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Long gone are the days where exfoliating meant using physically abrasive scrubs such as sea salt to improve the appearance of our skin. Chemical exfoliation is the new standard in terms of solving skin woes such as acne scars and blemishes, dark spots, hyper-pigmentation, and cellulite, to name a few. In its most basic form, exfoliating scrubs away dead skin while breaking down acne-forming bacteria that clog your pores, which prevents acne and blackheads from forming.
And now, that is made even easier and less time-consuming with exfoliating pads. “One of the greatest benefits of an exfoliating pad is the convenience factor,” explains dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar. “Pre-mixed solutions with a pad have removed the inconvenience of having separate products and have made it easy for suitable skin types to pick up a pad and wipe across face, neck, décolleté or body.”
In addition to that, exfoliating pads will have other additional benefits for the skin thanks to ingredients. To put it simply, there is a lot that you can include in exfoliating pad form. Whether you have sensitive skin or oily skin, there’s definitely a pad out there for you.
Here is a list of some of the best exfoliating pads to uncomplicate your beauty routine.
Best Overall: HydroPeptide 5X Power Peel
Count: 30 | Benefits: Anti-aging | Skin Type: All | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
These pre-soaked towelettes are a powerful, skin-boosting cocktail of alpha-hydroxy, glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids, as well as peptides, to clear up blemishes and tighten pores, revealing more radiant skin.
Best Budget: Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads
Count: 60 | Benefits: Even skin tone, anti-aging, moisturizes | Skin Type: All | Usage: 1 to 2 times daily | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
As a renowned favorite for many (including Kylie Jenner), there’s not much else that can be said about these much-loved exfoliating pads. Pre-soaked in a 2.8 percent concentration of glycolic and acid, they are gentle enough for daily use. The pads also contain witch, hazel, hyaluronic acid, and blue daisy for a moisturizing, soothing exfoliator that won’t leave your skin stripped dry.
Best Drugstore: Thayer’s Blemish Clearing Pads
Count: 60 | Benefits: Treat acne | Skin Type: Acne-prone | Usage: 1 to 3 times daily | Cruelty-Free?: No
Thayer’s is another much-loved brand for their skincare products containing natural ingredients and that tradition continues with their Blemish Clearing Pads. Not only do these pads work to clear up blackheads, whiteheads, and other acne blemishes, they are formulated to help prevent new breakouts from occurring. Made with 91% natural ingredients, the pads utilize a combination of witch hazel, 2% salicylic acid, and tea tree oil to unclog pores and reduce redness while aloe vera moisturizes the skin.
Best for Beginners: Malin + Goetz Resurfacing Glycolic Pads
Count: 50 pads | Benefits: Resurfaces dry, dull skin and promotes collagen production | Skin Type: All | 1 to 3 times per week | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
If you have trepidation about using exfoliating pads, Dr. Nazarian recommends these vegan pads for anyone just dipping their toes in. “They are great for all skin types. There’s no alcohol or fragrance in them. They are really simple and basic,” she says. “If you want to, you don’t even have to leave the solution on. You can wipe a pad over your skin and rinse it off if you’re really nervous.”
Best AHA/BHA: Peace Out Dullness
Count: 8 | Benefits: Anti-aging, dissolve dark spots and refine pores | Skin Type: All | Usage: Twice weekly | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
These exfoliating pads come in the form of a cute gauze mitten saturated with a potent blend of glycolic, citric, tartaric, malic, lactic, and salicylic acids. That might sound excessive, but the pads also contain niacinamide and plankton extract to soothe and plump the skin while giving it a dewy glow. Another cool feature is that the mitten is double-sided. One side of the cotton pad has a mesh texture for a bit of gentle manual exfoliation, while the other side is smooth for cleansing.
