The 16 Best Drugstore Exfoliators of 2022 for Glowing Skin

Our best overall pick is Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub

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Byrdie / Lecia Landis

Exfoliation is a key step in any balanced skincare routine, when done correctly. Benefits include clear pores, better circulation, and an even skin tone. It also helps your skin better absorb other products throughout your skincare routine. According to dermatologist Lily Talakoub, M.D., of McLean Dermatology & Skincare Center, "Exfoliation helps serums, moisturizers, and growth factors penetrate deeper into the skin."

If the idea of adding yet another product to your daily skin regimen has your wallet stressing, worry not, we've got all the best recommendations for affordable exfoliators. We're sharing our favorite products that top dermatologists and skincare experts recommend—and they're all available at your local drugstore. Whether your sensitive skin requires a gentle exfoliating cleanser or your oil skin needs a zinc-infused exfoliator, we've got you covered.

The removal of dead, dry skin not only frees up skincare products to do their work but may also increases skin's radiance, clarity, and youthfulness.

Below, browse a collection of exfoliating cleansers, masks, toners, and treatments to help you achieve more even, radiant complexion. Starting at just $4 a pop, here are the best drugstore exfoliators, according to dermatologists and editors.

Best Overall: Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub

extra gentle daily scrub

Ulta

What We Like
  • Gentle

  • A little goes a long way

  • Makes skin feel smooth

What We Don't Like
  • Contains fragrance

"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 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 to 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 the skin.

Price at time of publish: $18

Type: Scrub | Active Ingredients: Vitamins B5 and E | Size: 6 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Cleanser: Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Cleanser

Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Cleanser

Walmart

What We Like
  • Creamy

  • Smooths and brightens

  • Helps clear acne

What We Don't Like
  • Not for dry skin

"For oily skin, I recommend Neutrogena's Pore Refining Exfoliating Cleanser," says Dr. Goldenberg. The creamy cleanser has a pillow-y texture that makes the whole exfoliating process a bit more inviting. "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." A quick rinse and skin appears brighter, smoother, and refreshed, without feeling tight and stripped. However we definitely recommend following with your nightly moisturizer for blanket of conditioning post-cleanse.

Price at time of publish: $16

Type: Cream | Active Ingredients: Glycolic and salicylic acids | Size: 6.7 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Sugar Scrub: L'Oréal Paris Pure-Sugar Scrub in Kiwi

L'Oréal Paris Pure-Sugar Scrub

Amazon

What We Like
  • Smooths and refines skin

  • Reduces shine

  • Cooling feel

What We Don't Like
  • Small bottle

For combination skin, Dr. 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. The texture is gritty, but since the sugar dissolves quickly when combined with water, it won’t aggravate skin as you smooth it over your face. Instead, it gently buffs away dry, rough patches on skin, rinsing to reveal an exceptionally smooth surface.  "It also contains cocoa butter to provide the skin with moisture and to protect it from too much irritation."

Price at time of publish: $10

Type: Scrub | Active Ingredients: Kiwi seed | Size: 1.7 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Combination Skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser

Amazon

What We Like
  • Helps unclog pores

  • Won't aggravate acne-prone skin

  • Feels refreshing

What We Don't Like
  • Contains sulfates

Dr. 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. This cleanser is also great for acne-prone skin, as it gently and effectively works to unclog pores without disrupting skin’s pH balance. It’s also formulated with the brand's signature thermal spring water which has a refreshing and cooling effect that calms skin as you cleanse. 

Price at time of publish: $16

Type: Gel | Active Ingredients: Zinc pidolate, thermal spring water | Size: 1.7 / 6.8 / 13.5 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Mask: Feeling Beautiful 4-in-1 Apple Cider Vinegar Foaming Clay Mask

Feeling Beautiful 4-in-1 Apple Cider Vinegar Foaming Clay Mask

Amazon

What We Like
  • Purifies and refines skin

  • Reduces shine

  • Helps clear acne

What We Don't Like
  • Not Byrdie Clean or cruelty-free

This budget-friendly face mask delivers impressive results at a price tag that’s hard to beat. "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 Dendy Engelman, M.D., dermatologist at Shafer Clinic in New York. The multi-tasking formula can be used as a mask, scrub, or cleanser, to absorb and rinse away excess oils on the skin that can lead to breakouts. The apple cider vinegar serves as a gentle toner that won’t aggravate sensitive skin types and reveals clearer, brighter skin after each use.

