Do you skip the exfoliation step in your beauty routine, especially when the shortening days lead you to want to curl up with a good book or sleep in ten minutes longer? Don’t let fall turn into a long, dark winter for your skin. Beauty editor Vanessa Craft makes the case for keeping exfoliants at the front of your shelf.

Exfoliation, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: You make skin smoother, remove dead cells (leaving younger, more supple cells behind) and increase hydration by enabling better product absorption. You will always be the most beloved part of my skincare regimen.

As we age, the normal 28-day skin renewal cycle slows down, which can lead to an uneven, ruddy complexion. Exfoliating your face regularly will help. But before choosing a product, it’s important to understand the differences between "manual" scrubs and chemical ones.

Exfoliation two ways
Manual scrubs are great for instant gratification, providing a healthy glow before a night out. They’re also a must-do before applying self-tanner to ensure even application. But you can inflict damage if you’re not careful. Scrubbing like Lady Macbeth can tear and eventually thin the skin, especially if the product contains rough ingredients such as crushed nut shells.

Memories of stinging, stinky and goopy formulations can make women shy away from chemical exfoliants (containing AHA – alpha-hydroxy acid – or BHA – beta-hydroxy acid) but times, and products, have changed. It will take about three weeks to notice a difference when using creams with AHA or BHA, but they offer a more uniform result. If you follow the instructions, there’s little risk of overdoing it.

Patricia Clare, national training manager at NeoStrata/Canderm, says AHA  exfoliants remove only dead cells, not live ones, so there’s nothing to worry about: "AHAs are discriminatory.It’s like using a lint roller – you’re not wrecking your sweater, just taking off what isn’t meant to be there."

exfoliation-instant-glow-1.jpgVanessa’s picks for best exfoliants:

Let fruit enzymes work their magic on dead skin cells using a peel containing papaya and orange Elemental Herbology Facial Glow Radiance Peel ($75)

The lactic acid in Dermalogica Skin Resurfacing Cleanser ($49) accelerates cell turnover while hydrating and brightening.

I swear by NeoStrata Smoothing Cream Level 2 ($36), which uses a time-release system to minimize irritation while removing dead cell buildup.

A powdery cocktail of brightening agents, anti-oxidants and exfoliants, June Jacobs Spa Collection Radiant Refining Exfoliating Powder ($52) delicately improves skin texture and tone. Just remember to add water!

Dr. Brandt Microdermabrasion Exfoliating Face Cream ($85) uses pharmaceutical-grade crystals to exfoliate without scratching, while lactic acid leaves skin soft.

A mix of fruit acids and micro beads makes Lise Watier Skin Radiance Smoothing Exfoliating Gel ($27) an easy option for both normal and combination skin.