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Our skin naturally lets go of dead skin cells but tends to leave behind some friends that lead to clogged pores and rough skin. Rude. If your complexion could use some TLC, using a face exfoliator is a great way to get rid of the excess dead skin and give yourself a glow-up.
But how do you choose the right one? We’ve done the work for you to round up the top chemical and physical face exfoliators.
Scrubs, scrubbing cleansers, and powders
If you’re looking to get your scrub on, a physical exfoliant can do the trick. The friction from the scrubbing with the small particles like ground nut shells, sugar, seeds, and grains will break down and get rid of those dead skin cells.
The results can often be instant if you’re looking for that gratification when it comes to flaky skin. But, it can also be irritating to your skin.
A warning on face scrubs!
You might want no scrubs (for your face). Physical exfoliators like scrubs can cause irritation and even microtrauma to the facial skin if used aggressively. Because of this, many derms prefer chemical exfoliators for your face and many don’t recommend physical face exfoliators at all.
Serums, peels, masks, and cleansers
Regularly using a chemical exfoliator can make the skin feel smoother, unclog pores, and reduce fine lines. As you can tell by the word “chemical,” this type of exfoliant uses acids and enzymes to remove dead skin cells without actually scrubbing.
These chemicals get deep within the skin and have active ingredients like alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA).
AHAs, found in chemical exfoliators, include glycolic, lactic, citric, and malic acid. They’re naturally derived from fruits but can also be produced synthetically. Examples of BHAs include salicylic acid (also in the form of willow bark extract) and tropic acid.
Fun fact: the higher the concentration and lower the pH, the more you’ll get out of the exfoliative effect.
Why chemical exfoliators may be best
For those with sensitive, dry, or acne-prone skin, a gentle chemical exfoliator might just be the better choice for you, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). And since harsher exfoliants like a physical scrub may cause hyperpigmentation, a chemical exfoliant is also a good choice for those with darker skin tones.
Because we all have different skin types and budgets, we aimed to include a range of prices and products that meet different skin care needs.
All the products we chose have been vetted by our medical team and highly rated by real people who’ve used them. We also gave preference to products that were more natural or environmentally friendly.
$ = under $20
$$ = $20–40
$$$ = over $40
Best exfoliator for oily skin
1. Clinique Exfoliating Scrub
This water-based exfoliator is fan fave to clear skin for those with oily or combination skin.
It’s a gentle scrub that helps smooth skin and unclog your pores. Plus, the salicylic acid helps clear up breakouts and prevent future ones. Some reviewers, however, say they miss the menthol included in the original formula.
Bonus: This is vegan and allergy tested. Plus, it’s free of fragrance, oil, mineral oil, alcohol, talc, silicone, and gluten.
2. REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic
Get ready to glow all day long but without the grease! This exfoliator is applied like a toner can be used morning, evening, or both.
The AHA lactic acid and BHA willow bark extract combine to smooth and tone skin and reduce the appearance of pores. Reviewers also rave about the brightening effects it has on skin.
Just be sure to use a SPF on your face after applying this product since it can make skin sensitive to sunlight. And, don’t use the same day as another exfoliator.
Bonus: It’s vegan and cruelty-free, plus the bottle is made of 100 percent recycled plastic.
Best face exfoliator for mature skin
3. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
If you’re worried about fine lines, wrinkles, or clogged pores, then Drunk Elephant might be your go-to night serum. The serum is made to resurface congested skin by getting rid of any dead skin cells to improve the look of your skin. Reviewers report smoother, brighter, and more even skin tone.
The products AHA blend includes glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric acids to help exfoliate the skin without drying it out. Raspberry fruit extract is also used to smooth and hydrate the skin.
Bonus: It’s vegan and cruelty-free.
Best drugstore scrub
4. Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub
This drugstore scrub doesn’t make the list for vegan or cruelty-free, but it does have a good reputation for helping all skin types.
This gentle scrub exfoliates the skin without overdrying or irritating it. It’s said to improve the look of your skin, creating a healthy glow that won’t break the bank. A downside is it does contain fragrance and not all reviewers love the smell.
Bonus: It’s clinically tested to be hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic.
5. Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub
If you’re looking for a more natural scrub for cheap, Simple might be a good fit for you. This blend uses rice granules to remove dead skin cells, brighten, and tighten the skin. Reviewers say it’s gentle enough for sensitive skin, and it has hydrating ingredients.
Bonus: It’s cruelty-free and has no artificial fragrance, color or dyes, alcohol, parabens, phthalates, or harsh chemicals.
Best drugstore chemical exfoliator
6. CeraVe Salicylic Acid Cleanser
This cleanser works with salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide works as a gentle exfoliator.
This multi-purpose cleanser effectively cleanses the skin to remove oil and dirt as well as get rid of dead cells and improve dryness. Ingredients such as ceramides work to keep irritants out and lock moisture in. You can also use it on your body and on acne-prone and psoriasis-prone skin.
Bonus: It’s non-comedogenic and fragrance-free.
7. Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic
This award-winning product has a cult following and can help get rid of excess oils, clogged pores, and impurities.
This toner cleanses and exfoliates all at once with glycolic acid. Plus, ginseng helps improve circulation in the skin and aloe vera adds soothing hydration. It’s highly concentrated so you won’t want to overdo it.
Bonus: It’s alcohol-free, paraben-free, and cruelty-free.
Best exfoliator for dry skin
8. SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub
This scrub is gentle enough for daily use and provides an even exfoliation with silica to soften and aloe extract to hydrate the skin. Reviewers with sensitive skin and even rosacea said it helps clear and exfoliate skin without irritation.
Bonus: It’s free of parabens, sulfates, soap, fragrance, dye, and alcohol.