Price at time of publish: $4

Type: Scrub/mask | Active Ingredients: Apple cider vinegar, kaolin | Size: 6 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Oily Skin: Differin Daily Deep Cleanser

4.4
Facial Cleanser by Differin

Amazon

What We Like
  • Not overly drying

  • Cleans skin

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like
  • Can cause irritation

Despite being known for its powerful acne-fighting benefits, this Differin cleanser is impressively gentle. "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 Dr.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 clogs pores."

Price at time of publish: $12

Type: Liquid | Active Ingredients: 5% benzoyl peroxide | Size: 4 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: No

Differin Daily Deep Cleanser

 Byrdie / Joline Buscemi

What Our Testers Say

"After I rinsed it off, my skin felt clean but not overly dry or tight." —Joline Buscemi, Product Tester

Best for Clogged Pores: Bioré Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser

Bioré Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser

Amazon

What We Like
  • Helps clear acne

  • Feels cooling

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like
  • Contains sulfates

While it’s not the cleanest formula, this no-frills cleanser is one that’s effective at gently rinsing away grease and grime from the day. "For oily skin, Bioré's Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser is very refreshing, and it contains salicylic acid, a chemical and physical exfoliant," says Dr. Bae. The exfoliating formula helps to rid pores of acne-causing buildup, while delivering a cool, icy feel that calms skin in the process, and makes for a refreshing cleanse you’ll look forward to time and again.  

Price at time of publish: $8

Type: Foam | Active Ingredients: 2% salicylic acid | Size: 6.8 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Dry Skin: La Roche-Posay Ultrafine Scrub for Sensitive Skin

La Roche-Posay Ultrafine Scrub for Sensitive Skin

Dermstore

What We Like
  • Gentle

  • pH balanced

  • Removes makeup

What We Don't Like
  • Not Byrdie Clean or cruelty-free

"Dry skin is very sensitive to over-exfoliating, which is why I like this one from La Roche-Posay," says Dr. Engelman. The scrub is ultra-fine with just enough grit to cleanse pores, without being the least bit harsh or irritating to skin. "It's allergy-tested and free of soap, alcohol, and parabens,” which makes it a friendly alternative for sensitive skin types who want to experience the skin-polishing buff of an exfoliator.

Price at time of publish: $20

Type: Gel | Active Ingredients: Diatomaceous earth | Size: 1.7 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Proactiv Skin Smoothing Exfoliator

Proactiv Skin Smoothing Exfoliator

Ulta

What We Like
  • Helps clear acne

  • Creamy

  • Effective formula

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Leave it to the trusted acne-fighters at Proactiv, to formulate a creamy exfoliator that is gentle enough to smooth and soothe acne-prone skin. "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 Dr. Engelman. "It also contains tiny exfoliating beads and glycolic acid to help reduce excess oil." It may be one of the more expensive options at the drugstore, however the clear, glowy skin that results will continue to validate your investment.

Price at time of publish: $40

Type: Scrub | Active Ingredients: 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid | Size: 6 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Brightening: Acure Brightening Facial Scrub

Acure Brightening Facial Scrub

Ulta

What We Like
  • Purifies and refines skin

  • Inexpensive

  • Not overly drying

What We Don't Like
  • Contains potential allergens

There is a lot to be said about this fan-favorite scrub, and you can browse a mere 60,000 online reviews to validate the chatter. 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. The unassuming yellow tube is celebrated for its uncanny ability to buff and soften skin with a cocktail of sea kelp, green clay, and argan oil. The radiant results are praise-worthy and at less than $10 bucks, all that glowiness comes at a price that’s hard to beat. 

