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Talk to any dermatologist out there and we guarantee they’ll sing the praises of regular exfoliation. The relatively simple skincare step makes a massive difference, removing the dead, dry skin cells that can not only leave your complexion looking dull and lackluster, but also clog pores. No, gracias.
When it comes to your exfoliating technique, sure, you could opt for a separate product and figure out a way to work it into your (likely already very extensive) daily or weekly routine. But there’s also a much easier way to reap the benefits on the reg. Enter the beauty of exfoliating cleansers, which both wash off dirt, oil, and makeup and also exfoliate simultaneously. They’re also gentle enough that they can be used daily, making exfoliating truly a no-brainer and easier than ever.
Whether you prefer a more scrub-like formula that sloughs off dead skin, or one that dissolves it using enzymes and acids, there’s something out there for everyone—and every skin type.
Take your pick from any of the best exfoliating face washes we can’t get enough of.
Best Overall: Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser
A little goes a long way
Gives an instant glow
Helps serums soak in
Could be irritating for some skin types
This standout uses apricot microspheres, kind of like that beloved apricot scrub from your teen years, but way better and gentler. They buff off dead skin cells, while a naturally-derived beta-hydroxy acid that comes from willow bark extract degunks pores while improving texture and tone. Couple that with an added moisturizing olive oil complex, and you’ve got yourself a formula that truly works on all skin types, a sentiment repeated by happy reviewers. Not to mention that the formula is also 100% natural, and the packaging is recyclable.
Active Ingredients: Apricot seed powder, pomegranate enzymes, willow bark | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 1.7 / 4.1 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
"Before I pumped any of the cleansers out of the green bottle, I could see the orange specks and felt a little nervous about using this formula on my skin. But, once applied to my skin, I could barely feel the apricot microspheres swirling around on my face." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
Best Luxury: Lancôme Exfoliating Rose Sugar Scrub
Soothing to use
Not Byrdie Clean
Everyone thinks of face masks when they think of self-care skincare, but with this, face washing can have an equally relaxing and indulgent effect. This sugar-based scrub warms upon contact (always enjoyable) and contains anti-inflammatory, skin-softening rose water that also gives it its luxurious scent. It’s an easy way to transform run-of-the-mill daily cleansing into a truly spa-like experience.
Active Ingredients: Rose water, honey | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 3.3 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Dry Skin: SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub
Helps reduce excess oil
Could be more hydrating
Glycerin is a naturally occurring compound in the body; in topical skincare, it is derived from plants. As a humectant, it functions to draw water to the skin and continue hydrating it, making it a great ingredient for extreme dryness.
Dry skin can most definitely benefit from regular exfoliation; after all, all those dry patches might make it much harder for any moisturizer to penetrate. This formula uses a unique scrubbing ingredient, microbeads made from diatomaceous earth, for mega-gentle exfoliation, and is also loaded with glycerin and aloe to lock in hydration.
Active Ingredients: Silica, glycerin, aloe leaf extract | Skin Type: Dry, combination, oily | Benefits: Exfoliates, cleanses | Size: 5 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Drugstore: Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub
Leaves skin feeling clean
Won't irritate sensitive skin
Can be a little drying
Dermatologists rave about this drugstore staple brand on repeat, and we couldn’t agree more. While the classic cleanser often gets all the love, this exfoliating option deserves some time in the spotlight, too. It’s just as gentle (we’re talking ‘dermatologist tested for sensitive skin’ gentle) but has the added benefit of micro-fine particles for exfoliating purposes. Added vitamins and conditioning ingredients ensure your skin feels ultra-soft afterward.
Active Ingredients: Vitamins B5 and E | Skin Type: Sensitive | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 6 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Mechanical Exfoliant: Philosophy The Microdelivery Exfoliating Facial Wash
Evens out skin tone and texture
Available in 3 sizes
Not Byrdie Clean
Fans who like scrub-like textures will appreciate that this utilizes itty-bitty micro-exfoliating beads that gently yet effectively slough off dead cells. Top tip: For the best results, massage it thoroughly into damp skin for at least 30 to 60 seconds to let it fully do its thing.
Active Ingredients: Diatomaceous earth, amino acids | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 2 / 4 / 16 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Brightening: Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator
Evens out skin tone and texture
Expensive per ounce
Any type of exfoliator will help to brighten dull skin, but this one by Dermalogica takes it one step further. Not only does it both scrub off and dissolve discoloration (thanks to rice bran and papaya enzymes, respectively), it’s also infused with licorice and bearberry, active ingredients known to help combat dark spots. Also noteworthy: Because it’s a powder, you can easily customize how intense it is. Add more water to make it slightly gentler, less to up the exfoliating prowess. Plus, there’s no need to worry about spills.
