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Lenny Letter No. 119

A Non-Sensible Guide to Winter Hibernation: Give Up Sex, and Exfoliate

Because the best relationship is the one you have with your skin.

illustration of beauty products against backdrop of bare winter trees
Illustration by Danie Drankwalter

The best time to be single in New York City, or any place where the temperature has the audacity to go below zero, is in the winter. While all my friends devote these unbearably cold times to getting hot, steamy, and sexed with a temporary lover, I prefer to get wine-drunk and antisocial and obsess over my skin. Sex is great, but have you taken a bath in Herbivore Coconut Soak lying in a Joanna Vargas Dawn Sheet Mask with a simmering Byredo Burning Rose candle?

About two winters ago, I stumbled into the holy grail secret of poreless, luminous skin: exfoliating, specifically chemical exfoliation. It’s actually the best thing you can do for and to your body in the winter when your skin usually gets dry and flaky. A friend came into town toting a bag full of beauty goodies she didn’t want, and in it was the dream product I didn’t know I needed — M-61’s PowerGlow Peel pads, individual exfoliating pads saturated with glycolic and salicylic acids promising to immediately resurface your skin. A continuous stroke over my forehead, cheeks, chin, and neck, and I was a brand-new woman who had the dead skin cells to prove it — I could see them on the wipe immediately after I used it.

Underneath was a new layer of skin: velvety, smooth, plump, and beaming. The products I applied after (a vitamin-C serum, a rose-hip oil, moisturizer, and a sunscreen) seeped into my skin with ease, and after about a month of using the peel pads, I started to see my hyperpigmentation fade into the abyss. This is what people mean when they say beauty comes from the inside out. This is how I know every celebrity who says they just drink lots of water is lying.

I needed to know more about exfoliation — I needed to know everything, and what drastic measures I needed to take to afford it all (seriously, skin care can be expensive as hell; don’t let it suck you into feeling obligated to buy everything).

I became a skin-care mad woman, limiting interactions to my mail person, my roommates, and my mother (because if not, she’d kill me).

How much information could I read before I went to bed? (Caroline Hirons and the Cut’s Ashley Weatherford are my saviors.) What’s the difference between AHA and BHA? (Alpha hydroxy acid, which includes glycolic and lactic acids, works on the skin’s surface and is better for dry skin due to its moisturizing properties, and beta hydroxy acid, which includes salicylic acids, has the ability to penetrate pores, so it works well for oily and acne-prone skin. But together, they make a dynamic duo.) How many products could I try at once? (In hindsight and because I care about you, it’s definitely one at a time.) How often should I be exfoliating? (Start with two times per week.) Can I overdo it? (Yes, please don’t be like me and get excited and over-exfoliate. Take it slow.)

And then: Did I really need to go on a date and split the bill when I could just buy more products? How often is this guy washing his pillowcases? Why do my friends want to talk about other stuff? Am I really supposed to lug ten products around in my bag for mediocre sex? Would my friends actually be mad if I flaked on dinner because it’s mask night? Going to Sephora is technically quality time spent, right?

Finally: Why would I even leave my house? Why do I even need to see anyone at all? Is overnight shipping really that ridiculous?

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Some people freak out when you tell them you haven’t seen an episode of Girlfriends, or you didn’t know Jon B was white. Now I freak out when my friends tell me they’ve been on three dates in a week, but they don't exfoliate regularly — or worse, they've never done it. And that freak-out comes with a list full of product recommendations and eternal shame.

It’s 2018, and while we can’t erase the dumpster fire that was 2017, we can erase our dead skin cells. It’s like a new year, new you — every week. And other very important people with flawless skin think so, too: Ageless Pharrell has said it. Beyoncé’s dermatologist has said it.

So leave your friends and lovers behind, and put your skin first. Go forth and exfoliate.

OK, OK, but where do I even start? I hate to answer your question with a question, but, how would you describe your skin? That will help you determine how much your skin can take. Ease into it. Start by adding a BHA (oily, break-out-prone skin) like Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid or an AHA (dry skin) like Sunday Riley Good Genes, using it twice a week for at least a month. Right now, I use both about four to five nights a week. I start with the BHA exfoliant, then use an alcohol-free moisturizing toner (Indie Lee CoQ-10 is lovely), finishing with the AHA and continuing my regular nightly routine, which includes a heavy moisturizer and a retinol treatment.

You can take it slower just using a cleanser with BHAs and AHAs, like Glytone Self-Foaming Cleanser, to be more like Pharrell. Then, if you want to feel like you’re at a spa without the hefty price tag, once a week, try doing an at-home chemical peel like Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial. Following with a moisturizing mask like Laneige Sleeping Mask. Using some type of chemical exfoliant is going to help all the rest of the skin-care products you put on your face work tremendously better.

Look at it this way: You’re one step away from people whispering and wondering if your glow is natural or a really good highlighter. It’s both.

What about the rest of my body? This is where my research got to the point of no return. My body can feel like my face. Well, with the right regimen, it can feel smooth and velvety too. Sure, layering up on lotion and body oils can suffice for now, but what’s the point of putting all that moisture on a body full of dead skin cells. And for that, we must (as you already know) exfoliate. I’m not a chemical-exfoliant-only advocate (like I am for the face); there are great options for both chemical and physical exfoliation, like Aesop’s Geranium Leaf Body Scrub and Cane + Austin Retexturizing Body Pads. There’s even AHAs and BHAs in some body lotions, like Cerave’s Renewing SA body lotion. And don’t forget about your lips. Use something like Frank Body’s Lip Scrub Kit. Right now, I’m trying dry-brushing my body, which is a little tedious, but like anything I’ve learned as a skin-care enthusiast, it’ll be worth it.

And you’re sure this is better than sex or socializing of any kind? I mean … I just want you to be the best version of yourself, and sometimes drama gets people to pay attention. But at the same time, who really wants to leave their house in the dead of winter? Warmer months are way better for dating and socializing. Don’t settle because it’s a little cold outside.

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Tahirah Hairston is an associate editor at Lenny who spends all her money on beauty products.