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This French exfoliating stick gave me smoother skin in days — and it's travel-friendly

My sensitive skin has finally found an exfoliator it likes!
Courtesy Colleen Sullivan

It’s not just the idea of adding another step to my skin care routine that has stopped me from introducing an exfoliator to my cleansing regimen. Rather, it’s the fact that I’ve never embraced the idea of scrubbing my sensitive skin with physical exfoliators like coffee grounds and sea salt or covering it in chemical exfoliators like a lactic or citric acid.

Unsurprisingly, it seems I’m not alone — many people tend to skip the exfoliating step in their skin care regimen. But after interviewing my fair share of dermatologists over the last 25+ years, I knew that buffing away dead skin cells on my face every so often was an important step for maintaining a healthy glow, especially as my skin ages and I shed cells more slowly. I also knew that over time, exfoliating could increase the production of collagen, a protein responsible for giving skin its strength and elasticity. Bottom line: It was time I found a good exfoliator.    

Luckily for me, a great one fell into my lap when a publicist friend sent me an exfoliator from a French skin care line she was repping — the French know a thing or two about skin care so whenever this publicist sends me something, I take an extra close look. What immediately caught my eye was the packaging and texture. The Payot’s Purifying Exfoliating Stick ($22) resembles a mini deodorant requiring zero finger dipping, and as a solid, it didn’t have the drippy consistency of exfoliators that I’d tried in the past. At less than 3 inches in size, it fit snuggly in the palm of my hand, making for an easy application. (Note to self: pack this portable baby on my next trip!). Plus, I was thankful it didn’t have an annoying smell — it just has this kind of fresh, non-descriptive scent.

Payot Paris Exfoliating Stick

The texture is smoother than expected

Knowing exfoliants can be abrasive if they’re not used in combination with water to minimize friction, I applied the formula in circular motions all over my damp face and neck in the shower the first time I tried it. My friend Cindy, who is always up for testing new beauty products, prefers to apply this exfoliator over her bathroom sink. She’s convinced it adheres better during the five minutes you’re required to keep it on prior to rinsing. At first, the formula appears thick, like it would require some effort to spread, but upon contact with water, it turns into a milky, soft texture.

It's made of mostly natural ingredients

I was drawn to the fact that the formula is made of 96% natural ingredients, including four gentle actives: hemp seed (a physical exfoliator), gluconolactome (a chemical exfoliator), zinc (an antimicrobial that reduces bacteria, yeast and oil) and Chilean mint (an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant all in one). The other 4% includes things like fragrance and preservatives, which experts note could cause an allergic reaction if you have super sensitive skin. Happily, that hasn’t been the case for me.

Speaking of reactions, this exfoliating stick is marketed to oily and combination skin types, which gave me pause as my skin is on the dryer side. So, I sent the product to a dermatologist friend, Alexis Young, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, for her thoughts. She responded by saying, “This exfoliator is fine for dry skin as long as you don’t over apply it and you use a moisturizer afterwards to restore the barrier that protects against external threats such as allergens.” (Dr. Young’s favorite moisturizers include Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Lotion for Face, CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion, La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moistruizer andNeutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Water Gel Moisturizer.) Oily and combination skin types can apply it twice weekly, she noted, but given my dry skin, I use it half that amount.

The product claims to help release blackheads from pores, but Dr. Young is a bit skeptical — for good reason. “This exfoliator is so gentle I don’t see how it could dislodge thick sebum from the hair follicle. That said, it could support other products, like a retinol, to help work the blackhead out and possibly prevent future ones from forming.”

I achieved soft, glowing skin after use

So, how does my skin look after using this product? The purpose of an exfoliator is to remove dead skin cells from the skin’s surface — products in this category promise to help skin “reflect light better” and create a “natural glow.” Light reflection isn’t one of my skin goals but a more youthful glow is — and I definitely notice that with this product. My skin also feels smoother and I find my makeup adheres better after use. Plus, if you love super clean skin like I do, there’s something truly satisfying knowing you’re eliminating a layer of dead gunk on your face once a week.

I saw these effects within days, but if you’re looking for results such as a reduction in acne, it could take six to eight weeks, according to Dr. Young, who cautions you should stop using this product (or any product) if you experience irritation, then restart at a lower frequency once the irritation resolves.

I end this review with a comment Dr. Young made early in our interview. Unlike many other dermatologists, she hesitates to recommend exfoliators to her patients. “Only because they always overuse or misuse them, resulting in further irritated skin,” she shares. “But this product’s delivery system has set limitations almost by default. And the gentle formula has pretty much made me a convert."