To Scrub, Slough, or Chemically Dissolve

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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.  But good intentions can often go awry. “It’s so easy to overdo it,” says New York–based medical esthetician Jordana Mattioli of striking the balance between featherlight- and heavy-handed exfoliation, the latter of which can lead to redness, inflammation, and hyperpigmentation, especially among women with Black or brown skin.

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