If one were to list the most important beauty products for glowing skin, exfoliating products would be at the top. Our skin is constantly regenerating itself, leaving dead skin cells at the surface that need to be cleared out. When these build up, it can cause dull, dry skin and even clogged pores, breakouts and uneven texture.
Regular exfoliation stimulates cell turnover and new cell growth and can help fight clogged pores, dull and dry skin, blackheads, acne and aging, as well as improve hyperpigmentation.
The act of exfoliating literally means sloughing away dull, dead skin cells to reveal the newer, more radiant ones underneath. Plus, resurfaced skin can also allow your products to sink in more effectively. On the other hand, overscrubbing can cause dehydration, redness, and premature aging—yikes! To strike a balance, make sure you’re not exfoliating too often – it’s best to start with once per week and gradually work up to no more than three times a week, if you’d like. Very sensitive skin will most likely need to stick to once a week or less.
When it comes to exfoliating it’s tricky to know which method is right for you. We’ve taken the guess work out by rounding up the best face exfoliators to transform your skin.
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The Best Chemical Exfoliants
These exfoliants use a variety of acids to dissolve dead skin, dirt and oil and encourage cell turnover. They may include ingredients such as AHAs, and BHAs like lactic, citric, glycolic, salicylic, malic, and mandelic, and enzymes such as pumpkin, papaya, and pineapple. All chemical exfoliates work to break the bonds between the skin cells, loosening up the dead skin so it can easily be whisked away. If your goal is to minimize signs of aging, a chemical exfoliator is the way to go. It tends to be milder and gentler than manual exfoliants, and often gives more long term results as it penetrates deeper into the skin.
There’s no way we could talk about chemical exfoliators without mentioning the most revered of them all: cult-favorite Biologique Recherche’s Lotion P50 (and our editor Kat swears by it!). The notorious and *ahem* potent scent comes from sulfur, vinegar, horseradish, onion, and thyme extracts. It’s beyond worth it though for the clear and bright skin this holy-grail product produces. There are a few different P50 products so be sure to check which one best suits you – the original is the strongest and the P50 PIGM 400 is the best for those with sensitive skin + who need help with hyperpigmentation.
A gentler dupe to P50, this tonic has cult status in the U.K. It contains 5% glycolic acid, which is strong enough to be effective but not irritating. Plus, it’s a Target buy that won’t break the bank.
Another cult-fave, this serum has over 2,000 five-star reviews at Sephora. A potent acid that’s less irritating than glycolic acid, it contains lactic acid derived from milk and comes with great humectant moisturizing properties.
The Best Manual Exfoliants
Manual exfoliants use physical abrasives to remove impurities physically, buffing away the dead layer of skin cells. Experiment with different products and different grain textures to see what works best for you and avoid harsh abrasives and micro-beads (banned in the U.S. due to their effect on the environment). Instead opt for softer and finer particles. Manual exfoliants work on the surface of the skin to speed up the natural exfoliation rate and help to keep skin soft, smooth, and healthy, making them great for oily skin. A note: those with darker skin should know that aggressive manual exfoliators can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots), so be careful or opt for a chemical exfoliation!
This extra gentle physical exfoliator comes in an easily transportable powder made from soft Japanese rice bra. Add a bit of water and the formula transforms into a milky lather. It is a favorite of royalty – Meghan Markle gave it to guests at her baby shower.
This exfoliator is actually a blend of chemical and physical exfoliators. The formula contains grains plus a variety of botanical ingredients including honey, papaya and pumpkin ferment (Mm sounds like a yummy smoothie). Fans love it for the smooth canvas it creates free makeup application!
The Best All-Natural / Non-Toxic Exfoliants
A mix of chemical and manual exfoliants (some offer both in the same product!) these products offer smoothed skin with ingredients that are safe for you and the environment.
Camille turned me on to these and I look forward to using one of them every Sunday. The little pads polish away roughness and help smooth uneven texture to reveal a glowing complexion. They definitely tingle but it’s bearable and just makes me feel like it’s really working. Apply before bed and wake up with literally smoother skin.
Great for sensitive skin, this serum has it all – natural fruit and plant based AHAs including lactic, glycolic and malic acids, and Willow Bark BHA to naturally exfoliate skin, vitamin C to brighten, and aloe water and hyaluronic acid to sooth and help to hydrate skin. Ultra-hydrating this serum works wonders for hyperpigmentation.
This best-selling mask boasts natural BHA from white willow bark and pomegranate enzymes to gently exfoliate, while the pink clay absorbs oil and clear buildup leaving skin deeply cleaned and your complexion vibrant.
Potent fruit enzymes and finely ground walnut shells clarify skin while nutrient-dense plant oils and honey combine to help restore moisture and clear congestion. Once washed off, you’ll see immediate results with this mask.