Best K-Beauty: COSRX One Step Original Clear Pad
Count: 70 | Benefits: Treat acne, reduce acne scars and hyperpigmentation, and reveal a radiant complexion | Skin Type: Acne-prone | Usage: Twice weekly | Cruelty-Free?: No
Sometimes, less is more and these pads are basically a toner and exfoliator in one for those who prefer simpler beauty routines. These pads use willow bark, tea tree oil, and a gentle BHA to deeply penetrate the skin to clear up clogged pores, combat excess oil, and prevent new breakouts from occurring. You don’t have to worry about drying out your skin as the pads are free of alcohol, parabens, and sulfates.
Best Natural: Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys
Count: 50 | Benefits: Refine skin texture, minimize the appearance of fine lines, and deeply moisturize skin | Skin Type: All | Usage: 2 to 3 times a week at night | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Instead of using the usual glycolic acid-based solution, naturally derived lactic acid (the gentlest of the acids), essential oils, and aloe vera work together to reveal a radiant complexion and even out your skin tone, and hydrate the skin. It's recommended to use these pads at night two to three times a week to avoid over-exfoliating.
Best Extra Strength: Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Amino Acid Exfoliating Peel Pads
Count: 60 | Benefits: Anti-aging | Skin Type: All | Usage: 1 to 3 times a week | Cruelty-Free?: No
A super dose of amino acids, acids, and natural extracts, these pads from Peter Thomas are a rejuvenating, anti-aging godsend for the skin. Boasting a 20% concentration, they’re formulated with restorative peptides to help firm the skin, improve texture, and refine pores.
Best Gentle: RE:P Organic Cotton Treatment Toning Pad
Count: 90 | Benefits: Hydrate the skin | Skin Type: Sensitive or dry skin. | Usage: Twice a day, or as needed | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
If you’re concerned about what you put on your skin or have a low tolerance for acids, these pads are a great option. They are free of common skin irritants such as mineral oil, parabens, and surfactants. Formulated with calendula, damask rose, and lavender extracts, they are gentle enough to use both day and night.
Best for Body: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Exfoliating Body Treatment Peel
Count: 8 | Benefits: Even out your complexion and improve the appearance of in-grown hairs | Skin Type: All | Usage: Twice weekly | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Packed with alpha and beta hydroxy acids, this all-over body exfoliating treatment rejuvenates dry, dull skin. Standout ingredients include Bromelain (a pineapple-derived enzyme) and bakuchiol (a K-beauty staple). The acids and natural enzymes work together with squalene and hyaluronic acid to give you firmer, glowing healthy skin.
Best for Hyperpigmentation: Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Resurfacing At Home Peel Pads
Count: 12 | Benefits: Smooths, exfoliates, evens skin tone, reduces the appearance of dark spots and pores | Skin Type: Acne-prone | Usage: 1 to 2 times per week | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Struggling with dark marks that just won’t seem to go away? These pads contain lactic acid, retinol, and arbutin, which are great for clearing up dark marks and hyperpigmentation to reveal a smoother, even texture and complexion. If you’re more concerned about fine lines and wrinkles, there’s a retinol version of these pads too.
“Those of us with melanated complexions should look for ingredients that help to brighten the complexion, such as mandelic acid, azelaic, and lactic acid,” says Aguilar. “Be cautious with lighteners such as hydroquinone and strong forms of glycolic acids as this can complicate the uniformity of skin tone.”
Best for Beards: Bevel Exfoliating Toner
Count: 45 | Benefits: Reduces ingrowns and dark spots | Skin Type: All | Usage: Daily after face wash | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Founded by Tristan Walker, these double-duty pads help prevent acne and ingrown hairs. Enriched with aloe vera, lavender, green tea, niacinamide, and 10% glycolic acid, they gently slough away dead skin to reveal a smoother texture while giving your skin a nice healthy glow.