Price at time of publish: $8

Type: Scrub | Active Ingredients: French green clay, sea kelp | Size: 4 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Overnight: CeraVe Skin Renewing Nightly Exfoliating Treatment Anti Aging Face Serum

Skin Renewing Nightly Exfoliating Treatment

Ulta

What We Like
  • Spiked with ceramides to hydrate skin

  • Lightweight texture

  • Works while you sleep

What We Don't Like
  • Has a strong smell

This overnight treatment balances the powerful skin-smoothing results of glycolic and lactic acids, with a combination of super-hydrators like hyaluronic acid and ceramides. The 5% AHA blend works to speed up cell turnover, gently sloughing away dead skin cells to reveal a brighter, smoother, more polished complexion. Skin looks and feels noticeably smoother after a single use, and with continued use 3-4 times per week, pores appear smaller, skin plumper, and skin all-around glowier. It also has a lightweight, comfortable texture that isn’t the least bit greasy or sticky on skin. 

Price at time of publish: $26

Type: Nighttime exfoliant | Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid and lactic acid | Size: 1.7 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Toner: Pixi Glow Tonic

4.5
pixi glow tonic

Dermstore

What We Like
  • Noticeable glowy results

  • Large bottle will last you a long time

  • Won't sting or irritate skin

What We Don't Like
  • Can leave skin a bit dry

A quick Google search will surface close to 25,000 glowing reviews for this toner, with shoppers praising the equally glowy results. It’s formulated with 5% glycolic acid which is powerful enough to buff away dead skin cells to reveal a brighter, smoother canvas below, but gentle enough not to aggravate skin or cause any stinging or burning upon application. The bottle is huge, and you only need a few drops onto a cotton pad to cover your whole face, so it will last you a long while. You will want to layer up with a moisturizer and SPF after toning, since it can leave your skin a bit tight, but the radiant results are well worth the extra pampering.  

Price at time of publish: $18

Type: Toner | Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid | Size: 4.2 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Peel Pads: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads

First Aid Beauty

 Sephora

What We Like
  • Gentle enough for sensitive skin

  • Convenient pads

  • Soothing cucumber water

What We Don't Like
  • More expensive

  • Not Byrdie Clean

There’s no denying the convenience that comes from a pre-soaked pad, especially one that delivers an impressively glowy result after a quick swipe. The rounds are saturated (but not drippy) with a blend of alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic and lactic acids, that work double time decongesting pores and sloughing away dull, flakey skin. These effective chemical exfoliants are balanced by cucumber water for soothing, and lemon peel for brightening, so your skin gets a gentle, refreshing reboot in seconds.

Price at time of publish: $18 for 2 counts

Type: Pads | Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid and lactic acid | Size: 28 pads | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Multi-Purpose: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

4.5
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Budget-friendly price

  • Immediate results

  • Can be used on body and scalp

What We Don't Like
  • Can't be irritating to sensitive skin

This affordable toner is a bottle of many benefits. Not only does it do a number clearing clogged pores to reveal noticeably smoother texture and brighter complexion on the face, but it’s also celebrated as a scalp treatment and body exfoliant. It’s the bottle that went viral on TikTok for it’s lesser known ability to treat dandruff, complete with a unique concentrated nozzle dispenser that makes applying along your part feel intentional. While the anti-microbial formula may be too powerful for some sensitive faces, it works wonders on rough patches on arms and feet, buffing away dry, flaky roughness to reveal better-looking skin head-to-toe. 

Price at time of publish: $10

Type: Toner | Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid | Size: 8 fl oz. | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Gel Cleanser: ITK Exfoliating Gel Cleanser with Glycolic Acid

ITK Exfoliating Gel Cleanser with Glycolic Acid

Walmart

What We Like
  • It gently cleanses

  • Won't strip skin of moisture

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like
  • Results take some time

Think of this skin-brightening cleanser as a friendly introduction into chemical exfoliation. Because the cleanser only temporarily sits on skin before being rinsed away, it delivers a gentler skin polishing than some of the alternatives on this list. The gel cleanser is formulated with a trio of exfoliators, including glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid—alongside the antioxidant-rich spirulina extract which helps to balance and calm skin thanks to it’s anti-inflammatory properties. The results are not immediate, but with continued daily use, skin appears noticeably more even and radiant post-cleanse.

