “It helps exfoliate, and also cleans the skin six times better than hands alone,” she says. “It will also allow your other products to penetrate better.” These motorized brushes clean and buff the skin without scrubbing too harshly, which can damage the skin and cause redness.

Specific products and skin-care ingredients also help remove dead cells and speed cell turnover. Retin-A is a medical-grade prescription product that enhances collagen production while sloughing away dead surface cells, explains Carol Anderson, lead nurse at Synergi MedSpa. While the product comes in varying strengths, she recommends the 0.05-percent formulation to help guard against the side effect of flaking and peeling. “Some people just need to use it two or three times a week to see results, and it should always be followed with moisturizer,” she adds.

Alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) are less potent exfoliating ingredients found in many over-the-counter skin care products. Murphy recommends Skin Medica’s AHA/BHA Cream for gentle exfoliation. However, these types of products may increase skin’s sensitivity and should always be followed with good sun protection.

Before choosing an exfoliating product, consider consultation with a skin-care professional. Most medical spas and dermatology practices are happy to help determine the best types of products and procedures for your individual skin type and cosmetic needs.

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