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Despite their almost instantaneous ability to reveal a glowing complexion, face scrubs are often approached with trepidation. Between the perpetual fear of sandpapering our faces to a pulp (ouch) and the environmental contamination of microbead exfoliants, it’s become too easy to throw the product into skincare’s ‘too hard’ basket.
But not so fast. Not only have face scrubs evolved beyond using tiny pieces of plastic as abrasive agents, but the benefits of scrubs are impressively wide-ranging. By removing the dead cells our skin can’t clear out on its own, scrubs greatly increase cell regeneration and the efficacy and absorption of other skincare products. Whether you rely on heavy-duty anti-aging formulas, or simply relish a strong serum, exfoliation allows each subsequent product in your routine to perform at its full potential.
There is also a face scrub out there for every type, concern (blackheads, we're looking at you), and budget. Whether you want to scrub once a week or need to excavate clogged pores on the daily, there is a physical exfoliator for the job.
Ahead, we tapped board-certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman for her tips on picking the perfect scrub for your personal skin needs and rounded up the very best on the market.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Debra Jaliman is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. She’s the Assistant Professor of Dermatology Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and author of the book, Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist.
Best Overall: Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant
This super exfoliator is a cult favorite, as well as a favorite of Dr. Jaliman. The formula contains a combo of licorice, grapefruit, phytic acid from rice bran, papain enzymes, salicylic acid, and colloidal oatmeal and can help to exfoliate and decongest pores while also balancing out redness. Licorice root has also been shown to have a brightening effect, which is a nice bonus.
Worth noting: This is a powder exfoliant, so it's a bit gentler on the skin. "The rice bran is milled into a fine powder that removes dirt and dead skin cells," says Dr. Jaliman. It foams up into a creamy paste upon contact with water, making it easier to spread across every nook and cranny of the face.
Best Budget: Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub
If you were once a fan of the former microbead cleansers and exfoliators, this is a great (environmentally-friendly) replacement. It's formulated with gentle silica particles and rice powder, and it can gently slough off dead skin while soaking up any excess oil. We can't forget to mention the awesome price point, too. Dr. Jaliman recommends this pick for those with sensitive skin.
Best Drugstore: St. Ives Energizing Scrub Coconut & Coffee
St. Ives is well-known for its range of scrubs, and this coffee and coconut face scrub is a fan favorite (literally, the combination was chosen by users). It's formulated with 100% natural exfoliants, including walnut shell powder, and helps to smooth out the skin. Use it a few times per week to treat your skin and your senses.
Best for Blackheads: Tula So Poreless Deep Exfoliating Blackhead Scrub
Physical exfoliants may suffice when all your skin needs is a quick pick-me-up, but if you really want to unclog those pores, reach for a formula that has chemical exfoliants too. The Tula Blackhead Scrub is the best of both worlds, combining chemical exfoliants lactic acid and hibiscus flower acid with granular ingredients like pink salt and volcanic sand.
Best Brightening: Acure Brightening Facial Scrub
For those hoping to shine from the inside out, find your light with this scrub. If you love the way you look after the beach, you can imitate your skin’s after-sun glow with this formula that aims to soften and detoxify without any harsh stripping effect. It contains sea kelp, lemon, and French green clay and can help peel and address impurities.
Best for Dry Skin: Dr. Barbara Sturm Facial Scrub
So you’re looking for a facial in a bottle? No such thing exists, but this facial scrub is about as close as you can get without stepping into a spa. This one is a true all-rounder, targeting breakouts, removing flakiness, and hydrating dry skin. It contains antioxidant-packed jojoba oil, shea butter, and silk extract, but more importantly, it doesn't contain any synthetic fragrances. The formula aims to conquer any possible irritation while making dull, dry skin a thing of the past.