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, colloidal oatmeal, ginkgo | Skin Type: Balanced, combination, oily | Benefits: Exfoliates, moisturizes, smooths, cleanses | Size: 0.5 / 2.6 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
"After using the Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant for over a year now, I can confidently say that it accomplishes its goal of removing dead cells and excess oils from skin. This allows hydrating and restorative products to work more efficiently after exfoliating—it’s a must to maximize the benefits of every product used." — Nicole Pulyado, Product Tester
Best Chemical Exfoliant: Holifrog Shasta AHA Refining Acid Wash
Makes skin look radiant
Clean, effective formula
A little expensive
If you prefer to steer clear of scrubs and like acid- or enzyme-based exfoliation instead, this is your guy. From the new brand already getting crazy buzz all over the Internet, this option uses three different types of acids to clear away dull skin and pore-clogging gunk. The addition of two different oils works to combat the likelihood of irritation or dryness and gives it its pleasantly creamy consistency. And while the exfoliation may technically be called “chemical,” the formula itself is clean.
Active Ingredients: Mandelic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids, caviar lime extract | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 5 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Budget: Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Facial Cleanser
Won't aggravate acne-prone skin
Could be more hydrating
With both gentle scrubbers and a potent combo of glycolic and salicylic acids, this would be a great product in and of itself…the fact that it rings in at such an affordable price point is just the icing on the cake. It’s also non-comedogenic and soap-free, choice for those who worry about cleansers drying out or stripping their skin.
Active Ingredients: Glycolic and salicylic acids | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Benefits: Exfoliates, cleanses | Size: 6.7 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Scrub: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Clarifying Facial Wash & Scrub
Evens out skin tone and texture
Byrdie Clean and cruelty-free
Not for acne-prone skin
This strikes the perfect balance, effectively exfoliating any oily spots without stripping the normal or dry areas of our complexion. Credit a combo of gentle exfoliants—tamarind extract, tea tree oil, plus salicylic acid —meant to smooth out the texture and even out the tone of your skin. On the flip side, African black soap and shea butter promise to offer hydration. All that in a cruelty-free formula, free of a long list of questionable ingredients.
Active Ingredients: Tea tree and jojoba oils, shea butter, salicylic acid | Skin Type: Oily, combination | Benefits: Exfoliates, moisturizes, cleanses | Size: 4 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What to Look For in an Exfoliating Face Wash
The Right Exfoliant for Your Skin Type
The key to successful (and non-irritating) exfoliation is choosing the right kind of exfoliant for your skin type. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa K. Garshick recommends opting for products that use salicylic acid, one of the most popular BHAs. “Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, so it helps penetrate deep into the pores to help unclog them while also eliminating dead skin cells.”
If your skin is extra dry or on the sensitive side, Dr. Garshick suggests reaching for products formulated with AHAs and PHAs. “In general, those with sensitive skin can still exfoliate, but it’s best to use ingredients that will be less irritating to the skin,” she says. “Lactic acid and mandelic acid [both AHAs] are larger molecules when compared to glycolic acid, so they are unable to penetrate as deeply. As a result, they can be less irritating, making them a good option for sensitive skin. Additionally, polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) such as gluconolactone are another option for those with sensitive skin.”
Avoid Abrasive Scrubs
Of course, if you don’t want to go the chemical route, there are also physical exfoliants. However, according to Dr. Garshick, it’s important to avoid anything too abrasive or rough on the skin. “While it may be nice to feel the dead skin coming off with a physical exfoliant, be sure to avoid abrasive scrubs containing particles with jagged borders, as these can lead to irritation and sensitivity of the skin,” she says.
Gentle and Hydrating Formula
Exfoliating can be rough on the skin, which is why Dr. Garshick stresses the importance of choosing products that are both gentle and hydrating. “No matter your skin type, it’s important to use a product that’s gentle to minimize irritation or disruption of the skin barrier, which can lead to redness, flaking, or burning,” she says. “Even though the primary goal of the product may be to exfoliate and eliminate dead skin cells, it still should be gentle on the skin barrier and replenish the moisture lost during the cleansing process.”
Meet the Expert
Marisa K. Garshick, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist practicing at MDCS Dermatology in New York; she is also an assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell—New York Presbyterian Medical Center.
Cleveland Clinic. 5 ways to exfoliate your skin without irritation.
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