These 14 Face Exfoliators Will Give Your Skin The Glow-Up It Deserves

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Best Face Exfoliators
Photo: Amazon/InStyle

You give your home a full dust up weekly, er, monthly, so you may be wondering how to give your skin a tune up too. Enter: the face exfoliator. It's the product designed to sweep away dead skin cells and built-up to relieve the smooth, healthy skin underneath. This also helps to prevent future breakouts from cropping up.

But if you've ever scanned the shelves or done a Google search, you know there are a lot of facial exfoliators to choose from. To uncomplicate things, we interviewed dermatologists and reviewed the best face exfoliators for every skin type, skin concern, and texture preference.

ZO Skin Health Dual Action Scrub came out on top thanks to its physical and chemical exfoliants that are suitable for all skin types.

Keeping reading for the best face exfoliators.

Our Picks

Best Overall: ZO Skin Health Dual Action Scrub

ZO Skin Health Dual Action Scrub

Also available at ZO Skin Health

What We Love: It is non-abrasive and well-tolerated by all skin types.

What We Don't Love: It is more expensive than other facial exfoliators on our list

Yes, this scrub exfoliant may be more expensive than other products on our list, but hear me out — it truly is an investment your skin will thank you for. After all, not only is it suitable for all skin types, but because it is also non abrasive. The scrubby particles t won't scratch or pierce your skin as you use it.

"This is the ideal chemical and physical scrub for all skin types," says board-certified dermatologist Carin Litani, M.D. "The chemical exfoliants blend the deep pore decongesting salicylic acid with the more gentle, superficial brightening and resurfacing lactic acid. The physical exfoliant consists of non-abrasive and environmentally friendly wax beads. And, above all, this scrub contains antioxidants.What's not to love?"

Exfoliant Type: Physical and Chemical|Skin Type: All |Size: 4 fl o.z.

Best Value: La Roche Posay Ultra-Fine Scrub

La Roche Posay Ultra-Fine Scrub

Also available at Target

What We Love: It is affordable and uses an ultra-fine, non abrasive, physical exfoliant.
What We Don't Love: Its exfoliating particles may be too fine for those who need a stronger form of exfoliation.

You don't have to spend a fortune to reveal smoother and more radiant skin, as this drugstore favorite not only helps your skin shine like a diamond, but it also supports the skin barrier, keeping it shielded from damage, according to Dr. Litani. "This affordable scrub contains an ultra-fine, non abrasive, and eco-friendly physical exfoliant derived from volcanic rock," she tells InStyle. "Plus, this scrub gently exfoliates and brightens, while glycerin and the antioxidant thermal spring water help reinforce the skin barrier." To use this scrub safely, Dr. Litani suggests only two to three times a week for best results. "Overusing a scrub can cause irritation and inflammation to the skin," she adds.

Exfoliant Type: Physical|Skin Type: All |Size: 1.69 fl oz.

Related: The 15 Best Body Scrubs for Silky Soft Skin

Best Splurge: Obagi Professional C Microdermabrasion Polish and Mask

Obagi Professional C Microdermabrasion Polish and Mask

Also available at Dermstore

What We Love: It brightens skin with 30% L-Ascorbic acid

What We Don't Love: This professional brand uses high strength ingredients that may be too harsh for some skin.

We love double duty skin care products that combine two steps into one. If that's you too, you're in luck – this Obagi favorite combines a mask with an exfoliator, making it worth the investment. Even experts give it a seal of approval, as Daisy A. Ayim, M.D., a cosmetic surgeon in Houston says, "it is a medical grade product with 30% L-Ascorbic acid that can easily complements any skin care regimen."

However, since this beauty is powered by strong active ingredients, you'll want to be careful of overusing it, especially if your skin is on the sensitive side. "My suggestion is to start once a week, if you're a novice to vitamin C, and then increase your usage to a few times per week," she adds. "You will definitely see the difference in the feel and evenness of your skin's appearance post-treatment."

Exfoliant Type: Physical|Skin Type: Dry, Oily, Combination|Size: 2.8 fl o.z.

Best For Sensitive Skin: Cetaphil Exfoliating Face Wash

Cetaphil Exfoliating Face Wash

Also available at Target

What We Love: It is non-irritating and non-comedogenic.

What We Don't Love: It contains fragrance.

