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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 exfoliant 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 exfoliants.

Before you can even think about choosing between exfoliating products, you need to know there are two types of exfoliants: chemical and physical.

“Chemical exfoliants contain acids that dissolve connections between dead cells on the surface of the skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Physical exfoliators contain coarse particles that directly remove dead cells from the skin as the product is rubbed against the outer skin layer.”

So, both chemical and physical exfoliants get rid of dead skin cells, they just do it differently. This difference, though, is what makes exfoliating products come in such a variety of formulations — like masks, scrubs, peels, serums, and more.

Physical exfoliants

If you’re looking to get your scrub on, a physical exfoliant might do the trick. Most physical exfoliants are scrubs, scrubbing cleansers, or powders.

The friction from the scrubbing with the small particles like silica, ground nutshells, sugar, seeds, and grains will break down and get rid of those dead skin cells.

The results are often immediate if you’re looking for that instant gratification with flaky skin. But it can also cause irritation.

Chemical exfoliants

As you can tell by the word “chemical,” this type of exfoliant uses acids and enzymes to remove dead skin cells without actually scrubbing. You can find chemical exfoliants in serums, peels, masks, moisturizers, and cleansers.

Two of the most popular types of chemical exfoliants are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs).

AHAs are a water-soluble chemical exfoliant that can be used to help reduce acne and acne scarring, unclog pores, improve hyperpigmentation, reduce premature signs of aging, and improve hydration. They really target the top layer of your skin, so they’re known for leaving your skin feeling smoother.

Common AHAs include glycolic, lactic, citric, and malic acid. They’re naturally derived from fruits but can also be produced synthetically.

BHAs are really similar to AHAs, except they’re oil-soluble, so they get deeper into your skin than AHAs. That makes them ideal for targeting oiliness, acne, and blackheads. They’re also good at reducing inflammation, which is another important factor when tackling acne.

Examples of BHAs include salicylic acid (also in the form of willow bark extract) and tropic acid.

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 are highly rated by real people who’ve used them. Here are some other things we considered when selecting products for this list.

  • Type of exfoliant. We split the difference pretty evenly here between chemical and physical exfoliants, and some of these products even have elements of both (like a scrub, or physical exfoliant, that also contains salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliant).
  • Type of product. Your preferred method of exfoliating may be totally different from someone with a different skin type or daily skin care routine. We tried to cover a wide range of products, including cleansers and scrubs, masks and peels, pads, toners, and serums.
  • Expert tips. We asked two dermatologists to share feedback on what types of exfoliants are good for different skin types and skin goals. We used their expertise to curate a list full of healthy and helpful ingredients.
  • Price. We don’t know what your budget is, but we will say this: a drugstore, budget-friendly exfoliant can work just as many wonders for your skin as a luxury brand, so we selected products from both ends of the spending spectrum (and everything in between, too!).
  • Ingredients. If you need to exfoliate, you probably have multiple skin care goals needing to be met. Since no one wants to apply a half dozen products morning and night, we tried to choose exfoliants that could help you achieve other healthy skin heights while you exfoliate, like brightening and toning skin, reducing acne, increasing hydration, and reducing signs of aging.
  • Reviews. We only included the most-loved products in our list, whether they’re loved by us or by hundreds of adoring internet reviewers. No random “I’ve never heard of them!” brands on this list.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $20
  • $$ = $20–40
  • $$$ = over $40

Best face exfoliators for oily skin

Clinique Exfoliating Scrub

  • Price: $$
  • Exfoliant type: combination
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, silica
  • Skin type: oily or combination
  • Size: 3.4 oz.
  • SPF: none

This water-based exfoliator is a fan fave to clear skin for peeps with oily or combination skin.

It’s a gentle scrub (thanks to the silica!) 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 minty menthol scent of the original formula, and it does include a preservative (methylisothiazolinone) that can be irritating to the skin.