Price at time of publish: $10

Type: Cleanser | Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid | Size: 5 fl oz. | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Chemical Exfoliant: Versed Doctor's Visit Instant Resurfacing Mask

Versed Doctor's Visit Instant Resurfacing Mask

Target

What We Like
  • Quick application

  • Cool jelly texture

  • Fast results

What We Don't Like
  • It's not for sensitive skin types

This mask is powerful and fast-acting thanks to a juicy cocktail of fruit enzymes—like pineapple and papaya extract—and chemical exfoliants—like glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid— that effectively slough away build up and dead skin cells in just two minutes. The powerful formula delivers impressive skin-brightening results that are apparent immediately post-rinse and the cool jelly texture makes for something of a sensory experience as you apply it over your face. Despite the power play ingredients at work, it won’t burn or irritate normal skin types—as long as you rinse off at the two-minute mark. However, it might be too harsh for those with sensitive skin.

Price at time of publish: $18

Type: Mask | Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid | Size: 1.7 fl oz. | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Final Verdict

Exfoliation is an important step in every skincare routine, no matter your skin type. However, the type of product you choose—a cleanser, mask, or toner—and type of exfoliant—physical or chemical—can make a big difference in your results. A good pick for all skin types and recommended by our dermatologists is Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub. However, if you are oily and prone to acne, Differin Acne Face Wash with Benzoyl Peroxide may be the pick for you.

Meet the Expert

Melissa K. Levin, dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology

Lily Talakoub, M.D., dermatologist at McLean Dermatology & Skincare Center

Kristina Goldenberg, M.D., dermatologist at Goldenberg Dermatology

Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, M.D., dermatologist at Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York

Dendy Engelman, M.D., dermatologist at Shafer Clinic 

Cynthia Rivas, a medical aesthetician at Monica Halem, M.D.


What to Look For in Drugstore Exfoliators

Alpha-Hydroxy Acid

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are chemical exfoliants for the skin. According to dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D., they include many benefits for the skin. They slough off dead skin cells, help increase collagen production, hydrate, and offer antioxidant benefits. Of course, like any exfoliator, overuse can cause skin irritation. Follow your dermatologists recommendation when using AHA exfoliating products. Some of our favorite products from this list that contain AHAs are Versed Doctor's Visit Instant Resurfacing Mask and First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads.

Zinc

Zinc can be found in a variety of skincare products, often in sunscreen, but also in exfoliators. If you have oily skin, seek exfoliators with zinc in the ingredients, such as La Roche Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser. Zinc eliminates excess oil without signaling the skin to produce more oil, according to celebrity esthetician Joanna Vargas.

FAQ
  • How often should I exfoliate?

    Dermatologists and experts agree, you should exfoliate your face about two to three times a week

  • Why do I need to exfoliate?

    Without proper exfoliation, your skin will remain covered in dead skin cells, which can cause your face to look older and duller. Other issues you might also face: your makeup looking uneven on your skin and facial products (like moisturizers and serums) not properly absorbing into skin.

  • How do I exfoliate my face?

    Christine McMackin, certified advanced aesthetic specialist and certified family nurse practitioner, shares her step-by-step tips for facial exfoliation: Start by washing your face with a gentle cleanser and warm water. After gently washing off your cleanser and while your skin is still damp, take a pea-sized amount of exfoliant, placing a small dot on your forehead, both cheeks, and chin. In gentle, circular motions spread the exfoliant across your face. Once you have softly rubbed the exfoliant around your face for about 30 seconds, use warm water to rinse it off. Then apply your skin type-specific creams and serums to finish your skincare routine.

Why Trust Byrdie

Lindsay Colameo and Megan Beauchamp used their knowledge of the beauty industry as well as tapped dermatologists to create this list of the best drugstore exfoliants. They considered all skin types and skin concerns to find product picks for everyone.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. 5 ways to exfoliate your skin without irritation.

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