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When you think of essential skincare products, items such as face wash, moisturizers, and serums tend to come to mind. But exfoliators are just as important. While many women tend to shy away from this step in their skincare regimens out of fear of irritation, Florida-based esthetician and InstaNatural brand director Heather Wilson, LE, explained to FIRST why every woman should make them a part of their beauty routine. Keep reading to learn more about exfoliation and where to get your hands on one of the best exfoliators for your particular skin.
What do exfoliators do?
While skin cells naturally shed every two to four weeks, sometimes, they need a little bit of help — that’s where an exfoliator comes in. Exfoliation is the process of physically or chemically removing dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin, something Wilson calls a “crucial element to skin health.”
By exfoliating, you’ll be allowing the skin to properly breathe, a process that can aid in skin ailments such as clogged pores, ingrown hairs, and acne.
If you’re still wondering if exfoliation is right for you, Wilson explains why your answer should be a resounding yes — particularly if you’re in your mature years. “Often when a client comes to me with skin struggles, it can be linked to improper or inadequate exfoliation,” she shares. “Our skin cells naturally renew, but as we age, the rate at which this occurs declines, which can cause signs of aging, dehydration, dull tone, breakouts, or general skin imbalance.”
In need of a little more incentive? Wilson shares, “If your skin isn’t properly exfoliated, you reap fewer benefits from your skincare products.”
By making exfoliation a dedicated part of your process, you’ll not only be helping your skin look its very best, you’ll also be super-charging your favorite lotions and potions to help them work their magic.
How to Use Exfoliators
There are two types of exfoliators: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliation is the kind most of us think of when we hear the word exfoliation (think basic scrubs, loofahs, and body brushes). Chemical exfoliants, on the other hand, use compounds known as alpha and beta hydroxy acids, which work together in these skincare products to gently dissolve and remove dead skin (think exfoliating liquids, like glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids).
“While physical [exfoliators] provide great surface benefit and [have their] place in a [skincare] routine, I tend to recommend chemical exfoliation to most clients — especially those that have aging or breakout concerns,” says Wilson. “While physical exfoliation forces the surface layer of skin off, chemical exfoliation works deeper to dissolve the sebaceous glue that is keeping the dead skin cells attached to the skin. Additionally, chemical exfoliants absorb deeper into the skin and offer enhanced results, such as boosted collagen, reduced look of pigmentation, or softened lines and wrinkles.”
Best Exfoliators for Women
Ready to find your perfect exfoliator? We’ve rounded up 15 of the greatest ones on the market today, from best-selling facial formulas to scrubs that will keep your body velvety smooth, Keep scrolling for FIRST’s picks for the best exfoliators that will keep your face and body looking (and feeling!) its best.
We write about products we think our readers will like. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the supplier.
Best Exfoliator For Legs
Best Exfoliator for Legs — This Works Perfect Legs Natural Scrub
Where to buy: $38, Nordstrom
Show your legs the love they deserve with the Perfect Legs natural scrub from This Works. This buttery exfoliating balm is made with Pink Himalayan salt — one of the most popular ingredients in the health and wellness movement thanks to its natural potassium, magnesium, and calcium content, which expertly exfoliate and nourish skin This scrub is also infused with blackcurrant, sweet almond, and Crambe essential oils to leave legs refreshed and rehydrated.
Best Body Exfoliator
Best Body Exfoliator — Tata Harper Smoothing Body Scrub
Where to buy: $79, Tata Harper
Since skin is the largest organ of the body, it's incredibly important to take care of it. Indulge from time to time with Tata Harper's Smoothing Body Scrub. A leader in the natural skincare movement, Tata Harper is known for its luxurious, skin-loving products, with this exfoliator being one of its most popular. Formulated to smooth and nourish, this scrub micro-polishes the skin with a combination of natural exfoliants such as pink Himalayan salt, Hawaiian sea salt, sugar, and apricot seed powder, making it a great luxury addition to your next spa night.
Best Face Exfoliant
Best Face Exfoliator — Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator
Where to buy: $59, Sephora
If you're looking for a product to help keep your pores gunk-free, Dermalogica's Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator may be just what the doctor ordered. This exfoliant, which works well for oily skin types, starts off as a powder, but instantly transforms into an emulsifying scrub that goes deep into pores with just a splash of water. Made with a healthy dose of impurity-fighting salicylic acid, calming colloidal oatmeal, and antimicrobial tea tree oil, it's easy to see why this exfoliator has earned itself cult-status among beauty lovers.
Best Glycolic Acid Products
Best Peeling Exfoliator — InstaNatural Glycolic Acid Facial Peel
Where to buy: $23.97, Amazon
When it comes to her own skincare, Wilson turns to a chemical exfoliant, like InstaNatural's Glycolic Acid facial peel. "For a once to twice a week deep exfoliation, I love a glycolic peel," she shares. Glycolic acid is known as something of a "holy grail" product in the world of exfoliating. Great for gentle resurfacing, this peel penetrates deep into the skin's surface to help slough off layers of dead skin while also treating the dermis with its proprietary anti-aging blend of hyaluronic acid, sunflower seed oil, and vitamins A and C for a brighter, smoother complexion.
Best Natural Exfoliant
Best Natural Exfoliator — Caudalíe Deep Cleansing Exfoliator
Where to buy: $35, Sephora
Thanks to the clean beauty movement, finding products with simple, pure ingredients is easier than ever. For a natural exfoliator your skin will love, pick up this Caudalíe deep cleansing exfoliator. This product gets its smoothing power from natural corn beads, which gently break up and remove dead skin cells. Topped off with hydrating grape pulp extract, mint, and pomelo, this exfoliator is great for all skin types.
