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Your Guide to Soft, Healthy Skin

Woman applying moisturizing cream to her legs
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

For many of us, the skin on our face gets more love than the skin on our body. But when’s the last time you gave the rest of your body the same attention? Here are our tips and tricks for healthy skin all over.

If you’re guilty of focusing on facial skin care, we can hardly blame you. It’s not hard to see why: your face is staring back at you every time you look in the mirror, with every blemish and dry patch all too visible.

For those of you that can’t remember the last time you paid the same level of attention to the rest of your skin though, this guide is for you. With a few easy steps and the right products, you can maintain soft, healthy skin all year long—here’s how to do it.

Cleansing

Your first step in maintaining skin that looks great is cleansing.

Of course, we all know the importance of regular showering. But there’s more to it than just smelling good: cleaning your body with the proper products and techniques can also set your skin up for healthy, moisturized success.

From summer’s heat to winter’s bitter cold, there are lots of outside influences that can negatively impact your skin. Also, your skin naturally produces less oil with age, making it harder to prevent dryness. You might experience flakiness, itching, breakouts, and many other issues. Anyone can have these problems—and stopping them starts in the shower.

Cleansing Tools

When you cleanse, you probably use a washcloth, loofah, or a similar tool. However, some people just use their hands.

Although people have doubtless been using their hands as cleansing tools since the dawn of time, using something like a washcloth helps you get a deeper clean with mild exfoliation (more on that below). However, if you have sensitive skin, you might do better with the gentle cleanse offered by your hands. Just make sure your hands are clean before you use them to wash your body.

If you use something with a rougher texture, like a loofah, use gentle pressure. Scrubbing too hard with a rough tool can create micro-tears in your skin, which will take time to heal. However, every skin type is different, so use what works best for you.

Cleansing Products

Now, the big question: bar soap or body wash?

The answer: it doesn’t really matter. High-quality bar soap or body wash will do the same thing for your skin, so it’s all a matter of personal preference.

The one thing to be sure of is that your cleansing product doesn’t contain harsh ingredients that will dry or damage your skin. Look for hydrators like plant butter and oil (think shea, coconut, olive, and so on). If you notice your skin is often irritated after showering, try using a fragrance-free product.

You can also buy cleansing products with ingredients to target specific issues. For example, salicylic acid can help combat body acne.

Finally, keep in mind that long, hot showers will dry out your skin. If you have problems with dry or sensitive skin, consider shorter, cooler showers.

Exfoliating

Exfoliating removes the top layer of dead skin from your skin’s surface. This step is crucial: it keeps pores free and clear, so your natural oils can do the work of moisturizing. This also means any other products you use after showering will penetrate better.

However, you don’t want to overdo exfoliation: this can also cause micro-tears and other damage. For most people, exfoliating no more than a couple times a week works well. Make sure your tools and products aren’t too harsh for your skin type.

Exfoliating Tools

You can exfoliate with just your hands and a product, or let a scrubby washcloth or loofah do the work for you. But for a deeper exfoliation, you might want to try a specialty tool.

One of the most popular exfoliation tools today is the dry brush. Dry brushing involves rubbing your skin with a stiff-bristled brush while it’s dry. The brush should feel rough but not painful. You’ll use it before you shower, then wash away the skin cells that you loosened with the brush.

You can also find exfoliating gloves and other tools for use in the shower. Again, what you use is all a matter of personal preference and what works best for your skin.

Exfoliating Products

If you use a tool like a dry brush or exfoliating gloves, you won’t need a separate product. But if you plan to use just your hands, you’ll need a product to add the scrubbing texture.

Many exfoliators use salt or sugar, while others use different ingredients like crushed walnut or coconut shells. However, crushed shells often have jagged edges, which can be damaging to your skin, so sugar or salt is a better choice.

Other products use plastic microbeads for exfoliation. Although they’re smooth and gentle, these beads damage the environment by getting into the water supply, so avoid them.

You can easily make an exfoliating product at home, too. Just mix sugar or salt with a base of plant oil, and scrub it all over your body in the shower. (It will make the floor slippery, so be careful when you rinse off.)

Moisturizing

Woman with manicured fingernails, scooping moisturizing cream out of a container.
Yuriy Maksymiv/Shutterstock

Moisturizing is another critical step for your skin. In addition to moisturizing after your shower, you might need to apply products throughout the day or before bed. Although your skin does naturally produce some hydrating oils, most people do best with additional products. Different skin types need different moisture levels.

Moisturizing Tools

For the most part, moisturizing is all about the products—you don’t need much in the way of specialized tools for application.

However, if you use products that come in a jar, you might opt to use a spatula to remove the product instead of your bare hands. This isn’t essential, but it may help keep bacteria from growing as fast inside the jar, so your products last longer.

Moisturizing Products

Choosing from the bevy of products on store shelves might seem difficult. To narrow it down, check the ingredients list. Look for hydrating plant oils and butter, and avoid moisturizers that contain drying alcohol.

If your skin is sensitive, you might also want to look for a moisturizer that’s free of fragrance and preservatives—or make your own. You can even use a plain plant-based product, like coconut oil or shea butter, as a moisturizer.

Sun Protection

Finally, there’s one last step on your way to soft, healthy skin: SPF.

You can use moisturizers with SPF or use separate sunscreen products. Either way, make sure any exposed body part has a layer of sun protection. This will help slow down the early signs of aging that show up in places like the hands and neck, which are almost always exposed to the sun. And, while this guide is focused on the body, don’t forget to wear sunscreen on your face.

Sun Protection Tools

You might not be thinking of skincare when you get dressed, but your clothing can be one of your most valuable sun protection tools.

If you plan to spend a serious amount of time in direct sunlight, you might want to invest in clothing specifically designed to block damaging UV rays. Otherwise, keep any body parts without sunscreen on them covered. Wide-brimmed hats and polarized sunglasses can help reduce sun-related damage.

Sun Protection Products

We all know the importance of sunscreen—but you have to put it on for it to work.

Wearing sunscreen every day, not just when you’re going to the beach, is a good habit. If your skin will be exposed to the sun (even on an overcast day), apply a layer of sunscreen.

In addition to protecting against skin cancer, sunscreen also keeps short-term skin damage at bay. This includes dry skin, redness, and sunburn, plus the flaking and peeling that usually follows. Look for high-quality sunscreens that also add moisture to keep your skin happy.

Soft, healthy skin matters for people of all ages and all genders. When you care for your skin, you’ll look and feel better all the time. For more skin-loving tips, don’t miss our complete sunscreen guide!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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