Pros

  • gentle, but effective
  • contains chemical and gentle physical exfoliants
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • some reviewers don’t love the scent
  • contains methylisothiazolinone, a preservative that can cause irritation

Skinfix Resurface+ AHA/BHA Niacinamide Exfoliating Pads

  • Price: $$$
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, niacinamide, aloe, licorice root extract
  • Skin type: oily or combination
  • Size: 60 pads
  • SPF: none

These pads are a simple and easy way to reduce excess oil on your skin, which is a major contributing factor to allll kinds of acne.

You can thank salicylic acid and niacinamide for their oil- and acne-fighting skills. It also has glycolic acid and lactic acid, two AHAs that can help reduce acne-causing bacteria and post-acne hyperpigmentation.

We also love that aloe and licorice root extract are included to help soothe any irritation or inflammation.

Reviewers have seen a huuuge difference in their skin, saying it works especially well for dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and congested skin. Some say the pads are too dry, tho.

Pros

  • contain AHAs, BHAs, and soothing ingredients
  • convenient and easy to apply
  • 60 day supply
  • alcohol-free

Cons

  • some users report the pads aren’t well-moistened
  • contains essential oils

Best face exfoliators for sensitive skin

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, tartaric acid, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe, grape juice extract, green tea extract
  • Skin type: all skin types, including sensitive
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • SPF: none

If you’re worried about fine lines, wrinkles, or clogged pores but have sensitive skin, then Drunk Elephant might be your go-to serum. It’s formulated to resurface congested skin by getting rid of any dead skin cells to improve the look of your skin. Reviewers of all skin types report smoother, brighter, and more even skin tone.

It contains an AHA blend that includes glycolic, lactic, and tartaric acids and salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin, plus moisturizing faves glycerin and hyaluronic acid to prevent overdrying.

It also features aloe and green tea extract to soothe inflammation and grape juice extract for a hefty dose of antioxidants that can help with signs of aging, skin redness, and even acne.

It’s free of fragrance and alcohol, so it’s a good option for all skin types. Just make sure to start slowly with this one since it contains a lot of active ingredients.

Pros

  • contains AHAs, BHAs, hydrating, and soothing ingredients
  • vegan and cruelty-free
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • pricey

Tatcha The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder

  • Price: $$$
  • Exfoliant type: physical
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin E, rice powder, green tea extract, algae
  • Skin type: all skin types, including sensitive
  • Size: 2.1 oz.
  • SPF: none

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 include green tea, rice powder, and algae. Green tea helps reduce inflammation and algae fights oxidative stress and promotes collagen production. Plus, Zeichner notes that rice powder is an ultrafine exfoliator typically safe enough for sensitive skin.

Reviewers love this product to help with 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.

Pros

  • gentle physical exfoliation that’s safe for sensitive skin
  • contains soothing, hydrating, and antioxidant ingredients
  • cruelty-free
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • some reviewers say it takes a long time to see results

Best face exfoliators for dry skin

SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub

  • Price: $$
  • Exfoliant type: physical
  • Standout ingredients: silica, glycerin, aloe, vitamin E
  • Skin type: all skin types, including sensitive
  • Size: 5 oz.
  • SPF: none

This scrub is gentle enough for daily use and provides even exfoliation thanks to ultrafine silica. Glycerin and aloe keep things moisturized and irritation-free, while vitamin E joins in for your daily serving of antioxidants.

Reviewers with sensitive skin and even rosacea say it helps clear and exfoliate skin without irritation. Many say it’s the perfect scrub to use before adding on a full face of makeup. Others love the soft-to-the-touch finish you get from using it every day.

