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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.
Starting at just $4 a pop, here are the best drugstore exfoliators, according to dermatologists.
Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub
"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.
Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Cleanser
"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."
L'Oréal Paris Pure-Sugar Scrub in Kiwi
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."
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser
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.
Feeling Beautiful 4-in-1 Apple Cider Vinegar Foaming Clay Mask
"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.
Differin Daily Deep Cleanser
"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 clogs pores."
What Our Testers Say
"After I rinsed it off, my skin felt clean but not overly dry or tight." —Joline Buscemi, Product Tester
Bioré Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser
"For oily skin, Bioré's Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser is very refreshing, and it contains salicylic acid, a chemical and physical exfoliant," says Bae.
La Roche-Posay Ultrafine Scrub for Sensitive Skin
"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."
Proactiv Skin Smoothing Exfoliator
"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."
Acure Brightening Facial Scrub
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.
What to Look For in Drugstore Exfoliators
Alpha-Hydroxy acids (AHAs) are chemical exfoliants for the skin. According to dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, 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.
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. Zinc eliminates excess oil without signaling the skin to produce more oil, according to celebrity esthetician Joanna Vargas.
You'll also want to be on the lookout for sugar in facial exfoliators, but for the opposite reason. While some products contain face-safe sugar (typically paired with a hydrator to soothe the skin simultaneously), dermatologists overall recommend avoiding it. "There isn’t a sugar scrub I would recommend for the face, as I think people are better off with a washcloth or a mild chemical exfoliation," says Joshua Ross, celebrity aesthetician and founder of West Hollywood’s SkinLab.
How often should I exfoliate?
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.