A gentle, soothing exfoliant doesn't have to be a thing of fantasy, as this Cetaphil product hydrates, exfoliates, and conditions skin with each wash. Whoa. And yes, it is technically a scrub, meaning it will require massaging and thorough rinsing. However, non-irritating and won't clog pores, Dr. Ayim says it is a must for sensitive skin users. "I recommend Cetaphil exfoliating face wash for its complete gentleness on sensitive skin as a scrub exfoliant," she tells InStyle. "It contains microfine granules, vitamin E and B5, glycerin, along with other skin conditioners, which are safe for daily use on all skin types."

Exfoliant Type: Physical|Skin Type: All|Size: 6 fl oz.

Best for Oily Skin: SkinFix Resurface+ AHA/BHA Niacinamide Resurfacing Pads

SkinFix Resurface+ AHA/BHA Niacinamide Resurfacing Pads

Also available at Kohl's

What We Love: It contains a blend of acids that unclogs pores and reduces oil production.

What We Don't Love: There are only 60 pads in a jar, which can be a turnoff to those who prefer a larger-sized product.

These resurfacing pads can be a godsend to those with oily skin. "They contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid, which help unclog your pores and reduce your oil production," says board-certified dermatologist Nazanin Saedi, M.D.

In addition to taming down all those slick spots, these pads utilize soothing ingredients to prevent your skin from drying out. And if your skin is on the sensitive side, you won't have to worry it is about to become as red as a summer lobster roll. "This product also includes niacinamide, aloe, and licorice root extract to help calm down any irritation and inflammation," Dr. Saedi adds. Top it off with moisturizer, and say hello to summer-ready skin that is sure to get compliment after compliment.

Exfoliant Type: Chemical|Skin Type: Normal, Dry, Combination, and Oily|Size: 60 pads

Best Scrub: Skinceuticals Micro Exfoliating Scrub

SkinCeuticals Micro Exfoliating Scrub

Also available at Dermstore

What We Love: It is gentle enough to use two to three times a week for most skin types.

What We Don't Love: The rough and gritty texture makes it too abrasive for dry and sensitive skin.

If you prefer a true scrub over an exfoliating wash, then this Skinceuticals product is worth adding to your wishlist, as it is generally well tolerated by most skin types. Plus, contains skin softening glycerin as a main ingredient, Dr. Saedi says.

"Tiny microbeads gently clear away dull, dead skin cells, giving you a smoother glow, and allowing the key ingredients in your other skincare products to be absorbed more fully," she explains. "I love that it contains glycerin to help keep your skin feeling hydrated and soft. Plus, it's gentle enough to use two to three times a week!"

Exfoliant Type: Physical|Skin Type: Dry, Normal, Oily and Combination|Size: 5 oz.

Best For Acne-Prone Skin: Exposed Skincare Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Serum

Exposed Skincare Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Serum

What We Love: It contains 3.5% benzoyl peroxide that exfoliates the skin and kills acne-causing bacteria.

What We Don't Love: It can take dedicated use to see results.

Yes, it is a serum. However, because this treatment contains benzoyl peroxide, it helps kill acne-causing bacteria from the skin's surface. And, of course, provides some essential exfoliation acne-prone skin needs to keep pores clear, according to Virginia Blackwell, M.D. "This treatment contains 3.5% micronized benzoyl peroxide, which gently eliminates acne-causing bacteria on the skin surface and deep in your pores," she tells InStyle.

"It is also formulated with the latest advanced acne-fighting ingredients, such as green tea extract and tea tree oil, which naturally calm and heal the skin throughout the day." Aside from its stellar acne-fighting ingredients, this treatment is also easy to incorporate into your routine. To use it, start by using it on cleansed skin once a week, and then, building up your use to two to three times a week. Get ready to say hello to clearer, breakout-free skin from here on out!

Exfoliant Type: Chemical|Skin Type: Oily and Acne-Prone|Size: 1.7 oz.

Best For Dry Skin: CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

Also available at Amazon

What We Love: It cleanses, exfoliates, and hydrates skin.

What We Don't Love: It has a lotion-like texture, which can be a turnoff to those who prefer a gel or foaming cleanser.

CeraVe is really one of those drugstore brands that you can't go wrong with, as it delivers amazing, high-quality products at a steal of a price. And trust us, this cleanser won't disappoint, as it cleanses, exfoliates, and hydrates skin with ease, according to Dr. Blackwell. "This wash removes makeup and dirt, all while safeguarding the skin barrier with three essential ceramides to provide long-lasting hydration. Plus, this exfoliator also is chock full of hyaluronic acid, which helps retain the skin's natural moisture." That moisture protection makes this a great pick for dry skin.