Best Exfoliator For Dry Skin
Best Facial Wash Exfoliator — Derma E Gentle Daily Cleansing Paste
Where to buy: $13.95, Ulta
If you wear a lot of makeup or have oily skin, Derma E's Gentle Daily Cleansing Paste is the exfoliating face wash you've been searching for. This creamy, multi-tasking formula buffs away dry, dull skin to help increase natural surface cell turnover, revealing a satiny, glowing surface beneath. Infused with anti-oxidant-rich turmeric and ancient rice for gentle exfoliation, this wash is also great for those looking for a non-irritating, daily deep-clean that's safe for even the most sensitive of skin types.
Best Sugar Scrub For Face
Best Exfoliating Mask — SKINFOOD Black Sugar Mask Wash-Off
Where to buy: $10, SOKO GLAM
If you're someone who only likes to exfoliate on occasion, SKINFOOD's Black Sugar mask wash-off will do the trick. This K-Beauty favorite is made with fine, black sugars, skin-softening shea butter, and moisture-trapping lanolin that will clear your skin without leaving it tight and dry. *Chef's kiss*
Best Lip Exfoliator
Best Lip Exfoliator — e.l.f. Cosmetics
Where to buy: $4, Ulta
One of the most neglected facets of skincare is lip care. Home to some of the thinnest areas of skin on the body, the lips are especially susceptible to drying out, making exfoliation a must. One of the most popular lip exfoliators around comes in the form of e.l.f Cosmetics' branded balm. Available in five flavors (clear, coconut, rose, sweet mint, and cherry), it gently exfoliates with sugar while also nourishing the lips with a concoction of moisturizing ingredients, such as vitamin E, shea butter, and avocado, grape and jojoba oils.
Best Korean Exfoliating Pads
Best Face Exfoliator for Mature Skin — NEOGEN Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine
Where to buy: $27, SOKO GLAM
As we age, our skin can become more sensitive, making abrasive physical exfoliants something to steer clear of. NEOGEN's Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine exfoliating pads, however, are gentle enough to get the job done without irritating. These single-use pads are infused with two of the most popular ingredients in anti-aging skincare game: lactic acid and resveratrol. These natural exfoliators have been shown to help with signs of aging, like wrinkling and free-radical damage. When combined with the light scrubbing power of the gauze on these pads, you'll find yourself equipped with the ultimate face exfoliator for mature skin.
Best Exfoliator For Acne
Best Chemical Exfoliant — Paula's Choice
Where to buy: $29.50, Amazon
There are dozens of chemical exfoliators on the market today, but only one that boasts the hugely devoted fanbase of Paula's Choice: the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA liquid salicylic acid exfoliant. With customers raving, "This stuff should be called a miracle in a bottle," and "Where has this been all my life?!" the hype for this product is real. This liquid chemical formula is made with acne-fighting beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), salicylic acid, and antioxidant-rich green tea, making it a super-charged skincare wonder that will exfoliate dead skin cells, smooth wrinkles, and brighten skin.
Best Enzyme Exfoliator
Best Exfoliator for Sensitive Skin — Tatcha The Rice Polish Classic
Where to buy: $65, Sephora
Those with sensitive skin may be especially wary of exfoliators. There's one company out there that has perfected a blend that works perfectly for these skin types, however: Tatcha. The brand's The Rice Polish Classic is a non-abrasive exfoliator that's as gentle as they come. It comes in powder form and is loaded with rice bran, papaya enzymes, and Tatcha's Hadasei-3 — an anti-aging powerhouse that's made up of Japanese superfoods, such as green tea, rice, and algae. Transforming into a soothing, milky lather with just a little water, your skin will feel soft and smooth — never tight.
Best Exfoliator Toner
Best Exfoliating Toner — Pixi Glow Tonic
Where to buy: $15, Target
Pixi's Glow Tonic has been a fan-favorite of many women for years. A toner and exfoliator all in one, this drugstore staple preps the skin for a healthy dose of 5 percent glycolic acid, effectively exfoliating and removing dead skin, too. Complete with a touch of aloe vera extract, it's still gentle enough to ensure there will be no irritation. The $15 price tag certainly doesn't hurt, either!
Best Drugstore Body Exfoliator
Best Drugstore Body Exfoliator — Dove Body Polish
Where to buy: $5.99, Target
Anyone who knows anything about beauty knows that when it comes to top-notch skincare, the drugstore is filled with gems — like this Dove Body Polish. A favorite of our assistant commerce editor's, this creamy, whipped formula uses pomegranate seeds and shea butter to gently free dead skin cells while simultaneously actively hydrating them.
Best Foot Exfoliator
Best Foot Exfoliator — Baby Foot Original Exfoliant Foot Peel
Where to buy: $25, Ulta
Dead skin cells can build up easily on the feet due to undue pressure and friction from activities such as standing, exercising, and wearing shoes, leading to painful, cracked skin. This Baby Foot Original exfoliant peel removes unsightly flakes with its scientifically-formulated blend, which features 17 types of natural extracts. You'll notice your dead skin cells being to peel away in as little as three to seven days after use, revealing the soft new skin — just like a baby's foot — beneath.
Best Dry Brush
Best Exfoliating Brush — Eco Tools Dry Body Brush
Where to buy: $4.99, Ulta
The benefits of dry brushing are widely known. Though these brushes can be used to minimize the appearance of cellulite and promote lymphatic drainage, their most obvious benefit is the head to toe exfoliation they provides. For one of the top dry brushes around, head on over to Ulta to pick up the Eco Tools dry body brush. It's made with cruelty-free synthetic bristles, making it a beauty tool you'll feel great about using.