Pros

  • silica gently exfoliates
  • contains hydrating, antioxidant soothing ingredients
  • gentle enough to use daily
  • fragrance and alcohol-free

Cons

  • might be too gentle for oily or acne-prone skin

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 100% + HA

  • Price: $
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: mandelic acid, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, Tasmanian pepper extract,
  • Skin type: all skin types, including sensitive
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • SPF: none

If you’re dealin’ with dry skin and have concerns about exfoliating, we get it. But hear us out: this serum by The Ordinary contains mandelic acid, which has been shown to be effective at treating acne without being quite as harsh as salicylic acid.

Plus, you get an ultra-nourishing boost of glycerin and hyaluronic acid with every application, and some irritation protection from the Tasmanian pepper extract, an ingredient that helps reduce any annoying itching and burning sensations on the spot.

Reviewers say they’re seeing softer skin, reduced hyperpigmentation, and fewer acne lesions. Some say it made them break out — but many say it could just be a “purging” period that’ll clear after you’ve used it for a few weeks.

Pros

  • gentler chemical exfoliant
  • contains hydrating and soothing ingredients
  • affordable
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • some reviewers report breakouts

Best face exfoliators for combo skin

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

  • Price: $$$
  • Exfoliant type: combination
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, tea tree oil, licorice root extract, green tea extract, colloidal oatmeal
  • Skin type: oily, combo, normal
  • Size: 2.6 oz.
  • SPF: none

This award-winning powder exfoliator is activated with water to create a foam that releases salicylic acid, colloidal oatmeal, and rice actives — a combination that helps smooth uneven skin tone while soothing the skin and reducing any redness. Licorice root and green tea extracts also help keep your skin calm AF.

Meanwhile, tea tree oil fights off mild to moderate acne, making it a good choice for anyone with a combination of dry and oily skin.

Reviewers say they saw super quick results with little irritation. A few even call it their “ride or die” exfoliant. Some Amazon reviewers say they received fake products, so shop around before hitting “add to cart.”

Pros

  • BHAs and rice create a combination exfoliant
  • contains soothing and anti-acne ingredients
  • cruelty-free and vegan
  • alcohol-free

Cons

  • contains essential oils, which can cause irritation
  • not designed for daily use

Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Exfoliant type: combination
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, jojoba esters, vitamin C
  • Skin type: normal, oily, combination, dry
  • Size: 6.75 oz.
  • SPF: none

An exfoliant for combination skin should clean and soothe simultaneously, so the oily, acne-prone parts of your skin get a thorough cleansing while the dry parts of your skin get nourished.

The Murad AHA/BHA exfoliating cleanser contains salicylic, glycolic acid, and lactic acid to chemically exfoliate and unclog pores, but also contains jojoba esters to physically — but gently! — buff away dead skin.

Meanwhile, vitamin C brightens and promotes skin regrowth, leaving combination skin fresh-looking and rejuvenated.

This is a team Greatist fave. It lives up to the claims — it gently buffs away dead skin leaving your face feeling smooth and fresh after each use. It’s perf for when your combo skin is feeling imbalanced or you’re trying to get rid of dry, flaky skin.

Pros

  • contains AHAs, BHAs, and physical exfoliants
  • contains vitamin C to brighten skin and fight oxidative stress
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • not designed for daily use

Best drugstore face exfoliators

Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub

  • Price: $
  • Exfoliant type: physical
  • Standout ingredients: glycerin, vitamin E, panthenol (vitamin B5), micro-fine granules
  • Skin type: all skin types, except sensitive
  • Size: 6 oz.
  • SPF: none

This drugstore scrub doesn’t make the list for vegan or cruelty-free, but it does have a good reputation for getting the job done for most skin types.

This gentle scrub exfoliates the skin with micro-fine granules without overdrying or irritating it; you can thank glycerin, vitamin E, and panthenol (aka vitamin B5) for that, which work to hydrate, protect, and heal the skin, respectively.

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.

