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My skincare regimen consists of a laundry list of steps that I deem necessary for maintaining a healthy, glowing complexion. But I must admit, through all of the double cleansing, (opens in new tab) layering of serums, (opens in new tab) and face masking (opens in new tab), exfoliating is hands down my favorite step. With the right exfoliator, there's nothing more satisfying than cleaning out the pores (opens in new tab) of dirt and surface debris—and the velvety-smooth, even skin you're left with feels pretty good, too.
What are the benefits of exfoliating your face?
If exfoliating feels foreign to you, or you know, just an extra step in a skincare routine you'd rather skip, know this: The benefits of regularly exfoliating include an increase in cell turnover, even skin tone, acne and sebum reduction, plus, a much deeper penetration of other topical treatments to follow—and that’s just to name a few.
Also, all exfoliators are not one and the same. From a physical exfoliator with microbeads or granular powder to a chemical exfoliator (opens in new tab) containing acids (opens in new tab) and enzymes, settling on the perfect exfoliant to slough off dead skin cells without leaving your skin dehydrated and irritated can be daunting. But I'm here to assure you that there are effective and gentle exfoliators out there that don't do any of the above. Ahead, the top-rated face exfoliators on the market suitable for every skin type and comfort level.
The Beginner's Choice
This liquid exfoliant is the brand's best seller for a reason. It gives congested pores a deep-clean and add a baby-smooth veil of hydration over your skin. Simply apply the solution to a cotton pad post-cleanse and distribute a layer to your face, neck, and décolletage, then proceed with the rest of your skincare routine.
The Cult Favorite
Pixi's Glow Tonic continues to reign supreme as a cult favorite amongst exfoliators. Although this gentle formula has only 5 percent glycolic acid, it's powerful enough to gently promote cell turnover that leaves your skin literally glowing for hours on end.
The Sensitive Skin Hero
This product comes in a rice-based enzyme powder that activates into a paste with just a few drops of water. Opt for this formula if you're looking for a gentle physical exfoliant without that rough, grainy texture that could potentially cause skin irritation.
The Intensive Exfoliant Mask
First, it’s blue, so it’s got to be fun. But the real fun is the powerful and effective 10% AHA and 0.5% BHA that targets deep in the pores to improve texture, unclog pores, and soften dry patches. This is not an everyday mask treatment. Instead, introduce it into your routine once a week or every ten days if you have sensitive skin.
The Lactic Acid Exfoliant
Sunday Riley's Good Genes is the secret to vibrant, younger-looking skin. This highly potent formula works wonders with the help of lactic acid, which doesn't involve the harsh and irritating properties ensued from other less-friendly acids. A personal testimony: After applying Good Genes under my moisturizer at night, I wake up with plump and glowing skin.
The Multi-Use One
Not all skin is the same, and Kadalys knows that. This exfoliating peel is made with skin smoothing and toning ingredients that work for all skin types—it just depends on how you use the peel. If you just need a quick pick-me-up, use the peel as a scrub for a gentle exfoliant. If your skin needs a little more TLC and is dealing with the occasional blemish, leave it on like a mask and then rinse after 10 minutes. Or, if you’re an avid exfoliator and looking for the most bang for your buck, leave it on for 10 minutes and then massage it in before rinsing for a more thorough exfoliation.
The Hollywood Fave
For those that prefer a clear indication that your exfoliator is working in real time, this has you covered. You'll literally feel two solid minutes of this exfoliator in action (don't worry, it doesn't hurt—it's effective). It's a heavy duty 3-in-1 gem that serves as a scrub, peel, and mask.
The Biodegradable One
The active ingredients in these exfoliating pads should be reason enough to buy one. Glycolic and lactic acid work to brighten skin and remove buildup, while salicylic acid unclogs pores and niacinamide smooths texture and keeps your skin from feeling too dry afterward. Pro tip: Use these pads on your underarms for a deodorant alternative.
Designed for melanin skin, this is a physical exfoliant that is made with tea tree oil, aloe vera, and natural eco-beads—don’t worry it won’t tear your pores. The magic of this exfoliant is the oil-absorbing and skin polishing three-part system; it starts as a clay treatment mask that transforms into a foam cleanser and finishes as a scrub.
The Acne-Prone Choice
First, let's appreciate the genius that is a pre-soaked exfoliant pad—it is beyond convenient. Secondly, for acne-prone people like myself, exfoliating is a must. Salicylic and lactic acids are ideal for sensitive skin to improve texture without causing any damage. An added bonus to these pads is that they are biodegradable and compostable, so no worries about added waste.
The Gel Exfoliant
Exfoliants come in gel form, too. This gentle clarifying face wash is formulated with willow bark to remove dirt and debris from congested pores, and chamomile to heal the skin without stripping your skin of its natural oils.
The French-Girl Fave
Although this product doesn't have the most inviting scent—in fact, it falls under the smelly skincare category—it's a holy grail solution for hyperpigmentation and retexturizing the skin. Loved by skincare enthusiasts, Lotion P50 has the consistency of a toner and is a triple threat as simultaneously exfoliates, hydrates, and balances the skin's pH levels.
The Dry Skin Healer
If you deal with dry and flaky skin or early signs of aging (fine lines, wrinkles, or crow's feet), this face scrub should be front and center in your medicine cabinet. This vitamin-packed scrub is non-abrasive and works to smooth over rough patches and speed up your skin's cell renewal process, which fades the look of fine lines overtime.
The Anti-Aging Mask
You're looking at a mask that does both: boosts collagen while gently exfoliates the skin. It's ideal for getting rid of rough patches, shrinking the size of large pores, and refining fine lines.
The BHA Cleanser
If you find yourself scrutinizing the price tag, trust that a little goes a long way with this daily cleanser. The mix of BHA and apricot microspheres gently smoothes uneven textures to reveal soft glowing skin on the other side.
The At-Home Facial
Treat yourself to at-home facial peel that's perfect for sensitive or easily irritated skin. It has a creamy, moisturizer-like consistency and upon application you'll feel a slight tingling sensation from the AHA/BHA combo. For best results, apply once a week for just 20 minutes.
The Nighttime Resurfacing Formula
This nighttime renewal serum does all of the work while you snooze. Apply this serum, made of honey and a 14-percent AHA/BHA flower acid blend, before your night cream to achieve optimal beauty sleep. Then, awake to a fresh, glowing complexion.
The Exfoliating Toner
As annoying as it is, dull skin days happen. This brightening tonic employs the help of lactic and azelaic to clear dark spots and blemishes while giving you a noticeable glow. Lather this toner on both morning and night for well-balanced, luminous skin.
The Deep Exfoliating One
If you prefer a physical exfoliant, give Caudalie's deep cleanser a whirl. The natural corn beads sloughs off the build-up of excess oils and dead skin cells, while the menthol adds a refreshing kick that'll wake up the skin.
The Revitalizing Mask
This resurfacing mask exfoliates, peels, and polishes the skin for a youthful and radiant complexion. The pumpkin enzymes gently exfoliates the skin without causing irritation, while the alpha hydroxy acid dissolves dead skin cells. Plus, your skin will feel extra polished afterwards from the aluminum oxide, which works to smooth uneven textures.
Alexis Gaskin is a Freelance Beauty Writer for Marie Claire who can often be found painting her nails to match every outfit. She covers beauty, skincare, and fat fashion and will get distracted by any and all Halsey-related content or anything glittery.