Achieving a clear, glowing complexion can often feel like a quest for the holy grail. Yet, the path to skin nirvana might be easier than you think, with a good face exfoliator serving as your trusty guide. Despite its simple function, this skincare stalwart holds the transformative power to revitalize your skin’s appearance and texture.
Face exfoliators, with their science-backed capabilities, are the maestros in removing dead skin cells, unclogging pores, and revealing the fresh, new skin beneath. Their use can lead to a brighter complexion, reduced appearance of fine lines, and improved skin texture. They make your skin more receptive to other skincare products, making the most of your serums, creams, or oils.
While their forms vary—from gritty scrubs to smooth chemical exfoliants—the purpose remains unaltered: gentle yet effective skin refinement. The secret lies in mastering the method of exfoliation, a balance between effective cleansing and maintaining the skin’s natural harmony. Remember, too much of anything is never a good thing. Over-exfoliation can lead to skin irritation, but not to worry, skincare is a personal journey, and there’s always room for adjustments.
The beauty of face exfoliators is their adaptability to cater to different skin concerns. Whether it’s warding off acne, combating signs of aging, or aiming for a brighter complexion, there’s a specific face exfoliator waiting to serve your skin’s unique needs. With a diverse range of options—from physical scrubs to gentle chemical exfoliants—the market has something for everyone.
Finding the perfect face exfoliator might seem like searching for a needle in a haystack, given the extensive options available. But worry not; we’ve done the legwork, evaluating countless products based on their effectiveness, gentleness, ingredient quality, and overall skin enhancement.
Stay tuned as we unveil the top-tier face exfoliators, each selected with precision to help you reveal your skin’s natural radiance and rejuvenate your complexion.
1. Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
This lightweight, leave-on exfoliant from Paula’s Choice is designed to unclog pores and smooth wrinkles while mimicking the natural exfoliation process of younger skin.
It contains BHAs (salicylic acid) that shed built-up layers of skin that can clog pores, as well as other beneficial ingredients such as niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.
The formula is gentle enough to use every day, even if you have sensitive skin or are prone to irritation. Not to mention, the texture is lightweight and absorbs quickly, so it won’t leave behind any residue or dry out your complexion.
According to reviews, “My skin is soft, dry, and without a breakout in sight. My skin texture is also getting smoother every day, and the results are very visible in a short amount of time. I’m seriously blown away!”
2. Origins GinZing Refreshing Scrub Cleanser
When you want to achieve a natural glow, Origins’ Refreshing Scrub Cleanser is the way to go.
It’s formulated with Panax ginseng and caffeine from coffee beans, giving your skin a boost of energy that will make you look brighter and more awake. The label uses naturally-derived jojoba and carnauba wax in this product to gently exfoliate your skin.
The ingredients help unclog pores and leave your skin looking smoother and brighter. Meanwhile, the addition of grapefruit, lemon, and spearmint scent gives this cleanser a pleasant smell that will leave your skin feeling clean and refreshed.
“I like that it foams up as well as exfoliates, but it has not dried out my skin,” one user explained. “I use it once a week to cleanse and slough off flaky skin since I have combination skin with an oily T-Zone that can get dry in some spots.”
3. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
The Ordinary is known for its affordable and effective skincare lines, but this exfoliating toner is our favorite of the bunch.
The label’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is water-based and contains glycolic acid, which helps improve skin clarity and balance uneven skin tone. It’s formulated with a Tasmanian pepper berry derivative to help target dullness, texture, and signs of aging.
It’s generally light enough for on most skin types, excluding sensitive, peeling, or compromised ones. It’s perfect to use daily if you’re looking for an exfoliation step in your routine that doesn’t require much effort—but be warned: if you have very sensitive skin or are prone to breakouts, we wouldn’t recommend this product.
4. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Pads
Dr. Dennis Gross’ Daily Peel Pads is a two-step, acid-based exfoliant that’s designed to help boost radiance, smooth fine lines and refine pores.
When used regularly, it can help accelerate cell turnover to remove surface dullness and boost collagen production for firmer skin. It also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump skin; green tea extract to calm skin, provide antioxidant protection, and help reduce inflammation; and AHAs and BHAs to gently but effectively exfoliate.
Although this product is pricey, it’s worth every penny if you want to see results fast. If you want clear, bright skin with fewer visible pores—and who doesn’t?—then this is the product for you!
“This peel was recommended to me by an esthetician a few years ago,” wrote one shopper. I would recommend this peel to anyone with combination to oily skin, with large pores, and dark spots.
5. Versed Microcrystal Exfoliating Cleanser
We all want our skin to look like a glowing, radiant goddess. But with so many products and ingredients out there, it can be hard to know what you need to get that look. Enter Versed’s Day Maker.
This creamy cleanser gently buffs away dead, dull skin cells while also formulating your complexion with superfine microcrystalline, a biodegradable alternative to microbeads. Meanwhile, its antioxidant-rich blend of black currant and raspberry leaf extract keeps oil production and inflammation in check for breakout-prone and sensitive skin.