Pros

  • affordable
  • made for daily use
  • alcohol-free
  • hypoallergenic

Cons

  • some reviewers don’t love the smell
  • contains fragrance, which can cause irritation

CeraVe Salicylic Acid Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, gluconolactone, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, ceramides
  • Skin type: all skin types
  • Size: 8 oz.
  • SPF: none

This cleanser uses salicylic acid and gluconolactone — an AHA that does some serious damage to acne with fewer side effects than benzoyl peroxide — to exfoliate and cleanse the skin. Gluconolactone improves skin hydration, too.

Meanwhile, ingredients hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and ceramides work together to keep irritants out and lock moisture in.

A big bonus for this formula is that it’s super affordable and comes in a big bottle, so it’s a great option to use on your body *and* face. It’s also fragrance- and alcohol-free, so it’s a good pick for sensitive skin types.

Pros

  • contains multiple exfoliating, hydrating, and anti-acne ingredients
  • can be used on the face or body
  • affordable and easy to find
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • might be too gentle for oily or acne-prone skin

Best exfoliating toner

Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic

  • Price: $
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: glycolic acid, witch hazel, ginseng root extract, glycerin, panthenol
  • Skin type: all skin types, except sensitive
  • Size: 3.4 oz.
  • SPF: none

This award-winning product has a cult following and can help get rid of excess oil, clogged pores, and impurities.

This toner cleanses and exfoliates all at once with glycolic acid. It also has witch hazel, a botanical ingredient used to reduce oiliness and the appearance of pores. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, so it adds a skin-soothing touch — along with aloe vera and panthenol.

To top it off, it has ginseng root extract to reduce premature signs of aging. It’s highly concentrated so a little goes a long way (you don’t want to overdo it).

Reviewers report brighter, clearer skin without any irritation. Just keep in mind that it contains fragrance and essential oils, which don’t jibe well with some folks.

Pros

  • contains AHAs and soothing ingredients
  • easy to apply
  • affordable
  • cruelty-free
  • alcohol-free

Cons

  • contains fragrance and essential oils, which can cause irritation

Best face exfoliators for glowing skin

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial

  • Price: $$$
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, grape juice extract, green tea extract, aloe
  • Skin type: all skin types
  • Size: 1.69 oz.
  • SPF: none

This 25-percent AHA and 2-percent BHA blend goes on as a lightweight mask to help resurface the skin and improve skin texture.

Glycolic acid and lactic acid get rid of dead skin cells and brighten, and salicylic acid helps unclog pores. For truly glowy skin, this exfoliator also contains niacinamide, which can decrease hyperpigmentation and improve skin elasticity.

Like some other products on our list, it’s got soothing green tea and aloe, plus HA and glycerin to hydrate. We also love that Drunk Elephant includes grape juice extract to help reduce signs of aging.

Reviewers say this stuff is v pricey but damn worth it. They notice reduced acne, brighter skin, and more even texture. Some say it stings a bit, so it might not be a good pick if you have particularly sensitive skin.

Pros

  • contains AHAs and BHAs to exfoliate
  • contains hydrating, antioxidant, and soothing ingredients
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • expensive

Acure Brightening Facial Scrub

  • Price: $
  • Exfoliant type: combination
  • Standout ingredients: gluconolactone, French green clay, glycerin, sea kelp, marigold extract
  • Skin type: normal, oily, combination
  • Size: 4 oz.
  • SPF: none

If you want a brighter look with your skin care routine that won’t cost you a fortune, say hello to our little friend.

This award-winning vegan product uses sea kelp and marigold extract to fight signs of premature aging, while the lemon peel helps brighten. Notably, it also contains gluconolactone — that gentler PHA exfoliant we mentioned earlier — to exfoliate with less irritation. French green clay and walnut shell powder — two physical exfoliants — help cleanse your skin deeply, but gently.

Reviewers also say it works on different skin types from dry to oily. Some don’t appreciate that the brand doesn’t explicitly say that it contains walnut powder — a common allergen — and others say the texture is too abrasive.