Best for Oily Skin: Fresh Umbrian Clay Mattifying Face Exfoliant
Oily skin generally goes hand-in-hand with enlarged pores, and we don’t blame you for wanting a product that can tackle both. Reviewers claim this scrub not only perfectly preps your skin for makeup, but dramatically changes its appearance without it. Wave goodbye to grease and say hello to a new mattified visage.
Best for Sensitive Skin: SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub
If you’ve been on the lookout for an exfoliant gentle enough for everyday use, this is it. "This scrub contains a special mineral, hydrated silica, which helps remove dead skin," says Dr. Jaliman. "It also contains aloe, which has soothing properties, and glycerin, which helps to keep moisture in your skin." If you want a scrub to double as a daily cleanser, give this a try—and prepare for refined, renewed skin.
Best for Combination Skin: L'Oreal Paris Pure Sugar Scrub Purify & Unclog
Polishing away dirt and dead skin has never been this easy with the drugstore classic that incorporates three different types of sugar as well as real kiwi seeds and leaves you with baby-bottom softness. It also product boasts the capacity to rebalance oil without over-drying within one week.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Oriflame Sweden Milk And Honey Gold Set Scrub
This Oriflame sugar scrub gently buffs away dead cells while dousing your skin in vitamins A and D, while lactic acid works to smooth the skin's surface. Honey is also chock-full of antioxidants, as well as an anti-inflammatory. This is a one-two punch to heal and prevent acne.
Best Splurge: Valmont Purity Face Exfoliant
If you’re willing to spend top dollar on your skin, you might as well invest in a premier scrub. This restorative product is a favorite among A-list estheticians, mostly because its micro quartz crystals (yes, crystals) work for all skin types. Its texture is also so luxuriously thick it could almost double as a face cream—that’s when you know you’ve hit a new level of indulgence.
Best Multitasker: The Body Shop Tea Tree 3-In-1 Wash Scrub Mask
Forever on-the-go and simply don’t have time to mess around with a dozen different products that each serve a different need? This mask-cleanser-scrub from The Body Shop might just be the skincare all-in-one of your dreams. Infused with tea tree oil, clay, and volcanic minerals, it promises to purify, exfoliate, and mattify the skin. Use this product any which way you like to reduce shine, tighten pores and banish blackheads for good.
Runner-Up, Best Multitasker: Fur Silk Scrub Gentle & Exfoliating
Buff your way to your silkiest body ever with a scrub that’s also gentle enough to use on your face. And if you often worry about using products near your bikini line, this one is not only dermatologically tested but given the thumbs up from gynecologists to use pre- and post-hair removal. Leave on as a mask for 10 minutes at a time for a deeper exfoliation experience.
Best Organic: Era Organics Revive Microdermabrasion Face Scrub
This cult classic from Era Organics uses all-natural ingredients to gently exfoliate without tearing at the skin’s surface. Infused with walnut and manuka honey, it claims to work wonders on dark circles, acne scars, and general signs of wear and tear making for an uneven skin tone—yes, that includes stretch marks—while simultaneously purifying and nourishing your skin.
What to Look For in a Face Scrub
Choose a Scrub Based On Your Skin Type
The first thing Dr. Jaliman suggests when shopping for a face scrub is seeking out a formula that works for your skin type. For example, she recommends that those with sensitive skin opt for products that only use very finely milled scrubbing agents. Have dry skin? Choose a formula with a creamy, hydrating texture.
Avoid Coarse Grains
Whether your skin is sensitive or not, you should always avoid coarse grains when it comes to a physical scrub. “You want something with a finer grain as this is the most gentle, and you won’t run the risk or irritation,” says Dr. Jaliman.
Physical Scrubs with Chemical Exfoliants
If you have normal, combination, or oily skin, Dr. Jaliman recommends reaching for a face scrub that also contains chemical exfoliants for extra skin-refining benefits. “Those containing acids such as salicylic or lactic acids are gentle enough for most people to use,” she says. “However, they can be a problem for those with sensitive skin or with conditions like rosacea or eczema, depending on the type of acid used.”