It seems like it should be easy to get smoother skin. But for many of us, it’s a surprisingly complicated skin issue that usually takes a varied approach—one that goes beyond just doing a chemical peel here or there. That’s why SELF talked to experts about the best ways to smooth your skin at every step of your skin-care routine.
One tricky thing about trying to smooth out the skin on your face or body is that there are a lot of factors that can contribute to rough or bumpy skin, Sara Hogan, M.D., dermatologist at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, tells SELF.
“It is important to first determine the cause of rough skin, as there are many,” she says, including age, genetic predisposition, sun damage, poor skin-care routine, and cold and/or dry weather.
There are also some skin conditions that can cause dry, bumpy skin. Those include eczema (which causes patches of dry, itchy skin), psoriasis (which causes a buildup of thick plaques on the skin), and keratosis pilaris (which causes small bumps, often on the arms or thighs). So if you’re not sure what’s causing your issue or you’re experiencing other symptoms like itching, sensitivity, or redness along with your rough skin, it’s important to check in with a board-certified dermatologist to make sure you know what you’re up against.
That said, there are some first-line tips and tricks you can do at home to start getting smoother skin. Here’s what two expert dermatologists suggest you try.
1. Nail down a consistent cleansing routine.
The first step is to figure out a simple skin-care routine that you can stick to consistently, Dr. Hogan says. “In general, a consistent, comprehensive at-home skin-care routine is key for smoother skin.”
For starters, that should include a cleanser to “remove sweat, dirt, accumulated dead skin cells, and cosmetics,” Dr. Hogan explains. In particular, she recommends Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser ($32, Amazon) for the face—especially for oilier skin—and Glytone Exfoliating Body Wash ($32, Amazon) for the rest of your body, both of which contain exfoliating glycolic acid to help remove all that gunk. Additionally, Angela Lamb, M.D., director of Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology Faculty Practice, tells SELF that she recommends Dove Gentle Exfoliating Body Wash ($8, Amazon).
However, the right cleanser for you will depend on your skin type and your other skin concerns. If you have dry or sensitive skin, for instance, you might find a moisturizing cream or oil cleanser works better for you. Or if you have oily skin, you might prefer a gel or foaming cleanser.
2. Use other exfoliating products regularly.
After cleansing, you can use products specifically meant to exfoliate in order to further remove dirt, dead skin cells, and oil from your skin. There are a few different ways to go about this. First, physical exfoliants are things like scrubs or brushes that physically remove those impurities. Second, chemical exfoliants are chemicals that work by dissolving the bonds between skin cells so that they are easily removed.
Dermatologists tend to prefer chemical exfoliation because it’s “generally more reliable and less harsh than mechanical exfoliants like scrubs and polishes,” Dr. Hogan says. Chemical exfoliants include both alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as chemicals like glycolic and lactic acid, as well as beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), mainly salicylic acid. Some chemical exfoliant products—serums, toners, masks, etc.—contain a combination of AHAs and BHAs.
Dr. Lamb also suggests trying the occasional at-home chemical peel to tackle skin bumps and roughness. She recommends M-61 PowerGlow Peel ($30, Bluemercury), which contains an efficiently exfoliating combination of glycolic acid and salicylic acid.
3. Try using topical retinoids to increase skin cell turnover.
Your skin cells are organized in layers, with the youngest ones at the bottom and the oldest ones at the top, SELF explained previously. When you exfoliate, you’re removing the skin cells at the very top and revealing the younger, smoother, often glowier skin underneath.
Retinoids, on the other hand—which includes things like over-the-counter retinol and adapalene (Differin) as well as prescription tretinoin (Retin-A)—encourage the skin’s cell turnover process from below. These are all derivatives of vitamin A, something the skin uses naturally to function properly.
The real trick when choosing over-the-counter products, Dr. Hogan says, is to look for ones that contain both chemical exfoliants and retinoids, as in SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream ($110, SkinBetter), which is only available with the recommendation of a dermatologist. “It contains a winning combination of alpha hydroxy acids and retinoids that promote skin cell turnover, as well as a lipid-soluble form of Vitamin C that moisturizes as its brightens,” Dr. Hogan explains.
4. Choose an effective moisturizer for your skin.
When skin is dry, it can feel rough or even flaky, so moisturizing is often key. But it’s even more effective to use moisturizers with the right combination of hydrating ingredients (like hyaluronic acid or glycerin) as well as occlusive ingredients to seal that hydration in.
Dr. Hogan also recommends trying moisturizers with ceramides, which are naturally present in your skin. These can help seal the skin’s barrier, making it harder for water to escape and keeping the skin moisturized for longer.
“For rough, mature skin in need of intense moisture, I recommend the new formulation of Eucerin Advanced Repair Cream ($14, Amazon) [because] it contains a nice balance of lactic acid to smooth and ceramides to moisturize,” she says. And for sensitive skin that is dry or rough, she points to La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm AP+ ($15, Dermstore), which also contains soothing ceramides.
5. Always use sunscreen during the day.
To protect your skin and encourage a more even tone and texture in the long-term, Dr. Hogan recommends everyone wears a sunscreen every single day.
You should look for a sunscreen—or a moisturizer with SPF—that has at least 30 SPF and broad spectrum protection, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, be sure to select one that’s noncomedogenic, meaning it won’t clog your pores. But, really, the most important thing is to find one that you like enough to wear every day.
Some consistent favorites include EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($35, Dermstore), CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM SPF 30 ($19, Amazon), and Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer SPF 30 ($19, Ulta).
6. Prioritize getting good sleep to help your skin heal.
Don’t underestimate the power of paying attention to the rest of your body! We know that stress can affect skin, and we also know that the skin does some serious healing overnight.
“Make it a priority to regularly get a good night’s rest because this gives the body the time it needs to repair damaged skin cells,” Dr. Hogan says.
7. Talk to a dermatologist for more help.
Because there are so many things that can cause rough or bumpy skin, you should check in with a dermatologist if you’re not sure what’s at the root of your skin concerns.
Also, if your skin is irritated “and starting to feel itchy or very red,” Dr. Lamb says it’s time to talk to a professional. These are signs that your bumpy, rough skin might actually be due to a condition like eczema or keratosis pilaris that is best managed with the help of a dermatologist.