Pros

  • gentle AHA exfoliant and physical exfoliant
  • affordable
  • cruelty-free and vegan
  • alcohol-free

Cons

  • contains essential oils, which can cause irritation
  • some reviewers don’t love recent formula changes
  • contains walnut powder, a common allergen

Best face exfoliator for acne

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

  • Price: $$
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, green tea extract
  • Skin type: all skin types
  • Size: 4 oz.
  • SPF: none

A Greatist editor fave, this leave-on exfoliant really lives up to the hype.

With 2 percent salicylic acid, it’s strong enough to treat mild to moderate acne, get rid of blackheads once and for all, and even reduce post-acne hyperpigmentation.

It contains soothing green tea extract, which the brand says makes it gentle enough to use twice a day — but many reviewers (and one of our editors) say daily use can lead to dryness and peeling.

It’s an amazing pick for peeps trying to treat acne. We recommend using it 2 to 3 times per week to start to see how you tolerate it. Don’t forget to follow with a good moisturizer and SPF, bestie.

Pros

  • contains BHA exfoliant to target acne, blackheads, and oiliness
  • contains soothing ingredients
  • cruelty-free
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • might be too strong for daily use or for sensitive skin

Best face exfoliators for clogged pores

DRMTLGY Microdermabrasion Scrub

  • Price: $
  • Exfoliant type: combination
  • Standout ingredients: gluconolactone, glycerin, green tea, titanium dioxide
  • Skin type: all skin types, except sensitive
  • Size: 2 oz.
  • SPF: none

With each use of the affordable Microdermabrasion scrub, reviewers claim it improved skin tone and texture to wipe away acne scars and blackheads.

The brand says nonabrasive pumice granules help buff away dead skin gently. It also has gentle PHA gluconolactone to chemically exfoliate and improve acne and hydration.

Reviewers are in love with the ultra-gentle exfoliation, saying it works wonders for flaky skin and leaves their skin feeling silky smooth.

Worth noting: This scrub contains titanium dioxide, which is a mineral sunscreen — but since this product is rinsed off your face (rather than being left on), it doesn’t provide any SPF benefits. It’s most likely used only as a colorant here.

Pros

  • AHA and gentle physical exfoliants
  • contains hydrating and soothing ingredients
  • jar lasts a long time
  • alcohol-free

Cons

  • contains fragrance, which can cause irritation
  • some reviewers say jars ordered online weren’t full

Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Mask

  • Price: $$$
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: glycolic acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, squalane, licorice root extract
  • Skin type: all skin types, except sensitive
  • Size: 2.5 oz.
  • SPF: none

There’s a powerful AHA blend in this Biossance Renewal Mask. While it relies mainly on glycolic acid to exfoliate and cleanse, it also supplies your skin with doses of fruit-based acids like lactic, malic, and tartaric for maximum fresh-skin power.

To balance out all this cleansing is HA, glycerin, and squalane, an oil-based emollient that hydrates and reduces oxidative stress.

Many reviewers are ecstatic that it provides gentle (but legit) exfoliation. Some say they wish it was stronger — especially for the price — but that they still appreciate how soft it makes their skin feel.

Another team Greatist fave, this mask gets high marks from our editors for smoothing out uneven texture, brightening, and unclogging pores.

Pros

  • blend of naturally-derived AHAs
  • contains hydrating and soothing ingredients
  • cruelty-free
  • alcohol-free

Cons

  • contains essential oils, which can cause irritation
  • some reviewers

Best gentle face exfoliator

PRISM Botanical AHA + BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial

  • Price: $$$
  • Exfoliate type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: gluconolactone, willow bark, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe
  • Skin type: all skin types
  • Size: 1.7 oz
  • SPF: none

We’re really resisting the urge to quote Beyonce and tell you you’re not “ready for this jelly,” but seriously, you might not have encountered any exfoliant quite like this gel-based facial from PRISM that some reviewers call “liquid magic.”

