Because physical exfoliating methods tend to be harsher, he recommends limiting it to one to two times a week. If you have sensitive skin, he notes it’s best to avoid physical exfoliants completely but rather reach for chemical exfoliants, which are typically more tolerable. Regardless of your skin type or the kind of formula you choose, Rouleau advises exfoliating no more than five times per week. “Your skin needs a critical number of protective layers to stay healthy and moist, so you definitely don’t want to over-exfoliate and strip away those layers, damaging your moisture barrier,” she explains.
What Ingredients You Should Look For
In this evolving skin-care marketplace, there is an array of exfoliating ingredients to choose from and a plethora of products formulated to slough away dead skin. “Commonly used exfoliating compounds are salicylic acid, glycolic acid, mandelic acid, and lactic acid,” says Amin. “For acne-prone skin, salicylic acid is the best choice. Glycolic is a great choice for an overall glow.”
Read on to discover the best face exfoliators—along with important ingredient callouts and application best practices.
The Daily Scrub
SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub
- Key Ingredients: This exfoliating scrub is infused with hydrated silica, glycerin, and aloe leaf extract to physically slough away dead skin cells while boosting hydration and softness.
- More to Know: Suitable for daily use, massage in this smoothing polish followed by serums and moisturizer.
The Radiance-Boosting Mask
Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask
- Key Ingredients: Pomegranate enzymes, white willow bark, beetroot extract, and calendula are at the heart of Tata Harper’s Resurfacing Mask, which uses a blend of 18 ingredients to improve skin’s radiance and skin texture.
- More to Know: Up to three times per week, leave a thick layer of the mask on for 20 minutes for an unmatched glow-up.
The Acne Treatment
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
- Key Ingredients: “I recommend Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant for heavy, blemish-prone skin,” says Caglia. A TikTok darling for its affordability and efficacy, this pairs salicylic acid and green tea to smooth pores and wrinkles while soothing skin.
- More to Know: Start by applying this toner every other day, just be sure to apply sunscreen following.
The 2-in-1 Treatment
Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment
- Key Ingredients: Thanks to its powerhouse cocktail of silica, fruit enzymes from papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin, along with lactic and salicylic acid, this coveted treatment by Kate Somerville pairs the best of chemical and physical exfoliation.
- More to Know: Post cleanse, massage in the treatment for 30 seconds and leave on the skin for two minutes. Then, rinse to reveal a soft, bright, youthful-looking complexion.
The Sensitive Skin Serum
Vivant Skin Care 8 Percent Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Serum
- Key Ingredients: Vivant’s serum is powered by 8% mandelic acid to promote brighter, firmer skin. “Those with sensitive skin should opt for mild chemical exfoliants, such as mandelic or lactic acid, which are larger molecules, don’t penetrate as deeply, and are less irritating on the skin when compared to other [AHAs],” says Garshick.
- More to Know: As you would any other serum, apply this post cleanser and toner.
The At-Home Facial
Charlotte Tilbury Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial
- Key Ingredients: “This formula combines exfoliating acids including AHA, like glycolic acid, BHA like salicylic acid and PHAs, including hydrating polyglutamic acid to help brighten the skin without leading to irritation,” says Garshick, building that “it also incorporates exfoliative, a natural extract from the prickly pear cactus.”
- More to Know: “Together [these ingredients] help to improve the overall appearance of the skin and are meant to be used once weekly,” she says.
The Cult Favorite
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50
- Key Ingredients: Often cited as a facial in a bottle, P50 garnered quite the cult-following. Powered by a cocktail of AHAs, BHA, PHA, vitamin B3, and horseradish extract, this is lauded for its ability to balance your skin’s pH and erase dark spots.
- More to Know: While this French find is known to be a staple for many, including actor Laura Harrier, it’s important to remember that it can be quite strong for certain skin types, so best to apply to a damp cotton pad then glide over the face and décolletage in upward strokes.
The Day-to-Night Treatment
Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment
- Key Ingredients: “Sunday Riley Good Genes is a very good lactic acid serum that I recommend to some,” notes Caglia. Along with the AHA, it features a cocktail of licorice, lemongrass, arnica, prickly pear extract, and aloe to improve radiance and reduce the appearance of discoloration—all without irritation.
- More to Know: This leave-on treatment can be applied to clean skin day or night; though, if you have sensitive skin, the brand recommends applying it as a face mask (for 15 minutes).
The K-Beauty Favorite
Some By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30Days Miracle Toner
- Key Ingredients: This Korean skin-care find is acclaimed for its supercharged blend of acids, as well as papaya and witch hazel extract to exfoliate and boost cell turnover. What’s more, tea tree water extract, adenosine, and niacinamide are also infused to target inflammation and wrinkles.
- More to Know: Douse a cotton pad with this toner and apply post-cleanse daily to enjoy its skin clarifying benefits.
The Water-Activated Exfoliant
Tatcha The Rice Polish
- Key Ingredients: Powered by Tatcha’s Hadasei-3 complex of fermented Japanese superfoods (green tea, rice, and algae), The Rice Polish is infused with rice bran, papaya enzymes, and silk to gently exfoliate away dead skin cells while minimizing dryness.
- More to Know: Once activated with water, this transforms into a creamy foam that leaves skin soft and nourished**—**making it ideal for combination to dry skin types.
The Daily Peel
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel
- Key Ingredients: This two-step peel pad from Dr. Dennis Gross’s collection is infused with a blend of seven acids (glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids, primarily) to instantly reduce the look of fine lines, wrinkles, pores, and dark spots. There’s even hyaluronic acid and green tea extract to ensure skin is calm and hydrated, too.
- More to Know: While the “Extra Strength” callout in the name may sound intense, this is suitable for daily use; and is housed in a convenient sachet to take with you on the go. Consider its Universal Daily Peel if you’re new to the world of exfoliators.
The Overnight Option
True Botanicals Repair Nightly Treatment
- Key Ingredients: The True Botanicals Repair Nightly Treatment is infused with black willow bark extract, hyaluronic acid, and olive leaf extract to resurface skin (and combat breakouts) for a supple, hydrated appearance.
- More to Know: Each night, apply a few pumps of the treatment just before moisturizer.
The Exfoliating Device
- Key Ingredients: First prep skin with the included PreFlash treatment, which features a blend of salicylic acid, papaya enzymes, willow bark, and niacinamide, to remove surface oil and soothe skin.
- More to Know: Then, you can glide the dermaplaning device over the face to remove dead skin cells, peach fuzz, and impurities for soft, glowing skin. Just be sure to avoid the lips, eyelids, and nose.
The Plant-Based Alternatives
Beekman 1802 Smooth Booster Willow Bark Exfoliating Serum
- Key Ingredients: “For more sensitive skin, I love Beekman’s 1802 Smooth Booster Serum with Willow Bark,” says Caglia. The serum features two BHA alternatives: willow bark, which is similar to salicylic acid, and caviar lime, as well as lactic acid to smooth skin texture and reduce the look of pores.
- More to Know: One to two drops of this vegan concentrated serum can be applied on its own or with your favorite moisturizer in your morning routine.