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If you’ve had a more intense urge to exfoliate your face during the pandemic you’re not alone: A recent report from NPD found that 40% of regular skin-care users in the U.S. are slathering on more products now than a year ago—and “basic care” picks, such as cleansers, exfoliators, and scrubs, have experienced the most significant jump in demand. On a practical level, this makes sense; mask-wearing can trap sweat and bacteria on skin, and exfoliating can help unclog congested pores. And with many spas closed, regular, skin-sloughing facials are out of reach for many of us. Yet there’s also a psychological factor at play too: As we vigorously wipe down surfaces and fiercely wage war on stealthy germs, there’s a certain mesmerizing appeal in peeling away the battle-worn outer layer of our skin to reveal the fresh, “clean” layer underneath.


The Chemical Reaction
Beta-Hydroxy Acids

Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are oil-soluble and go deeper into the pores than AHAs to clear excess debris and sebum. Mattioli likes azelaic acid, such as The Ordinary’s Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, as its high molecular-weight effectively kills bacteria while also reducing redness and swelling, making it gentle enough for treating acne and rosacea. Salicylic acid takes things up a notch, she says, penetrating deep into pores to unblock any congestion, even out skin tone, and smooth the surface. Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant has a devoted following among skin-care junkies. Dallas- and NYC-based aesthetician Joanna Czech, meanwhile, is loyal to the cultish Biologique Recherche P50, which “comes in a variety of strengths,” she says, including a gentle P50W with salicylic acid, “so you can adjust accordingly to your sensitivity and skin conditions.”

Let’s Get Physical
Physical exfoliants can be used once a week, or every other week to maintain skin tone and clarity. Mattioli prefers micro-exfoliants—or those with small-size, non-coarse particles—such as the poppy seeds and bamboo powder found in Holifrog’s Como Popp-E Renewal Scrubby Wash, or the brown rice and rosehip seeds in Klur’s Skin Soil, which comes in a dry powder that, when mixed with water, forms a low-friction scrub with just enough grit to disrupt debris without causing damage. The newly launched Daily Exfoliating Cleanser from Reflekt uses gentle, biodegradable beads crafted from jojoba esters. If you’re sensitive, skip the scrubs altogether, and keep it simple with a washcloth, suggests Czech. “I just rinse with a linen washcloth, which is another great micro-exfoliator,” she elaborates. Move the cloth across your face in small, circular motions to soften any flakes so they can be easily washed away on their own.