With the PHA gluconolactone and gentle willow bark (instead of sometimes-harsh salicylic acid), this mini-facial cleanses, hydrates, and leaves behind a fresh, dewy appearance without stripping your skin of any essentials.

To use it, the brand recommends applying it and leaving it on for 20 minutes (5 to 10 minutes for sensitive skin) before rinsing it off.

Reviewers looove this product (and its pretty packaging), but recommend starting slowly and working your way up. Some say 20 minutes was way too long for their skin — leaving them with some redness — but say they built up a tolerance over time.

Pros

  • gentle AHAs to exfoliate
  • contains hydrating and soothing ingredients
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • might be too gentle for acne-prone and oily skin types
  • expensive

Best face exfoliator for mature skin

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

  • Price: $$$
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, zinc, glycerin, green tea extract, retinol, vitamin C, vitamin E, resveratrol
  • Skin type: oily, normal, combination
  • Size: 30 treatments
  • SPF: none

There are a lot of good things to be found in this two-step exfoliation peel by Dr. Dennis Gross — so many we can’t even name them all here, though we’ll point to some that you won’t find in every other exfoliator on this list.

Like zinc, for example, which we already told you can improve skin tone and reduce acne, and vitamin A (aka retinol), a powerful anti-aging ingredient that every person with mature skin should be looking to include in their regimen.

We also dig that this peel includes resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine, that can penetrate the skin barrier to increase collagen production and protect against everyday damage when applied topically.

Reviewers with all kinds of skin care goals have seen huge improvements in their skin. Many report fewer fine lines and wrinkles and others say their acne is on its way out. Some say it tingles when you apply it and can burn, so it might not work well for people with sensitive skin.

Pros

  • intense AHA and BHA peel formulated to reduce signs of aging
  • step 2 contains retinol and antioxidant ingredients

Cons

  • expensive
  • two-step product isn’t everyone’s fave
  • contains alcohol, which can be drying for some
  • contains fragrance, which can cause irritation

Best face exfoliator for hyperpigmentation

Murad Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel

  • Price: $$$
  • Exfoliant type: chemical
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, tranexamic acid, turmeric extract
  • Skin type: all skin types
  • Size: 3.3 oz.
  • SPF: none

Lots of the exfoliators on this list contain a blend of AHAs, BHAs, and natural exfoliators, but not all of them include tranexamic acid, a powerful ingredient in the fight against hyperpigmentation.

So, while it’s great that the Murad Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel contains salicylic, glycolic, lactic, and malic acids, if hyperpigmentation is your number one reason for using an exfoliator, we strongly suggest you give this one a try: tranexamic acid has shown promising results in the treatment of melasma, with improvement noted after use in several studies.

We also appreciate that it contains hydrating HA and glycerin, plus turmeric extract to reduce inflammation.

Reviewers say they’ve noticed fewer fine lines, softer skin, and a long lasting glow. Some say it doesn’t smell amazing, but that’s prob because it doesn’t contain any masking fragrances — a bonus for sensitive skin!

Pros

  • contains multiple AHAs and BHAs to exfoliate
  • contains hydrating, soothing, and antioxidant ingredients
  • cruelty-free
  • fragrance- and alcohol-free

Cons

  • some reviewers report breakouts and a bad scent
  • pricey

Ready to pick one? Here’s what you should consider as you shop.

Skin type

Conventional wisdom says that people with sensitive skin should avoid physical exfoliants because they have a reputation for being too harsh, but both experts we spoke to made the opposite recommendation.

“Generally speaking, I recommend physical or manual exfoliation in people who have sensitive skin, [because] the physical exfoliation process stops as soon as you stop rubbing it onto the skin,” says Zeichner. “You have complete control over the process.”

With a chemical exfoliant, he adds, the process continues even if you wash the product off your skin; if you end up with irritation, you’ll be stuck waiting it out.

