Exfoliation is a key step in any balanced skincare routine. Its many benefits include a more even skin tone, better circulation, and clear pores, to name just a few. It also helps your skin better absorb different products. According to dermatologist Lily Talakoub, M.D., of McLean Dermatology & Skincare Center, "Exfoliation helps serums, moisturizers, and growth factors penetrate deeper into the skin," she said in an interview with Byrdie.
If the prospect of adding yet another wallet-busting product to your daily skincare regimen has you sweating bullets, not to worry. We're sharing all the super-effective exfoliators that top dermatologists and skincare experts recommend, and they're all available at your local drugstore. Rest assured, there's an affordable product for every skin type, ranging from a gentle cleanser that doesn't irritate dry skin to a zinc-infused exfoliator that removes excess sebum, and a sugar scrub that brightens combination skin.
The removal of dead, dry skin not only frees up skincare products to do their work but also increases skin's radiance, clarity, and youthfulness.
Starting at just $4 a pop, here are 11 of the best drugstore exfoliators that won't cost you an arm and a leg, according to dermatologists. Get ready to find your next favorite exfoliating face wash.
Dry, Sensitive Skin
"Cetaphil's Extra Gentle Daily Scrub is very soothing and well-suited for dry, sensitive skin," says Kristina Goldenberg, M.D., of Goldenberg Dermatology. "This cleanser helps remove impurities and simultaneously augments the removal of dead skin cells."
According to Melissa K. Levin, the NYC-based dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology, "Exfoliation is key and necessary for dry and combination skin to continue turnover of dead skin cells. I recommend incorporating an alpha-hydroxy acid product or, for those with more sensitive skin, Cetaphil's Extra Gentle Daily Scrub because it uses micro-fine bamboo particles that buff and soften skin."
Additionally, Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, M.D., of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York adds that Cetaphil's Extra Gentle Daily Scrub is gentle enough for all skin types, including dry skin, because it contains skin conditioners that don't irritate skin.
"For oily skin, I recommend Neutrogena's Pore Refining Exfoliating Cleanser," says Goldenberg. "This product contains alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids that help remove oil and dirt that sits deep in the pores while gently exfoliating the skin, leaving it smooth and soft."
For combination skin, Goldenberg recommends L'Oréal Paris Pure-Sugar Scrub. "It contains three different types of sugars that help remove dead skin cells and impurities," she says. "It also contains cocoa butter to provide the skin with moisture and to protect it from too much irritation."
Bae also recommends La Roche-Posay's Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Facial Cleanser for combination skin, as it "contains zinc to reduce sebum and is formulated with gentle, thermal spring water," she says.
"For combination skin, Freeman's Feeling Beautiful Apple Cider Vinegar Foaming Clay Mask contains acids that gently exfoliate the skin by dissolving dead skin cells," says Engelman.
Acne-Prone, Oily Skin
"For oily skin, one of my favorite acne-fighting cleansers is Differin Daily Deep Cleanser, which is a micronized, 5 percent benzoyl peroxide cleanser that can affordably deliver prescription-strength results," says Levin. "Many benzoyl peroxide-based cleansers are drying and irritating, but this one is a dual-action micronized formula that penetrates pores and absorbs excess oil while releasing a gentle moisturizer that doesn't dry skin or clog pores."
"For oily skin, Bioré's Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser is very refreshing, and it contains salicylic acid, a chemical and physical exfoliant," says Bae.
"Dry skin is very sensitive to over-exfoliating, which is why I like this one from La Roche-Posay," says Dendy Engelman, M.D., of Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York, referring to the Ultrafine Scrub for Sensitive Skin. "It's allergy-tested and free of soap, alcohol, and parabens."
All Acne-Prone Skin Types
"Proactiv's Skin Smoothing Exfoliator contains prescription-strength micro-crystal benzoyl peroxide to clear up acne blemishes and help prevent new ones from forming," says Engelman. "It also contains tiny exfoliating beads and glycolic acid to help reduce excess oil."
All Skin Types
For all skin types except those with inflammatory acne, Cynthia Rivas, a medical aesthetician at Monica Halem, M.D. in New York City, recommends Acure's Brightening Facial Scrub. "I love that the clay helps purify the skin and the gentle abrasion won't damage it, either," she explains.
For those with oily or dry skin, Rivas recommends using Simple's Smoothing Facial Scrub once per week, as part of a balanced skincare regimen. "I love that it's made with rice granules instead of microbeads so it doesn't harm the environment," she explains. "It's also dye- and fragrance-free, so it doesn't irritate the skin."
Li W, Zhai ZH, Pang Q, Kong L, Zhou ZR. Influence of Exfoliating Facial Cleanser on the Bio-Tribological Properties of Human Skin. Wear. 2013;301(1-2):353-361. doi:10.1016/j.wear.2012.11.073