Talk to any skin expert 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 leave your complexion looking dull and lackluster. "Exfoliation can also unclog pores, prevent acne, help with texture and can even out skin tone," says certified aesthetic nurse specialist, Christine Adams.
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 to be used multiple times a week, 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. We conducted hours of research to find the best exfoliating face washes on the market, evaluating each on their ability to remove dead skin without irritating or drying the skin. We also looked for any extra features, like if they could even the skin tone or unclog pores. After consulting experts and considering dozens of formulas, we landed on these top-rated picks.
Ahead, find the best exfoliating face washes.
Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser 125ML
A lot of product in the bottle
Gives you a glowy complexion
Helps other skin care products to soak in to your skin
May be irritating for sensitive 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.
Reviewers love that the microspheres feel like light grains of sand, so it doesn't feel too rough or abrasive on their skin, but it's able to remove dead skin and cleanse efficiently. They also noted that after cleansing, their skin felt smooth and soft to the touch, and their complexion looked rejuvenated.
Price at time of publish: $88
Active Ingredients: Apricot seed powder, pomegranate enzymes, willow bark | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 1.7 / 4.1 fl. oz | 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
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…but 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.
Price at time of publish: $9
Active Ingredients: Glycolic and salicylic acids | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Benefits: Exfoliates, cleanses | Size: 6.7 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator
Evens out skin tone and texture
May be too abrasive for very sensitive skin
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.
Price at time of publish: $64
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, colloidal oatmeal, ginkgo | Skin Type: Balanced, combination, oily | Benefits: Exfoliates, moisturizes, smooths, cleanses | Size: 0.5 / 2.6 fl. oz | 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
Lancôme Exfoliating Rose Sugar Scrub
Soothing to use
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.
Price at time of publish: $28
Active Ingredients: Rose water, honey | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 3.3 fl. oz | 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. It's also loaded with glycerin and aloe to lock in hydration.
Price at time of publish: $32
Active Ingredients: Silica, glycerin, aloe leaf extract | Skin Type: Dry, combination, oily | Benefits: Exfoliates, cleanses | Size: 5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No
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.
Price at time of publish: $15
Active Ingredients: Vitamins B5 and E | Skin Type: Sensitive | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 6 fl. oz | 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.
Price at time of publish: $29
Active Ingredients: Diatomaceous earth, amino acids | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 2 / 4 / 16 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Chemical Exfoliant
Holifrog Shasta AHA Refining Acid Wash
Makes skin look radiant
Clean, effective formula
Reviewers note that it has a strong smell
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.
Price at time of publish: $38
Active Ingredients: Mandelic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids, caviar lime extract | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths, cleanses | Size: 5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes
SheaMoisture African Black Soap Clarifying Facial Wash & Scrub
Evens out skin tone and texture
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 of that is included in this cruelty-free formula, free of a long list of questionable ingredients.
Price at time of publish: $10
Active Ingredients: Tea tree and jojoba oils, shea butter, salicylic acid | Skin Type: Oily, combination | Benefits: Exfoliates, moisturizes, cleanses | Size: 4 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes
We're giving top honors to the Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser, because it's able to gently exfoliate the skin, as well as hydrate and smooth the complexion. If you're looking for a more budget-friendly option, we also love the Neutrogena Exfoliating Facial Cleanser at Amazon— a chemcial exfoliator that utilizes salicylic and glycolic acids to remove impurities and unclog pores.
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.
- Christine Adams, MBA, MSN, NP-BC, CANS is a certified aesthetic nurse specialist and a board-certified nurse practitioner, having expertise in dermatology and plastic surgery. She is the founder and CEO of SkinSplendid, a medical spa in New York City that offers aesthetic treatments.
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.”
What are the benefits of using an exfoliating face wash?
Many exfoliating face washes fall under the physical category, meaning that they contain "minor abrasive element that sloughs off the very top layer, the stratum corneum, of the skin," according to Adams. Chemical exfoliants are able to get this same effect by using AHAs or BHAs to eliminate dead skin cells. No matter which formula you choose, regular exfoliation allows the rest of the skin care products in your routine to penetrate deeper into your skin, says Adams. Some exfoliating face washes also have other perks, including fading hyperpigmentation, smoothing texture, and even treating acne.
Is it safe to use an exfoliating face wash every day?
Some skin types may be able to handle exfoliating every single day, but Adams doesn't recommend it for most. "Daily exfoliation could strip the skin of its natural oils and lead to breakouts, irritation and redness," says Adams. "Over exfoliation can also weaken your skin barrier." However, some exfoliating cleansers are very gentle and often have instructions to use daily. In this case, Adams recommends listening to your skin to see what's best for you— if you notice your face starts to become dry or irritated, definitely cut back on how often you use it.
Can I use an exfoliating face wash morning and night?
It's not advised to use an exfoliating product twice a day, but it's totally up to you whether you want to use it in the A.M. or P.M. "I prefer exfoliating at night to get off all the debris from the day," says Adams. "However, I do know some prefer to exfoliate in the morning so that their skin is smooth and fresh before putting on a daily SPF." So while you should only use it once on the days that you exfoliate, whatever time you choose is your personal preference.
Cleveland Clinic. 5 ways to exfoliate your skin without irritation.
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