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Face facts: You can look good in winter

You don't need a spa vacation to give your looks a midwinter pick-me-up. You don't even need lots of of products. Just go with these basics:

1. Watch what you're washing. You have an acid mantle (like cellophane) that forms a protective layer on your skin to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. If your skin loses this acidity, it becomes more prone to damage and infection. How do you lose the acidity? By washing your face with the wrong soap. Use pH-balanced soaps and cleansers. We like solid soaps, because they tend to be made with a minimum of ingredients.

2. Add some A, but only at night. The vitamin A family, commonly called retinoids, can increase the actual water content of your skin without clogging the dead layer of cells (and making skin look dull). Retin-A contains retinoic acid and requires a prescription. Retinyl propionate, retinyl palmitate and retinol (retinaldehyde) don't require a prescription, but if you are pregnant, check with your doctor before using them. Sunlight converts these products into something that ages your skin, so go for A only after dark.

3. Exfoliate. Encourage new cells to grow by cleaning your skin daily or weekly with a light physical (feels gritty) or chemical exfoliant.

4. Seal moisture in. Apply moisturizer while you're still damp from the shower, and reapply as needed.

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