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This is the product you should add to your shower routine for smoother skin, according to derms

Get ready to glow!
Exfoliating regularly can help clean out clogged pores and prevent breakouts.
Exfoliating regularly can help clean out clogged pores and prevent breakouts.Kara Birnbaum / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

Whether you notice it or not, your skin is constantly regenerating itself. As fresh new cells come to the surface, the older ones can sometimes get trapped, resulting in breakouts and dullness. Gross, right?

Exfoliation is key if you're craving a glowing, healthy complexion. To help start your exfoliation journey, we consulted top dermatologists to find out which products they recommend to their clients. From scrubs to lotions, these products will help you tackle exfoliation head on!

How to choose the right exfoliator | Body exfoliators | Sensitive skin exfoliators | Exfoliating scrubs | Benefits | What to avoid | Meet the experts

How to choose the right exfoliator

While you might think all skin is the same and choosing an exfoliator for your body is the same as choosing one for your face, New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Nava Greenfield says that's not the case.

"The skin on...extremities is thicker and tougher than skin on the face. An exfoliator is going to have to work harder to have the same effect on those locations. Any ingredient will have to be more concentrated to have an effect on the body as compared to the face," she explains. “That is why it is important to choose an exfoliator designed for each specific body location that you desire to treat."

Greenfield says both physical and chemical exfoliators are appropriate for the body, but she recommends chemical exfoliators for the face to avoid any potential trauma that can be caused by physical exfoliation. “The distribution to the facial skin by physical exfoliation can cause hyperpigmentation that may be hard to treat,” she warns.

When it comes to physical exfoliants, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King regards both salt- and sugar-based formulas as very effective. “Sugar is a bit more gentle and less likely to sting compared to salts. Sugar is also less corrosive for metal plumbing. For more sensitive skin, oats are a better option. They are less abrasive and actually offer moisturizing benefits to protect the skin in the exfoliation process.”

Similar to Greenfield and King, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman recommends looking for physical exfoliants with small, soft exfoliating particles — ideally, ones that dissolve — such as jojoba beads, sea salt, sugar and coffee. For chemical exfoliants, she says alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) "can be used on the body to remove dead skin cells, smooth out skin’s texture and boost radiance.”

Regardless of the type of exfoliator you choose, you always want to make sure you're using them as directed. “It is possible to over-exfoliate with both physical or chemical methods. Over exfoliation dries and irritates the skin,” says King. She recommends starting with a gentle exfoliation once or twice a week. Then, if your skill responds well without irritation, you can increase the frequency and strength.

Best exfoliators for body

Dove Crushed Macadamia & Rice Milk Exfoliating Body Polish

This budget-friendly find can be used right in the shower and features a whipped texture that's soft on skin. Simply rub it around in circular motions before cleansing, then rinse off. The best part? It's gentle enough to use three to four times a week!

"The crushed macadamia in this polish scrub gently exfoliates the body and helps get rid of dead skin. Bran extract also helps brighten your skin," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman says.

Alpha Skin Care Revitalizing Body Lotion

You wouldn't necessarily suspect that a body lotion could exfoliate your skin, but this paraben- and fragrance-free formula is meant to do that and a whole lot more. Thanks to its moisturizing properties, it's designed to leave skin soft and help reduce the signs of aging all over the body.

"For routine body exfoliation, a lotion containing an AHA can do wonders. This one is formulated with 12% glycolic AHA and hydrates while exfoliating," says Dr. David Lortscher, founder of Curology.

Frank Body Original Coffee Scrub

Engelman recommends this Frank Body Original Coffee Scrub as it is “made entirely from natural and vegan ingredients, like coffee grinds, vitamin E, sea salt and cold-pressed almond oil.”

First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub

This scrub might be targeted to those with keratosis pilaris — a skin condition that causes tiny bumps — but it's also quite effective at exfoliating all types of skin. Pumice buffing beads work to remove dead cells before they become inflamed or irritated, and bisabolol helps soothe sensitive skin.

"It reinvigorates body skin but also helps with bumps if you have keratosis pilaris. Glycolic and lactic acids are two of the rock star ingredients in this scrub and help skin appear smoother while clearing out pores," Jaliman says.

Farmacy Honeymoon Glow Body

This hydrating, resurfacing serum is designed to instantly soften rough skin and eliminate bumps, leaving your skin smoother than a baby’s bottom. You’ll instantly fall in love with its honey and prickly pear scent. Plus, Engelman says it "effectively improves the tone and texture of skin and nourishes with moisturizing ingredients."

Skin Fix Resurface+ AHA/BHA Renewing Cream

This daily vegan body cream with vitamin C hydrates, gently exfoliates and, according to the brand, is clinically proven to help reduce the appearance of bumps on the skin. Plus, it's designed for sensitive skin!

“This product has both glycolic acid and lactic acid, an effective combination of hydroxy acids to produce a body exfoliation,” says Greenfield.

Best exfoliators for sensitive skin

Cetaphil’s Extra Gentle Daily Scrub

Engelman says people with sensitive skin should seek out gentle formulations that are made specifically with their skin type in mind, like this scrub from Cetaphil. "With vitamins E and B5, it has anti-inflammatory benefits and supports moisture retention in the lipid barrier,” she adds.

Mandelic Acid 5% Skin Prep Water

This AHA plays double duty. It's meant to simultaneously hydrate and exfoliate without irritation. With regular use (it’s safe to be used daily), it may improve skin tone and texture over time.