You can use it once or twice a week—but don’t forget: Every day is a perfect day for beautiful skin!
6. Humanrace Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator
Combining glycolic, enzymatic, and rice particles, Humanrace’s Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator removes dead skin cells and reveals even, more balanced skin.
The lotus leaf protects the skin from UV rays and environmental stressors, while the AHAs help oxygenate and resurface the skin. With several more skin-loving ingredients, it also protects against free radical damage.
Per the brand’s recommendation, use this exfoliator two to three times per week for best results. The product comes in a refillable bottle for easy use!
“This right here will purge all of your pimples and get rid of any marks on your face,” shared one buyer. It also lasts for a while. Love this stuff; it’s very effective. Will continue to buy this when I run out.”
7. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
Drunk Elephant’s Babyfacial is an AHA/BHA facial exfoliator that resurfaces to reveal greater clarity and improved skin texture and tone.
It’s formulated with chickpea flour, pumpkin ferment, matcha tea, milk thistle, and apple—and it has a pH of 3.5 with an ideal blend of acids that work together synergistically. You can use this product once weekly!
This facial exfoliator contains 25% AHA and 2% BHA—a combination that works synergistically to gently remove dead skin cells from your face as well as help improve skin tone and texture. It also protects your skin from free radical damage caused by environmental stressors.
The result is a smoother, more radiant complexion that glows from within.
8. The INKEY List PHA Toner
When it comes to exfoliation, we’ve got a lot of options. There are tons of products out there, from simple microdermabrasion to more advanced chemical peels and scrubs.
The INKEY List’s PHA Toner is a gentle chemical exfoliant that is easy to incorporate into your skincare routine: you can use it during your AM and PM skincare routine, but you’ll want to build up usage gradually.
The brand recommends using the toner every day, but it doesn’t contain any AHA or retinol, so if you’re looking for an extra boost in those areas, this isn’t the product for you. But if your skin needs some TLC—and especially if it’s sensitive—this probably won’t be too much of a problem!
Notably, it has antioxidant properties (which is good!), as well as humectant properties (which also sounds great).
9. Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator
Dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant is a skin savior you can use daily.
Its unique rice-based formula activates on contact with water, unleashing a blend of papain, salicylic acid, and rice enzymes. These potent ingredients work together to give your skin a polished look that’s hard to beat.
When you first pour it into your hand, it feels gritty. But add water, and it transforms into a creamy paste that glides on the skin. The sensation is gentle, soothing, and you can feel it working as you massage it in.
This is a product that doesn’t just exfoliate; it brightens, balances, and calms the skin. It’s a daily dose of rejuvenation for your skin.
10. Tatcha The Rice Polish
If you’ve ever wondered what the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, uses to get that royal glow, Tatcha’s Rice Polish Classic Foaming Enzyme Powder is her secret.
This gentle exfoliant does more than just clean. It enhances your natural glow by removing dead skin, dirt, and oil, all without causing any dryness or irritation.
Tatcha offers variants for all skin types, so whether you’re dealing with combination, dry, oily, or sensitive skin, there’s a Rice Polish for you. At first glance, it’s a simple powder, but once it meets water, it transforms into a cloud-like foam that subtly exfoliates the skin.
More than just a cleanser, this product is a skincare ritual that leaves you feeling like you’ve just stepped out of a spa. It’s a skincare game-changer for a red-carpet-ready glow every day.
What to Look for in Face Exfoliators
Type of Exfoliation
There are two main types of exfoliators: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliators use small particles or tools to manually remove dead skin cells, while chemical exfoliators use acids or enzymes to dissolve them. Your choice between the two should hinge on your skin type and tolerance. Chemical exfoliators are usually better for sensitive skin, while physical exfoliators can provide a satisfying scrub for those with more resilient skin.
The efficacy of an exfoliator often comes down to the quality of its ingredients. For chemical exfoliators, look for proven active ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), or enzymes from fruits like pineapple or papaya. For physical exfoliators, look for small, smooth particles that can buff the skin without causing micro-tears. Avoid exfoliators with large, jagged particles like nut shells or fruit pits.
Not all exfoliators are created equal when it comes to different skin types. Those with dry skin may benefit from a moisturizing exfoliator with ingredients like hyaluronic acid. Oily or acne-prone skin types might find a product with BHAs like salicylic acid beneficial due to its ability to penetrate the pores. Sensitive skin types should avoid harsh physical exfoliators and opt for a gentle chemical exfoliant, possibly one with polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), known for their gentler exfoliating action.
Texture and Consistency
The texture and consistency of the exfoliator can also play a role in your experience using it. Some might enjoy a gritty scrub that gives a physical indicator of sloughing off dead skin, while others may prefer a smooth serum or gel that invisibly exfoliates with chemical actives. The choice here boils down to personal preference and skin tolerance.