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20 Best Facial Exfoliators for Smoother Skin



20 Best Facial Exfoliators for Smoother Skin

Whether you consider yourself a skincare guy or are a novice at best, you’ve probably heard the term “exfoliator” dozens of times. You may have come across an exfoliating routine on your FYP, perhaps as a suggestion from your dermatologist, or even on a label of some of your favorite skin care products. Wherever and whenever you first heard about them, we’re here to tell you that the hype is real: exfoliators really are the golden ticket for that glowing skin. Figuring out the right exfoliation routine to help you get there, however, requires a delicate balance between methods and products, as there are a whole range of exfoliators. facial cleansersserums, and treatments choose from.

Here, we spoke to three experts about why you need a facial exfoliator, the different types of exfoliators, and how often you should include them in your regimen. We also share our top 20 best exfoliators to help you on your path to smoother skin.

Our top 20 exfoliators at a glance:

  • Best Overall: Paula’s Choice, 2% BHA liquid exfoliant$35
  • Best for Acne: Byoma, purifying serum$17
  • Best for Oily Skin: Glow Recipe, Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Acid Serum$42
  • Best for Dark Spots: Urban Skin Rx, BrighterDays™ Dark Spot 8% AHA Lacquer$20
  • Best for Dry Skin: Tata Harper, regenerating BHA exfoliating cleanser$88
  • Best for Sensitive Skin: Aveeno, Calm + Restore Nourishing PHA Facial Exfoliator$16
  • Best Face Mask: Youth to the People Yerba Mate Resurfacing + Exfoliating Energy Facial with Enzymes + Niacinamide$59
  • Best for Acne Scars: ALASIN, ReSURFACE Skin Polishing Agent$68
  • Best for Dull Skin: The first exfoliating, revitalizing and energizing caffeine micropolish$34
  • Best drugstore: Pixi, Glow Tonic 5% glycolic acid exfoliating toner$18
  • Best budget: The regular peeling solution AHA 30% + BHA 2%$10
  • Best peel pads: Dr. Dennis Gross, Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Pads$92
  • Best Scrub: OLEHENRIKSEN, 10% AHA Lemonade Smoothing Scrub​, $35
  • Best Night Serum: Sunday Riley, Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment$85
  • Best Soft Choice: Beekman 1802, Exfoliating cleanser from oat and goat milk$29
  • Best Splurge: La Mer, the Resurfacing treatment$140
  • Best stick: Peace Out, AHA Pore & Blackhead Exfoliator Multitasking Treatment Stick$24
  • Best Powder Cleanser: Kiehl’s, Rare earth deep pore minimizing and polishing powder cleanser$38
  • Best toner: Farmacy, Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleansing Toner with Moringa + Papaya$34
  • Best cream: SkinCeuticals, Glycolic 10 Renew Night Cream$90

Why you need an exfoliator

Peeling removes the outer layers of the epidermis to reveal new skin underneathaccording to Dr. King. “This release of the outer layer unclogs pores, removes dead skin cells and helps reduce acne. It also smooths and polishes the skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and evening out the texture,” she says.

Regular exfoliation is necessary because over time it can increase cell turnover and stimulate collagen production, leaving your skin feeling smoother. It can also promote a healthier skin barrier, preventing breakouts, redness and inflammation. “Exfoliation can also facilitate better absorption of skin care products containing active ingredients and improve penetration of laser treatments,” says dermatologist Dr. Rambhia.

What are the Different Types of Exfoliators?

There are two types of exfoliators: physical and chemical. “Chemical exfoliants include alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, fruit enzymes, citric acid, malic acid, etc., which may be applied in high concentrations by a dermatologist, or in lower concentrations if used excessively. Products applied to the are available over the counter,” says Dr. King. These acids act as ‘bond breakers’ and dissolve the glue-like substance that holds dull, dead cells to the skin’s surface.

Chemical exfoliators are generally tolerated by most skin types, and exfoliating ingredients such as lactic acid (AHA) and polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) are known to be slightly gentler on the skin. “Polyhydroxy acid molecules are larger and cannot penetrate as deeply. This ensures that they act on the skin’s surface without affecting the underlying layers, making them less irritating,” adds Dr. King. PHAs are a great exfoliating option for those with sensitive skin types and remain effective at minimizing the appearance of discoloration, fine lines and dullness.

Physical or mechanical exfoliators, on the other hand, involve physically scrubbing the skin with an abrasive ingredient to remove dead cells. Physical exfoliant formulas may contain microbeads, ground seeds, kernels, shells, microcrystalline, sugar, salt or pumice. “Physical exfoliation can also include microdermabrasion and mechanical brushing,” says Dr. Hassanali. “Physical exfoliators typically provide more instant smoothness, but can often be too aggressive for sensitive or acne-prone skin.” As for using exfoliating scrubs, Dr. King to use products with small, fine particles. “Large, abrasive particles can leave many small micro-cracks and cause irritation,” she says.

And she’s right: the potential risk of damage from physical exfoliation can lead to irritation, inflammation and, in some cases, infection. Therefore, when physically exfoliating, it is important to apply very light pressure during application.

What skin problems do exfoliators treat?

According to Dr. Rambhia exfoliation can effectively address skin concerns such as uneven and dull skin tone, fine lines and texture irregularities, thereby improving the appearance of pores and acne. “Exfoliating the skin offers numerous benefits, including helping to unclog pores, promoting smoother and softer skin for improved texture, and improving the skin’s overall appearance,” she says.

How often should you exfoliate?

When it comes to how often you should exfoliate, it all depends on your skin type. For drier, more sensitive skin types, Dr. Rambhia recommends using a mild chemical exfoliator no more than twice a week. Oilier skin types can exfoliate three to four times a week. However, it’s always important to start slowly when first incorporating exfoliators into your skin care regimen before increasing use to several times a week,” she says.

According to experts, it is possible to over-exfoliate the skin. “If you notice signs of irritation, such as redness, flaking, or severe dryness, reduce the frequency or switch to a gentler exfoliant,” says Hassanali. This Therefore, it is also recommended to use exfoliating formulas with a moisturizing base. Dr. King says to look for exfoliators that contain humectants such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin, emollients such as triglycerides or ceramides to support the skin barrier, or occlusive agents such as petroleum jelly to retain moisture. Niacinamide, allantoin and aloe vera are also great soothing ingredients for an exfoliating product. If you have certain conditions, such as rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis, consult your dermatology provider first, says Hassanali, because exfoliation can worsen these conditions.

As for post-exfoliation care, avoid applying potentially skin irritants immediately after or for the rest of the day (e.g., no retinoids). It is also a must to avoid sun exposure, and if you are exposed, apply a generous amount of sunscreen at the end of your skin care routine. “This approach helps maintain a balanced and optimized skin care program while minimizing the chance of side effects,” says Dr. Rambhia.

Best Toner: Farmacy, Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner with Moringa + Papaya – $34.00

Main ingredients: salicylic acid, papaya enzymes

Incorporating an exfoliating toner into your routine is a must if you want to tackle dark spots, fine lines, or acne scars. We love this exfoliating pick that contains 2% salicylic acid plus papaya enzymes to gently exfoliate and improve the appearance of dull skin and blotchy patches. It’s also an excellent mattifying agent, so oily skin will drink this up straight away.

Mate: 4 fl oz

Best splurge: La Mer, the Resurfacing treatment

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