9. Caudalie Gentle Buffing Cream
With its creamy, soft texture, this scrub gently cleanses and buffs the skin with jojoba beads. The formula is also infused with grape oil to nourish and acacia honey to help soothe.
Bonus: The cream is free of sulfates SLS and SLES, parabens, phthalates, and mineral oil.
10. TATCHA Rice Enzyme Powder
This non-abrasive exfoliator comes as a powder that transforms into a cloud-like foam to massage the skin without stripping any moisture.
Key ingredients to help inflammation and buff away dead skin includes green tea, rice, and algae. Reviewers love this product to help uneven skin tone and fine lines. It also comes in four different varieties to pinpoint your skin type: normal to dry, normal to oily, dry, and sensitive.
Bonus: It’s cruelty-free and doesn’t have any mineral oil, synthetic fragrances, sulfate detergents, parabens, or phthalates.
Best gentle exfoliator for face
11. Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant
This award-winning powder exfoliator is activated with water to create a foam to help release papain, salicylic acid, and rice actives. This combination helps smooth uneven skin tone while soothing the skin and calming down any redness.
Bonus: It’s vegan, cruelty-free, paraben-free, and made with recycled packaging.
Best exfoliator for acne
12. Glytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel
This peel is ideal for anyone struggling with large pores, oily skin, hyperpigmentation, or that is acne-prone. The glycolic acid helps exfoliate away the dead skin cells and clear up skin. It’s pretty potent so only use it about twice a week.
13. Bluemercury M-61 PowerGlow Peel
This peel comes in pad form and is super easy to apply. Glycolic acid and salicylic acid help resurface the skin and reduce appearance of pore size.
Combining these powerful AHA and BHAs works wonders as a treatment for acne-prone skin. Plus, the antioxidant bilberry gives skin a boost and chamomile and lavender extracts soothe.
Bonus: It’s vegan, gluten-free, cruelty-free, and sulfate-free.
Best face exfoliator for sensitive skin
14. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
This 25 percent AHA and 2 percent BHA blend goes on as a lightweight mask to help resurface the skin and improve skin texture. The AHAs get rid of dead skin cells and brighten, and the BHAs help unclog pores.
Bonus: It’s vegan, cruelty-free, gluten-free, and comes in recycled packaging. Plus, it’s free of potential sensitive skin irritants like silicones, and fragrance. It’s also sans essential oils, just in case you’re looking to avoid those, too.
15. Acure Brightening Facial Scrub
If you want a brighter look with your skin care routine that won’t cost you a fortune, look no further.
This award-winning and 100 percent vegan product uses sea kelp to soften the skin while the lemon peel and French green clay cleanse. Reviewers also say it works on different skin types from dry to oily.
Bonus: It’s cruelty-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, mineral oil free, and petrolatum-free.
Best exfoliator for clogged pores
16. Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
This isn’t your average leave-on exfoliant. It’s gentle enough for all skin types but still exfoliates any dead skin cells while clearing and evening pores.
With 2 percent salicylic acid, it’s strong enough to treat mild acne and can be used twice a day. However, if you use it daily some reviewers reported dryness and peeling.
Bonus: It has no fragrance or parabens.
17. Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment
Formulated from aesthetician Kate Somerville’s Hollywood 2-minute facial, this exfoliator gives you a similar luxury treatment at home. Get glowing skin four different ways with one product that acts as a cleanser, scrub, peel, and mask.
Chemical and physical exfoliators like salicylic acid, lactic acid, silica, and plant enzymes buff away gunk to get smooth, brighter-looking skin. While it’s made for any skin type, some reviewers say it’s too harsh for sensitive skin.
Bonus: It’s cruelty-free and has no parabens, mineral oil, or sulfates.
Best exfoliator for blackheads
18. DRMTLGY Microdermabrasion Scrub
This affordable scrub is made for all skin types. With each use of the Microdermabrasion scrub, reviewers claim it improved skin tone and texture to wipe away acne scars and blackheads.
The exfoliator uses gentle, naturally-derived ingredients like apple fruit and green tea leaf extract to help smooth dull skin for a fresh face and anti-aging benefits.
Bonus: It’s paraben- and sulfate-free.
19. Tata Harper Regenerating Exfoliating Cleanser
This natural daily exfoliator is a luxury but some reviewers swear by it. It unclogs pores with natural BHA willow bark extract, while the apricot microspheres offer additional physical exfoliating.
This cleanser will have you smelling like the green earth, which some people love and some just aren’t into. Its scent comes from the natural ingredients such as roots and stems.
Bonus: This natural product is also vegan, cruelty-free, and comes in recyclable packaging.
Best for men
20. Baxter of California Facial Scrub
This men’s product works for all skin types and helps dry patches and acne caused by shaving. Walnut shell powder works its magic to buff away dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. This helps new cell growth and ultimately prevent those pesky ingrown hairs.
Word of caution: Some find the walnut shells just too abrasive for sensitive skin.
Bonus: It’s cruelty-free and made of natural ingredients.
It really depends on your skin and the product. But, if you have oily skin, try to exfoliate more often, which can be everyday or every other day. All other skin types should keep it more spaced out to once or twice a week.
When applying, go with the flow in mini circular motions using your fingertips and be gentle! Do this for about 30 seconds. If it needs washed off, use lukewarm water and top it off with a moisturizer (and sunscreen if necessary).
If it’s a product you leave on or apply with a cotton pad, still follow up with a moisturizer.
Remember that a little goes a long way with an exfoliator and overdoing it can irritate the skin. Plus, always make sure to do a patch test before using a new product on your face. Put some product on your wrist or inner arm and wait 24 hours to see if it irritates your skin.
Also, if you use any medications or skin care that has retinol or benzoyl peroxide, chat with your derm first before starting an exfoliating routine. These can make skin super sensitive.