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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!
Best exfoliators for face
It's a twofer! This multipurpose scrub and mask is designed to exfoliate (with the help of natural walnut shell powder), nourish (thanks to soothing oatmeal) and soften skin (with its apricot fruit extract). It's also paraben-free and non-comedogenic.
"I have many patients who love to use this gentle facial scrub. It offers a gentle cleanse while exfoliating the upper skin layers," said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Danny Del Campo, MD FAAD.
Want to fight acne and exfoliate at the same time? Stridex medicated pads harness the power of salicylic acid (a potent beta hydroxy acid) to nix dirt, oil and other gunk from pores without drying out your skin.
"If you have acne-prone skin, beta hydroxy acid can help dissolve the 'cement' that holds dead cells on skin’s surface. This allows the dead cells to be shed more efficiently, aiding dull, dry or flaky skin and clogged pores," said board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology David Lortscher.
The secret to a clean, glowing complexion is regular exfoliation, but finding a product you can use regularly without irritation can be a challenge. Luckily, this leave-on formula is meant to be gentle enough for all skin types and safe to use on both your face and neck. The key? A beta hydroxy acid formula that exfoliates and hydrates skin simultaneously.
"It has a concentration of 2% salicylic acid that unclogs your pores and eases inflammation. It also contains green tea, a great calming ingredient that can fade blemishes and scars," explained Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York City-based dermatologist and author of "Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist."
Best exfoliators for body
You don't need to get a fancy spa treatment to exfoliate effectively! 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," Jaliman said.
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," Lortscher said.
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 said.
Best exfoliators for sensitive skin
This alpha hydroxy acid (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 said.
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," said Dr. Sejal Shah of New York City's SmarterSkin Dermatology.
Exfoliating is a critical part of any skin routine, but harsh scrubs can sometimes seriously trigger already sensitive skin. 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," said Dr. Alan Parks, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse.
Best exfoliating scrubs
Lips need a little exfoliation every once in a while, too! Since the skin on your pucker is pretty sensitive, finding a product that's effective and gentle can be a challenge. This scrub from Bite Beauty combines fair trade golden sugar (a natural exfoliant), papaya enzymes (an enzymatic exfoliant) and plant-derived squalane (a hydrating ingredient) to cleanse, exfoliate and condition lips.
"I have found that simple ingredients/routines have the best impact for my patients, and nothing is simpler than a once-weekly product to improve your lips," Del Campo said. "This scrub helps remove dried skin cells and also hydrates the lips."
Exfoliating scrubs do a great job of thoroughly cleaning out your skin, but they can be a bit harsh and leave behind traces of redness at times. 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.
"I generally recommend physical exfoliators that use smooth particles because they tend to be gentler on the skin. This scrub uses jojoba beads to gently exfoliate and contains grape seed oil and honey, which nourish, hydrate and soothe the skin," Shah said.
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 said.
For more stories like this, check out:
- Dermatologists say this $13 gel is one of the best drugstore anti-aging products
- 12 dermatologist-approved skin care products for eczema relief
- This $5 'pore eraser' is like a real-life photo filter