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ESC, Exfoliating You're Doing it wrong

The surefire way to brighten up complexions is to exfoliate the skin. OK, so that's not news.

We know that sloughing off dead skin cells that accumulate on the surface can not only help clear skin and minimize plugged pores (which lead to blemishes), but it can also help stimulate cell turnover, something that helps our skin act and look younger.

But common knowledge dips when it comes to figuring when and how to exfoliate. Beauty brands have developed many ways to exfoliate the skin—from textured cleansers, to glycolic and salicylic acids and chemical peels.

With so many exfoliating options and a deep desire to achieve a beaming complexion on par with Emma Stone, are we roughing up the skin too much?

According to Macrene Alexiades, MD PhD, a dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine, we're not the only ones who are confused. She noted that many patients, including some of her hush-hush celeb clientele, have a tendency to over exfoliate, despite best intentions.

"A common error for many is the routine daily use of exfoliants, which weakens the skin over time. You are better off getting medical-grade peels to control breakouts, unclog pores and boost collagen levels," she said.

The MD's ultimate exfoliating plan? Seasonal in-office peels once every three months, immediately followed by a three-night break from retinoid use; maintain the skin with a glycolic acid cleanser or treatment a few times a week.

For those of us who can't afford time or money for regular trips to the derm, Macrene provided the following game plan:

Find your frequency: Some may need to gently exfoliate on a daily basis. If you have oily skin, can see blackheads and whiteheads and large pores, then daily exfoliation may be needed to keep pores from clogging. Similarly, if you wear a lot of makeup or are an athlete and perspire through the day, then this deeper form of cleansing can help keep skin in check.

If you don't fall into the category above (and qualify as a dry and sensitive skin type or one with a makeup-free lifestyle), skip the daily grind. Instead, Macrene advised, "Wait until you feel like your pores are getting large or blackheads start to appear and make note of how often you need to do an exfoliation to keep clear."

ESC, Exfoliating You're Doing it wrong

Textured cleansers: Exfoliating cleansers can sometimes be too granular. Instead, choose superfine grain and sparsely populated textures, coupled with soothing agents, like chamomile and manuka honey, found in True Nature Botanicals Pacific Exfoliating Cleanser. "Exfoliation will be irritating, so look for actives that are anti-inflammatory and soothing to offset any irritation, such as bisabolol, chamomile, green tea, aloe," Macrene confirmed.

For those who want to exfoliate while on the road, TSA-friendly powdered cleansers can be mixed with water and can provide gentle abrasion. May Lindstrom The Clean Dirt is not only gentle on the skin, it exfoliates using white and red clays, among other natural ingredients.

Acidic cleansers: Cleansers and treatments made with glycolic and/or salicylic acid can exfoliate without the gritty texture. SkinMedica GlyPro Exfoliating Cleanser uses glycolic and salicylic acid alongside earth-friendly microbeads to give skin a smooth result, while Airelle Exfoliating Cleanser (Sarah Michelle Gellar is a fan) balances glycolic acid with aloe vera juice for a more gentle cleanse.

Keep retinoid use in check: Finally remember that both prescription and over-the-counter retinol products contain built-in exfoliators. So give your skin a few-day retinoid break after your exfoliation session to prevent excess exfoliation.

True Nature Botanicals Pacific Exfoliating Cleanser, $48; May Lindstrom The Clean Dirt, $60; SkinMedica GlyPro Exfoliating Cleanser, $50; Airelle Exfoliating Cleanser