Exfoliant Type: Physical|Skin Type: Dry, Sensitive, Oily, and Acne-Prone|Size: 16 oz.

Best For Combination Skin: Tatcha The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder

Tatcha The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder

Also available at Amazon

What We Love: It utilizes rice bran, papaya enzymes, green tea, and algae to clean without stripping the skin.

What We Don't Love: This product starts as a powder and then you add water, which mat be a turnoff for some users.

Since combination skin has some dry areas and some slick spots, you'll want to find an exfoliant that brings balance to your skin. Thankfully, you won't have to search high and low for a combination skin-safe exfoliant, as board-certified physician assistant Merry Thornton, PA-C, MBA, explains that "this exfoliator uses rice bran and papaya enzymes for a non-abrasive exfoliation experience." Yep, that means you can tackle oils and shed some dryness like the multi-tasking champ you are.

And because this foaming powder effectively cleanses without stripping the skin, Thornton explains that it's a must-have product that combination skin types can enjoy on a daily basis. "Plus, it contains other ingredients, such as green tea and algae, that help nourish the skin," she adds.

Exfoliant Type: Chemical and Physical|Skin Type: Normal, Dry, Combination, and Oily|Size: 2.1 oz.

Best Cruelty-Free: e.l.f. Gentle Peeling Exfoliant

e.l.f. Gentle Peeling Exfoliant

Also available at Ulta

What We Love: It is affordable and contains exfoliating papaya, licorice root, and tangerine extracts.

What We Don't Love: Its pump can be hard to disperse product.

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. A cruelty-free, vegan exfoliant from e.l.f. actually exists. Bonus: it's everything you ever wanted in an exfoliant and more. How? It fuses papaya, licorice, and tangerine extracts together to form one powerful exfoliating product that'll provide a gorgeous glow that's all you — no highlighter required.

"This exfoliant has a great price point, and you can feel and see the dead skin sloughing off due to the papaya extract," says Thornton. "Licorice root also helps even pigmentation and tangerine extract provides a boost of antioxidants."

Exfoliant Type: Chemical|Skin Type: All|Size: 3.04 fl oz.

Best For Blackheads: Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant Exfoliant

Beauty Products

Also available at Ulta

What We Love: It combines mechanical and chemical exfoliation all in one product.

What We Don't Love: The bottle size is on the smaller side for the price.

Miley Cyrus wasn't lying when she was belting out "The Best of Both Worlds'' way back in the day. After all, can't we have our cake and eat it too? While enjoying the best of both worlds is applicable in many areas of life, it's also really relevant in terms of exfoliants. Stick with me here. After all, when chemical and mechanical exfoliation join forces, you get a product like this Dermalogica superstar.

"For mechanical and chemical exfoliation in one product, Dermalogica's Daily Microfoliant Exfoliant provides multiple benefits," says board-certified dermatologist Erum Ilyus, M.D. "The product comes out as a powder that is mixed with water in your hands. The subtly gritty texture comes from rice to give a polished look, while the salicylic and phytic acid provide chemical exfoliation. The licorice root is an ingredient known for helping address pigmentation in the skin as well for creating a more even complexion."

Exfoliant Type: Chemical and Physical |Skin Type: Normal, Combination, and Oily|Size: 2.6 oz.

Best for Brightening: Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser

Beauty Products

Also available at Amazon

What We Love: It dissolves dead skin cells with pomegranate enzymes, willow bark, white clay, and grapefruit.

What We Don't Love: It has a strong scent which can be a turn-off to those who prefer unscented products.

Another physical and chemical exfoliating duo, this cleanser is the perfect pick-me-up for combatting dullness and dryness with each wash. Not only is it practically foolproof to use, but it really provides a deep clean to the skin, making it an ideal second step in any double cleansing routine.

Other perks? This cleanser also gets a thumbs up from skin pros like Thornton. "This cleanser uses both physical and chemical exfoliators to brighten the skin," she says. "Ingredients such as pomegranate enzymes and willow bark dissolve dead skin, while clay and grapefruit refine pores. Plus, it smells lovely and is cruelty-free!"

Exfoliant Type: Physical and Chemical|Skin Type: Dry and Combination|Size: 1.7 oz.

Best Sponge: Buf-Puf Regular Facial SpongeBest Sponge: Buf-Puf Regular Facial Sponge

Beauty Products

What We Love: The reusable sponge doesn't require any additional products to use.

What We Don't Love:It requires a new sponge every month.

