The 15 Best Face Exfoliators For Clear and Soft Skin

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Why is it important to exfoliate your face?

“When we’re young, skin is able to shed effectively on its own without any help,” says Stordahl. “The problem is this natural shedding process slows down and becomes faulty over time due to the toll sun damage and other stressors take on skin.” Dr. Lal adds, “Exfoliation helps skin cells turn over faster. It also helps your products get into your skin more efficiently.”

“One of the most obvious benefits you’ll notice right away is how soft and smooth skin feels,” says Stordahl. “You will also notice skin’s naturally healthy glow comes through more radiantly as the dead layer sloughs away. Chemical exfoliation can even help wrinkles look less exaggerated due to the removal of built-up dead cells. If you’ve experienced any amount of sun damage (which let’s be honest, we all have) you’ll see a visible difference in skin’s overall tone and youthful appearance.”

What kind of exfoliants do you recommend?

“I am a fan of both chemical and physical exfoliants for the face,” says Dr. Lal. “There is a risk of damaging the skin with physical exfoliants if you are extremely aggressive, which is why most dermatologists recommend chemical exfoliants for the face. However, most popular facial exfoliating scrubs often have both physical and chemical exfoliants.”

“Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and polyhydroxy acid (PHA) chemical exfoliants can also hydrate skin while they work their exfoliating magic on skin’s surface, which is a unique advantage,” says Stordahl. “Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliants have the added benefit of penetrating the pore, where they can de-clog congestion and help reduce breakouts and blackheads.”

Can people with sensitive skin use exfoliators?

“People with sensitive skin can absolutely exfoliate—it’s all about finding the right formula,” says Stordahl. “BHA (commonly known as salicylic acid) is the preferred exfoliant for sensitive skin due to its inherent anti-inflammatory properties, which helps calm redness and soothes signs of compromised skin. Those with sensitive skin can experiment with up to 2% concentrations and should start out by introducing it slowly. Make sure the formula is free of unnecessary irritants like added fragrance, SD/denatured alcohol, and menthol—that’s sound advice for anyone, not just those with sensitive skin.”

For people with extremely sensitive skin, try avoiding aggressive scrubs, says Dr. Lal. “I want to maintain the skin barrier, not disrupt it.”

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