Mandelic acid is derived from bitter almonds and tends to be gentlest when used as a peeling agent, as compared with other chemical exfoliants such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid,” Lortscher says.

Avène Eau Thermale Gentle Exfoliating Gel

The cellulose beads and jojoba wax beads in this gel gently slough off dead cells while niacinamide and sodium salicylate are meant to leave skin looking radiant.

"The Avène Thermal Spring Water in this gentle gel exfoliant soothes, softens and calms skin. It’s a great option for anyone dealing with ultra-sensitive skin," says Dr. Alan Parks, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse.

REN Radiance Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic

Eliminate dead skin cells with this this leave-on exfoliating AHA and BHA toner that is dermatologist-approved.

“This product is designed for sensitive skin and has no harsh ingredients. It contains lactic acid and a precursor to azaleic acid and leaves skin with a glow and feeling very smooth,” Greenfield says.

First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Resurfacing Liquid 10% AHA

The word “acid” can be a little scary for those dealing with sensitive skin, but when used in moderation, alpha hydroxy acids can help brighten and improve skin’s texture. This gentle chemical leave-on exfoliant whips dull, rough skin into shape.

“It uses a combination of four AHAs: glycolic, lactic, malic and tartaric. It also contains a proprietary blend of ingredients that hydrate, soothe, protect and strengthen the skin barrier," says Dr. Sejal Shah of New York City's SmarterSkin Dermatology.

Best exfoliating scrubs

Tree Hut Moroccan Rose Shea Sugar Scrub

This tree-mendous scrub is made with sugar and shea butter and offers a refreshing Moroccan rose scent. It's also one of Greenfield's favorites. “Affordable and very hydrating, this sugar scrub is a physical exfoliator that combines nut and vegetable oils to repair the skin barrier after exfoliation,” she says.

Caudalie Gentle Buffing Cream

This gentle buffing cream from French brand Caudalie kicks dead cells to the curb and refines skin's texture without irritating it thanks to its creamy, soft texture.

"This scrub uses jojoba beads to gently exfoliate and contains grape seed oil and honey, which nourish, hydrate and soothe the skin," Shah says.

OUAI Scalp and Body Scrub

As you're sloughing the dead skin cells off your body, don't forget to give your scalp a little attention, too! The sugar crystals in this scrub are there to make product buildup and dry skin patches a thing of the past, while a probiotic blend supports your microbiome. Coconut oil also plays a key role in moisturizing and nourishing your skin and scalp.

"This gentle scrub is a real multitasking product. Sugar crystals exfoliate while coconut oil replenishes moisture so the skin is not left overly dry," Shah says.

Chanel Sublimage Les Grains De Vanille Scrub

More of a splurge pick, Engelman loves this Chanel scrub because it “buffs away dead skin cells with jojoba and vanilla seeds. It is clinically shown to improve skin’s radiance, texture and evenness.”

What are the benefits of exfoliation?

Dermatologists say there are numerous long- and short-term benefits to using exfoliators.

“Regular exfoliation helps to brighten skin's complexion by removing old dead skin cells and revealing the fresh new cells that were hiding underneath,” explains King. “Removal of these dead cells also helps unclog pores, keep the skin clean and reduce acne breakouts. Since you are exposing a fresh layer of skin, it's important to use a good moisturizer right after in order to lock in moisture and protect and preserve the skin barrier.”

King notes that exfoliation can happen via chemical or physical methods. "Chemical exfoliants typically contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, malic acid, fruit enzymes, citric acid and most importantly, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs),” King says. “AHAs gently dissolve the bond that holds dead skin cells to the surface of skin. Due to AHAs water-solubility, this ingredient is generally preferred for normal-to-dry skin. AHAs are also great for reducing the appearance of sun-damage!”

Engelman says both physical and chemical exfoliators, when formulated well and used correctly, can help improve skin firmness, radiance, smoothness and texture.

What to avoid in exfoliators

Not all exfoliators are created equally. When shopping, Engelman shares two key things to look for that'll help you determine which product might be best just staying on the shelf.

Added fragrances and harmful chemicals — such as formaldehydes, parabens and phthalates — are irritating to the skin, can be absorbed into the skin and even potentially cause harm inside the body, she explains.

Large and abrasive particles in physical exfoliators, such as nut shells. Engelman says they can be painful and create micro-tears in the skin barrier.

While you don't need to necessarily avoid photosensitizing ingredients in chemical exfoliators, such as AHAs, BHAs, lemon, ginger and verbana, Engelman says if your product contains ingredients like these that make your skin more vulnerable to the sun, "keep in mind that you may need to reapply your SPF more frequently after using them.”

Meet the experts

Dr. Hadley King, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology. She previously shared her expertise on sunscreen sticks, nail slugging and niacinamide.

Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Shafer Clinic in New York City. She previously spoke to beauty secrets from around the world, cleansing balms and lip treatments.

Dr. Nava Greenfield, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in New York City. She has previously shared tips on the best moisturizers to use with retinol and the best hydrating body oils.

Dr. David Lortscher, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology. He's previously shared tips for finding body wash for dry skin and building a skin care routine in your 30s.

Dr. Debra Jaliman, MD, is a New York City-based dermatologist and author of "Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist." She has previously spoken with Shop TODAY about retinol serums, snail mucin and how to repair a damaged skin barrier.

Dr. Sejal Shah, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist practicing in New York City. She has previously spoken with us about wrinkle patches, skin care products for your 60s and the best CeraVe products.