If chemical exfoliants leave your skin a red and irritated mess, then a physical exfoliant ‒ think gentle scrubs or even a washcloth ‒ are probably exactly what you need. When in the form of a sponge, you can easily tackle all your exfoliating needs, including softening stubborn rough patches on your body, and, of course, shedding dead skin cells from your face.

And since a sponge is reusable, you can also use it again and again, until it shows signs of wear. That's why Dr. Ilyus recommends this sponge. "It is a practical product that is easy to use and not overly aggressive with its exfoliation as many cloths and mitts can be," she says. "Plus, it's under $10. It really doesn't get better than that, folks!"

Exfoliant Type: Physical|Skin Type: Oily and Combination|Size: One Sponge Per Package

Best Pads: Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Amino Acid Exfoliating Peel Pads

Beauty Products

Also available at Ulta

What We Love: It is chock full of skin-boosting amino acids, vitamins A and E, plus botanicals.
What We Don't Love: It may be too abrasive and drying for extremely sensitive skin.

On the lookout for an exfoliant that isn't messy to apply? Look no further ‒ these Peter Thomas Roth exfoliating pads aren't grainy or require minutes of massaging to get to work. Instead, they go on clear and are simply rinsed off afterwards. But that's not all. Because each pad contains skin-boosting amino acids, vitamins A and E, plus botanicals, such as green tea and chamomile, expect to see clearer, brighter, and smoother skin with continued use. Oh, and breakouts? You won't know her by the time you finish the jar.

Take it from our very own InStyle executive beauty editor, Kayla A. Greaves: "These pads have a *20%* exfoliating blend of phytic acid, salicylic acid, and sodium lactate, but I promise they will not melt your skin off." "The formula also includes chamomile and green tea to calm and smooth, as well as vitamins A and E for antioxidant protection. To use, simply grab a wipe and apply to clean skin. Let sit for up to three minutes top, rinse, then apply a moisturizer. The next morning, I promise you'll wake up with clearer skin," she says.

Exfoliant Type: Chemical|Skin Type: Normal|Size: 60 pads

What To Keep In Mind

Exfoliator Type

There are two types of exfoliators to choose from: chemical and physical. While both types of exfoliation are helpful in shedding dead skin cells and brightening the skin, they work a little differently. For starters, chemical exfoliation is powdered by alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid, according to board-certified dermatologist Anna Chacon, M.D. This type of exfoliation is best suited for oily and acne-prone skin, as the chemical agents can seep deep into the pores and remove buildup, excess oil, and dead skin cells.

On the other hand, physical exfoliation is achieved with a removal of dead skin cells by a facial brush, wash cloth, or a face wash that contains fine, non-abrasive particles. This type of exfoliation can be more gentle for sensitive or dry skin types, says Dr. Chacon.

Skin Type

As we mentioned earlier, chemical and physical exfoliation greatly depends on your skin type. Acne-prone and oily skin, for example, will be able to tolerate stronger forms of exfoliation than dry or sensitive skin. "Those with acne and oily skin should opt for chemical exfoliants containing BHAs," Dr. Chacon explains. "On the contrary, those with dry or sensitive skin likely wouldn't be able to tolerate that regimen."


Size doesn't always mean product bottle size — the amount of product used on the skin is equally important. "Using too much product can lead to over-exfoliating, which is harmful to the skin," Dr. Chacon says. "Some signs to look out for include irritation, visible flaking, or redness. If you're not careful, one can also introduce micro abrasions and cuts that could result in entry points for infection-producing bacteria." So be on the safe side: limit the amount you use as well as the number of times per week you try a treatment.

Your Questions, Answered

What does a face exfoliator do?

Dead skin cells accumulate on the skin surface overtime, which if not removed can cause breakouts. That's why a face exfoliator is a necessity for every skincare regimen, according to board certified dermatologist, Corey L. Hartman, M.D. "A facial exfoliant helps accelerate the shedding of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin to help expedite the creation of fresh, new cells," he explains.

How an exfoliant removes these cells depends on the type. "First, there are physical exfoliants, which manually remove dead skin cells with things like scrubs, or tools like a cleansing brush or a loofah," Dr. Hartman says. "Then, there are also chemical exfoliants, which use active ingredients, most often acids, that remove dead skin to reveal the newer, healthy skin underneath."

How often should you exfoliate your face?

Exfoliation is essential in maintaining healthy skin, however, you'll want to be mindful of how often you use it. As Dr. Hartman says, "exfoliating too frequently can result in excess oil, excess acne or dry, red, irritated skin." That being said, he recommends starting off slowly by exfoliating one time a week, and then slowly building up your use to two to three times a week.

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