During the coldest months of the year, as winds blow outside and heat blasts inside, you may feel like your skin has lost some of its natural glow. It may look dry or flaky, and it might even become itchy. Sure, you've tried moisturizer, but layers of dead skin cells on top of your skin can act as a barrier, preventing the moisturizer from doing its job. Adding exfoliation to your beauty routine can remove those dead skin cells and improve your skin's appearance.

"Exfoliation also can improve the effectiveness of topical skin treatments, which can penetrate deeper once the topmost layer of skin is removed. Long-term benefits of exfoliation can include increased collagen production, resulting in younger-looking skin," according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

There are two types of exfoliation: chemical and mechanical. With chemical exfoliation, acid is applied to the skin, and the acid dissolves the cells, while mechanical exfoliation uses a brush or scrub to strip away layers of dead skin. Results are immediate with either method, but which one's better? It depends on a few factors, dermatologists say.

“Before you exfoliate, you really need to understand your skin and skin type,” says Mary P. Lupo, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine. “A board-certified dermatologist can help you choose the exfoliation option that’s best-suited to your skin’s unique needs."

What to know as you slough

Woman getting an exfoliating facial with a facial scrub You may wish to have a professional perform chemical exfoliation; a professional can make sure you're using the right treatment for your skin type. (Photo: patrisyu/Shutterstock)

1. Determine your skin type. If you have dry or sensitive skin, Lupo suggests sticking with mild chemical options such as salicylic acid peels. If you have oily, thicker skin, you can consider a stronger chemical treatments, such as an over-the-counter 2 percent salicylic acid wash, or mechanical exfoliation methods, such as a dry brush or a scrub in the shower, according to the AAD.

Exfoliation treatments can make some skin conditions such as worse, especially if you have inflammatory acne, psoriasis, rosacea, warts or herpes simplex. Lupo says to consult a dermatologist before exfoliating if you have those conditions.

2. Know when the timing is right. Lupo says people with sensitive skin should stick to once- or twice-a-week at-home treatments, while those with oily skin may exfoliate up to once a day. The more aggressive the exfoliation method, the less often it needs to be done. In other words, those stronger chemical peels and treatments aren't meant to be part of a daily beauty routine.

Sea salt, lemon and rosemary body scrub Look for body scrubs with natural ingredients, like this one with sea salt, lemon, olive oil and rosemary. (Photo: Julia Sudnitskaya/Shutterstock)

3. Product is everything. With so many products on the market, it can be tricky to know what will be safe and effective. Lupo recommends buying over-the-counter chemical products with a low acid concentration — no higher than 10 percent glycolic acid or 2 percent salicylic acid. If you're shopping for scrubs, look for ones that contain natural exfoliating particles such as salt, coffee or finely ground shells. Lupo says they should be made from a reputable, recognized company.

4. Visit a dermatologist. Lupo says a professional can help you choose an at-home treatment or perform procedures not available outside a doctor's office, such as laser treatments or microdermabrasion, which is basically like gently sanding your skin.

Angela Nelson ( @bostonangela ) is an exhausted mom of two young daughters and two old cats, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning digital editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and information to audiences worldwide.

Why you should exfoliate your skin this winter
Exfoliating is an important step in improving your skin's appearance and health. Here's what dermatologists want you to know.