Best Clean Beauty: Kinship Insta Swipe Lemon Honey AHA Pads
Count: 45 | Benefits: Unclogs pores, reduces breakouts | Skin Type: All | Usage: 3 times a week then build up to daily use | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
If you’re not acquainted with Kinship, now is the time to get familiar with the conscientious, clean, and cruelty-free skincare brand. Their exfoliating pads blend glycolic and alpha hydroxy acids to gently slough away dead skin cells, unveiling radiant skin. Some of its star ingredients include lemon (anti-microbial), manuka honey (antioxidant + anti-inflammatory), glycerin, aloe vera (moisturizing + hydrating), and Kinbiome (a plant-based probiotic) that work to restore and help protect your skin’s barrier. Once they’re also used, the recyclable jar is compostable.
Though they are a bit of a splurge, the HydroPeptide 5X Power Peel pads (view at SkinStore) are worth every dime. These pads are enriched with a blend of acids and peptides to rejuvenate the skin while simultaneously boosting its natural barrier. If you’re looking for something a little more wallet-friendly, the Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads (view at Nip + Fab) are a popular choice for many as they can be used daily (see its glowing reviews on Amazon). As far as natural options are concerned, you can’t go wrong with the Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys (view at Revolve) or Thayer’s Blemish Clearing Pads (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in Exfoliating Pads
Actives and Ingredients
“Active ingredients such as gentle acids are best for frequent use such as vitamin C (ascorbic acid) as well as lactic acid and most fruit acids such as citric and malic acid,” says Aguilar. “These have a long reputation for being gentle, effective, and safe for long-term use.”
Some ingredients you do want to avoid are alcohol, fragrance, acetone, and parabens.
You want to be careful to not overdo it. Over-exfoliation can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier and cause long-term damage. “If you are new to exfoliating pads, this is not something that you need to jump into the deep end with. This is a slow and steady process. You can start with something lower. Do a product for a couple of months and see how your skin handles it,” Dr. Nazarian recommends. “You’re not going to waste your time if you start with a weaker product. You're going to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that happen when people just go straight for the strongest.”
Rule of Thumb
It’s always best to start with gentle ingredients and work your way up to higher doses as your skin familiarizes itself with the strengths.
Also, keep in mind that the active ingredients make the skin more sensitive to the sun, so you’ll need to be more diligent about sunscreen use. Dr. Nazarian recommends that you should be pairing exfoliation with a broad spectrum SPF every morning of at least 30.
How often should you use exfoliating pads?
Dr. Nazarian and Aguilar both advise no more than two times a week. “I prefer using my exfoliating pads before bed as our skin rejuvenates overnight,” adds Aguilar. “We can also finish with a beautiful layer of rich nighttime moisturizer on top. In addition, it also gives the skin a break before any sun exposure.”
Are exfoliating pads safe for all skin types?
Generally speaking, yes. However, it is important to pay attention to the ingredients and choose the right exfoliating pad for your skin type. Aguilar says “one should look for ingredients that address their unique skin concerns.” She also cautioned against using trichloroacetic acid (aka TCA) as well as high percentages of salicylic or glycolic acid.
What are some signs that I am over-exfoliating?
Dry, easily irritated, and inflamed skin are typically signs that you’re overdoing it and might need to dial down on the exfoliation. “Peeling and flaking are not necessary for the type of peel we’re talking about here,” Dr. Nazarian explains. “That means you are exfoliating faster than your skin can make new skin cells.” One tip she recommends for repairing the skin is to use a gentle, non-foaming wash for at least a week followed by emollients and humectants like hyaluronic acid that is sealed with a little bit of vaseline.”
Is it safe for people with skin conditions like rosacea and keratosis pilaris to use exfoliating pads?
“Yes, definitely,” says Aguilar. “I strongly encourage my clients with Rosacea and/or keratosis pilaris to exfoliate daily; ensuring that they are not experiencing irritation or over-exfoliation. Gentle exfoliation helps to remove oils that allow bacteria to flourish and the dry, dead superficial layer of skin that often prevents your products from penetrating the skin effectively. I love exfoliating pads with lactic acid or mandelic acid for these skin types.”
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Byrdie contributor Danielle Ransom is an NYC-based writer and has covered a myriad of topics ranging across beauty, fashion, and lifestyle.