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We all take really good care of our skin—right? We wax poetic each day about all the serums, lotions, potions, peels, and masks we swear by. We get laser treatments, invest in chemical exfoliants, make appointments for facials, and sometimes opt for injections.
But skincare encompasses more than just our faces; there's skin on every square inch of every limb on our bodies. Dermatologists famously say to start at the nipples, musing we should take care of our chests and necks just as well as we do our foreheads, under-eyes, and cheeks, but I'd argue our entire bodies crave this attention.
The ingredients you want to search out in a body exfoliator are pretty similar to those for your face. Chemical exfoliators like glycolic acid and alpha hydroxy acid are powerful enough to do the job alone, but for those who need a stronger product, the addition of physical exfoliators will create extra smoothness. And of course, you'll want a product that counteracts any potential for irritation with soothing moisturizing components.
So, in the interest of our legs, arms, elbows, and toes, find the very best skin-smoothing body products with acids (and one with retinol because it's really spectacular) below.
Best Overall: REN AHA Smart Renewal Body Serum
This new 10 percent AHA exfoliating body serum delivers full-body exfoliation without (often damaging) scrubbing. It's super lightweight with a lotion-gel hybrid texture. See, the serum is rich in lactic acid, xylitol, and probiotics, and it can help draw water molecules within the skin to the surface and boost the skin’s defense barrier. Just gently massage the serum into clean skin after a shower, and the formula will exfoliate away dull skin—leaving your body softer, smoother, and far glowier.
Use an SPF with this product as it may make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
Best Smoothing: Glytone Exfoliating Body Lotion
Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin and oil often found in antioxidant blend topicals or moisturizers. It also helps soothe the skin and protects the lipid barrier.
This smoothing moisturizer contains 17.5 percent glycolic acid and can even your skin’s texture, reduce the appearance of uneven skin tone with each application, and lead to a healthier, brighter appearance. The formula includes vitamin E and can help condition your skin as well as provide antioxidant protection to shield the skin against environmental aggressors. It’s ideal for those with keratosis pilaris, though it works to tighten, tone, hydrate, and exfoliate any skin type. Gently massage it onto your arms, legs, and any other parts that may require special attention. (I love to apply it to my elbows.)
Best for Sensitive Skin: Mario Badescu A.H.A. Botanical Body Soap
Since the very first time I used this body wash, I’ve never looked back. As someone who breaks out on my chest from time to time (mostly during those crazy NYC summers), I’ve found it works wonders on my skin. The formula is enriched with fresh fruit extracts, ginseng, and oat protein, and it can help rejuvenate, break down dead skin cells to leave skin feeling soft and smooth and soothe sensitive and irritated areas. Plus, it smells like citrus and makes mornings all the more pleasant.
Best Scrub: DermaDoctor KP Duty Body Scrub
Both a physical and chemical exfoliant (a serious skin-smoothing combo), this dermatologist-formulated dual-action exfoliator combines the benefits of a chemical peel and microdermabrasion into a single formulation. It’s especially helpful for those with KP but incredible for pretty much everyone else too.
Best Retexturing: Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 Corps
My love and devotion to Biologique Recherche’s Lotion P50 have been well documented. I’m pretty much the textbook definition of a cultish devotee. Naturally, when the body product launched and I could actually practically bathe in the retexturizing formula, I couldn’t help myself. Similar to the face product, the tingly vinegar-scented formula exfoliates your skin while nourishing it with botanical extracts and vitamins. It balances your skin’s pH, smooths rough patches, tightens pores, and boosts hydration levels.
Best with Retinol: Chantecaille Retinol Body Treatment
While retinol isn’t an acid, it is an ingredient we often use in our facial products (and one that will make you look better naked tenfold), so I decided to include it anyway. This recent launch came across my desk, and I couldn’t help but slather it on right then and there. Formulated with pure rosewater and encapsulated retinol, it smells floral, feels thick and hydrating, and can help to improve the appearance of fine lines and uneven tone.
Best Splurge: StackedSkincare TCA Lactic & Glycolic Body Peel
First things first: This peel cleared our managing editor’s body acne overnight. Yes, really. “No exaggeration,” Lindsey Metrus writes, “the next morning, the breakouts were gone. I attribute this magic treatment to the glycolic, lactic, trichloroacetic, and salicylic acids working together to kill acne bacteria, dissolve dead skin and sebum, as well as even out skin tone. You don’t even need to rinse it off afterward either—just apply and go. It’s truly a miracle in a bottle.”
Best with Glycolic Acid: Bliss That's Incredi-Peel Glycolic Acid Pads
I’ve been using these glycolic acid sheets on my face for as long as I can remember. I’m pretty sure it was my first holy-grail item after becoming a beauty editor seven years ago. Now, I use them on my body as well. They offer a spa-quality peel that gradually releases glycolic acid and targets fine lines, discoloration, and any skin roughness for smoother, brighter skin. Why not have those results on your body as well as your face?
Best Pads: Cane + Austin Body Retexture Pads 10% Glycolic Acid Body Treatment
Similar to Bliss’s version, these easy-to-use, one-step daily treatment pads for your body contain 10% pharmaceutical-grade glycolic acid and can lead to some serious anti-aging results. They’re gentle enough for sensitive skin types (and everyday use) to reduce age spots, wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, and the like.
Best Body Treatment: Lancer The Method: Body Nourish
Adapted from Dr. Lancer’s facial skincare, his body treatment cream is a blend of marula oil, kigelia extract, Kalahari melon seed oil, and glycolic acid and can help to restore moisture, tighten, and tone. Oh, and don’t forget about that ever-elusive glow.
What to Look For in a Body Exfoliator
When choosing what type of exfoliant to use, it’s important to consider your needs, preferences, and, most importantly, your skin type. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Morgan Rabach is an all-around fan of chemical formulas that include AHAs and BHAs, mentioning that in addition to offering gentle exfoliation, they may also help boost collagen production and help with any pigmentation issues you may be dealing with. Additionally, she says that hydroxy acid-based formulas are safer for those with sensitive skin and that there's less of a chance of stripping the epidermis when using them.
Want to up your exfoliating power? Reach for a product that contains a mix of both chemical and physical exfoliants to get the best of both worlds. Physical exfoliants can also be great options for many skin types. Rabach suggests looking for a formula that includes sugar, salt, or sand as its exfoliating mechanism—the gentler, the better. “Mechanical exfoliants are really best for refreshing dry or flaking skin on the body,” she says.
Of course, whether you choose a chemical exfoliator or decide to go the physical route, Rabach stresses the importance of choosing a formula that also has a moisturizing component to it. This way, the skin will be left plump and not overly dry. Your bod will thank you.
What happens if you never exfoliate?
Many get by without an exfoliating routine, but your skin will thank you if you have one. Not exfoliating can lead to a buildup of dead skin, which lead to a duller-looking complexion and an increase in the appearance of wrinkles—which, yes, happen in areas outside of your face too.
Is it OK to exfoliate every day?
Should I exfoliate in the morning or night?
Meet the Expert
Dr. Morgan Rabach is a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical PLLC, a dermatology and facial plastic surgery practice that she started with her sister, Dr. Lesley Rabach. In addition to her private practice, she is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.