Anar Mikailov, MD, founder of KP Away agrees, noting that physical exfoliants can be beneficial to all skin types, including sensitive skin, as long as you use a “gentle hand.”

That doesn’t mean there’s no place for chemical exfoliants, however: some people dislike the sensation of rubbing anything with grit on their face (or find that even ultrafine exfoliants are still too harsh), while others want an exfoliant that stays on their skin for a longer period of time, working some kind of “anti-aging,” hydrating, or toning magic.

Skin concerns or goals

Now time to consider: Why are you looking for an exfoliant?

Chemical exfoliants might be better for people concerned with dark spots and signs of aging, says Zeichner: “There’s data showing that chemicals exfoliants like glycolic acid can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by helping to stimulate collagen production.”

Chemical exfoliants are also a better pick for people trying to get rid of acne or blackheads.

On the other hand, if you want to increase your overall radiance, brighten your skin tone, or get that enviable glow, Zeichner says a physical exfoliant is probably the better choice.

Product type

If you’ve shopped for an exfoliant lately, you know you have an overwhelming amount of choices. Do you need a mask or a peel? A serum or a toner? A cleansing pad or a scrub?

“In terms of choosing which form to use, this is dependent on your overall skin care routine,” Mikailov says. “The key is to avoid overexfoliating your skin, so if you use a peel or mask, don’t use a leave-on product with an exfoliating acid that day.”

So pick a product that fits into your skin care routine well. The most basic skin care routine should include:

  • cleanser
  • moisturizer
  • SPF

If you’re trying to keep it low-maintenance, look for an exfoliating cleanser or moisturizer. If you’re willing to take it up a notch, you can look for these kinds of products:

  • toner
  • serum or treatment
  • mask or peel

Ingredients

The list of possible ingredients in any exfoliant is long; since they’re really multi-tasking products, there’s a huge range. In general, though, here are some common ingredients that different skin types should look for or avoid.

Physical exfoliants like jojoba esters, rice powder, silica, and crushed walnuts

All physical exfoliating scrubs need some kind of “grit,” for lack of a better word. Something has to do the hard work of sloughing off dead skin cells. But be mindful of what kind of “grit” is in your product.

“Plastic microbeads that were used in the past impacted the environment, but the FDA banned [them] in 2015,” says Mikailov. “Crushed walnuts scrubs are still used often, but we’ve seen them damage the skin as they are not smooth and can be too rough on the skin.”

When in doubt, choose softer, finer particles over larger, rougher ones to avoid causing damage.

Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)

Zeichner says that BHAs like salicylic acid are great at removing excess oil from the skin, so this should be a top ingredient for anyone with oily or acne-prone skin.

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)

There are many of these, but the most popular ones you’ll find are glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, azelaic acid, tartaric acid, and malic acid. These can all be a bit irritating for sensitive skin, says Mikailov, so watch out for ingredient concentrations and don’t overdo it.

Poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs)

These are a newer class of hydroxy acids, considered to be gentler and less irritating than their predecessors thanks to their molecular size. “They are larger compounds compared to AHAs, [so they don’t] penetrate the skin as much,” says Mikailov, who adds that this means they play nicer with sensitive skin conditions like rosacea and eczema, as well as other active skin care ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, and retinoids.

When to use

Most people turn to exfoliants when they notice their skin looking dull or uneven, and they certainly work well for brightening your overall complexion. But exfoliants can also combat acne, improve skin hydration and smoothness, and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. If you need a product to do any of those things for you, an exfoliant might be a good addition to your regimen.

Just be mindful of the other products in your regimen, especially when it comes to timing your application: Zeichner says the combination of some exfoliants with products containing active ingredients like retinol can be irritating, so you should split them up by time or day or even by alternating days.

Some experts even believe that acids can reduce the effectiveness of the ingredients (like vitamin C) by altering their pH, so it’s a good idea to use them at different times.

How often to use

Honestly, less is more here. (You’ll notice that even some of the products on our list described as being for “daily use” come with a word of caution about irritation and dryness with frequent application.)

“Everyone should take care to avoid overexfoliating — it’s an issue right now [because] exfoliating products have become very popular on social media,” says Mikailov. “People see results of an exfoliating product and think they should use more of it or use it more often for faster, better results, [but] that leads to compromised skin barriers.”

So, how often should you exfoliate? Mikailov recommends 2 to 3 times per week for nonsensitive skin types, but only once or twice per week for sensitive skin (and never more than every other day).

How to use

First of all, you should always be looking at the instructions on the product you purchased — different types of exfoliants have different application methods, so don’t assume you know what to do with the product you just bought.

There are similarities, though, in how many types of exfoliants are used.

  • Cleansers, pads, and scrubs are usually massaged onto wet skin and then rinsed off.
  • Serums and toners are usually applied in between cleansing and moisturizing and are left on to do their thing all day.
  • Masks and peels are usually applied after cleansing, left on for a specified period of time (typically anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes), and then removed or rinsed off.

Mikailov shares a good rule of thumb when it comes to figuring out how long to leave your exfoliants on: “The more irritating the exfoliant is, the less time you want it on your skin.”

For example, he says, salicylic acid, which can be drying, is often found in cleansers that you rinse off your skin. Meanwhile, higher concentrations of AHAs found in masks and peels work quickly but need to be removed promptly, too, to avoid irritation.

Do dermatologists recommend exfoliating?

For the most part, yes! As long as you choose the right product for your skin type and skin care goals — and use it correctly — exfoliants are a beneficial product that can lead to healthier skin.

What’s the best product to exfoliate your face?

This is kind of a cop-out answer, but the best product to exfoliate with is the one that gives you the results you’re looking for without irritation or damage. Your BFF might swear by glycolic acid, but it could do more harm than good on your sensitive skin. There’s no one answer, it’s what works best for you.

What should I exfoliate my face with?

Either a chemical or physical exfoliant — or some combination of the two.

Ingredients vary, but generally, you’ll be looking at an AHA (like glycolic or lactic acid), salicylic acid, and/or some kind of particle, like jojoba esters or silica. They work in different ways, but they all have the ability to remove dead skin cells and reveal brighter, healthier skin.

Is exfoliating your face good for you?

Again, as long as you’re doing it correctly, yes!

“The goal of exfoliation is to help improve skin radiance, tone, texture, and even fine lines,” says Zeichner. “By removing dead cells, exfoliants allow light to better reflect off of the skin’s surface [and] help brighten the complexion by exfoliating cells that contain dark pigment.”

How can I remove dead skin from my face?

You guessed it… by exfoliating! There really isn’t any other way: whether you choose a chemical exfoliant with acids to break the bonds between dead cells and your skin, or a physical exfoliant to mechanically slough them away, you need to put something on your face to make the magic happen.

Technically, you do have one other option: ingredient-free manual exfoliation, with something like a washcloth or sponge, which varies in its effectiveness as far as successfully getting rid of dead skin.

If you really want to avoid chemical or physical exfoliation, you could try something like a konjac sponge, says Mikailov: “[These are] a very gentle way to manually remove dead skin from your face [and] can be used with a gentle physical scrub; [but] make sure you are not applying too much pressure.”

Our process and why you should trust us

We consulted with two dermatologists to get tips for choosing the best face exfoliators for different skin types and concerns. We used those tips to pick the products above.

Before writing about those products, we put them all through a thorough vetting process that checks for unsupported health claims, shady business practices, and lawsuits concerning a company’s products. We also checked that the main ingredients in each product are evidence-based and actually do what the company says they do.

After wrapping up our recommendations and tips, we sent this entire article to a third medical professional specializing in dermatology (in this case, Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, FAANP) for review.

So basically, you can feel good knowing that we put in WORK to get you these recommendations.