9 best face exfoliators for all skin types and budgets

Kelsey Chapman
Wednesday 09 June 2021 19:46
Wishlist
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Great skin requires a solid routine, and part of every routine involves exfoliation aka the removal of excess dead skin that sticks around and clogs pores or makes skin look dull.

But exfoliators are hardly made equal. They come in physical (think gritty, sandy formulas) or chemical (gentle acids that sort of burn the top layer), or a combination of the two, and you’ll want to choose wisely based on your skin’s needs.

We researched several of the most popular options on the market to discover which exfoliators out there work great for different types of skin to determine the following list. Keep scrolling to find your specific problem or want in a product, and start scrubbing your way to a fresher complexion.

RELATED: Check out an in-depth review of our favorite anti-aging cleanser to target troubled, 30-something skin.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn a commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing, expert advice and our own research. This revenue helps to fund journalism acrossThe Independent.

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

BEST: Overall

If you’ve heard influencers raving about this product, it’s for good reason.

Dermalogica’s Daily Microexfoliant is the product they call their “holy grail” thanks to rice-based enzyme powder is activated by water to gently whisk away dead cells. Other ingredients include salicylic acid to help loosen flakes, colloidal oatmeal for soothing, and tea tree oil to gently clear skin while helping to prevent future breakouts. Plus, it’s vegan and cruelty-free!

Tula So Poreless Deep Exfoliating Blackhead Scrub

BEST FOR: Normal to oily skin

Another top seller on Ulta, the Tula So Poreless scrub uses pink salt, volcanic sand, and witch hazel to sus out deep blackheads and breakouts, slough off the gunk that binds them, and rinse them down the drain to reveal fresh, glowing skin. It also smells great and uses gentle chemical exfoliation via lactic acid and hibiscus flower acid to loosen stuck-on dead skin while the fine grain physical exfoliant removes it.

Clinique 7 Day Scrub Cream Rinse-Off Formula

BEST FOR: Sensitive skin

Clinique is known for their gentle, affordable, and reliable skincare, and this polishing cream is one of the highlights of their permanent skincare collection.

Simple, lightweight, and made to smooth, this product also helps lessen the look of fine lines by allowing refreshed skin to drink in more moisture post-use. The gritty exfoliant is made of tiny silica beads, uniform in size, so there’s no chance they’ll cause microscopic tears and cuts in the skin–a common problem with cheaper exfoliators that leads to premature aging.

OLEHENRIKSEN Pore-Balance™ Facial Sauna Scrub

BEST FOR: Clogged pores

With an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars in Sephora’s notoriously tough review section, this best selling exfoliator is great for folks with large pores who wants to sweep those pesky things clean and have tighter, firmer skin.

“This has been amazing for my massive pores,” says one enthusiastic user, who continues, “I try to use two to three times a week, and it makes my feel amazing. Doesn’t dry my skin and noticeably shrinks the size of my pores on my cheeks, my nose, and my chin!”

Other buyers agree, many complimenting the lovely smell and heating/cooling element to this unique scrub, too. The dual action helps melt gunk trapped inside pores before the cool-down soothes.

The only real complaints folks seem to have is there isn’t much product in the tube, making it relatively expensive to keep up with if you’re exfoliating more than twice a week.

Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant

BEST FOR: Acne prone Skin

When it comes to “best selling,” this takes the cake. Nearly 35,000 ratings on Amazon make it both popular and top-rated, with users calling it a “game changer” that works well on acne prone skin.

And there’s good reason for that. Acne prone skin is also frequently sensitive, so swishing around a harsh grit (aka transferring bacteria into fresh new cut, thus spreading the breakouts) is one of the worst things you can do and is likely to irritate and cause itching redness and new zits.

With chemical exfoliants, you’re less likely to spread the spot-causing gross stuff around your face and instead focus on melting away the top layer of skin that traps it in pores, thus allowing the gunk to flow freely. Gross stuff, we know, but that’s the price of beauty.

Bonus: If you like this product after trying it once, you can use Amazon’s subscription service and save 5-10% on future bottles by setting up a monthly or bi-monthly delivery.

Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Facial Scrub

BEST FOR: Folks on a budget

If you’re trying to save a few dollars but still want a quality, gentle exfoliator, head straight for the brand known for top-notch effectiveness at drugstore prices.

Hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores), and formulated with jojoba and castor oils, this scrub is designed for easily irritated skin that needs to be nourished as it’s massaged. Soy enrichment helps create a lit-from-within glow, and at just over $5 a tube for five full ounces of product, you’ll have a hard time finding a better deal!

Glossier The Refine Duo

BEST FOR: Dry skin

For a two-in-one kit designed to work together in harmony to give your dry skin the most supple, hydrated appearance possible, trust the folks at Glossier.

Their simply named Solution contains a mix of topical exfoliants that “unglue” skin cells, as we’ve seen in other products listed, helping fresh skin beneath show through for youthful glow without any harsh ingredients that might cause any flare-ups.

The moisturizer included in this package deal is a luscious cream gel that melts into skin with the warmth of your fingers, leaving behind a shine-control, primed canvas on which you can create your makeup look for the day or let your natural beauty shine. It’s the perfect morning routine for someone who wants a polished look without caking on multiple layers of product.

Tatcha The Rice Polish: Deep

BEST FOR: Forgetful skin routine havers

The thing about skincare products is you need to use them regularly in order to see the difference, and making your routine fun is important to maintaining it. That’s why we love Tatcha’s The Rice Polish.

Using similar technology as the Dermalogica we recommended above, Japanese rice bran and wild rose transforms into a creamy foam that sweeps away stuck-on flakes and cells for a fresh, brighter look. The formula is inspired by Japanese women’s tendency to use leftover rice water to refresh their faces, boiled down into a scientific and shelf-stable product that will do the same for you but with years of research and reformulation behind it.

The Rice Polish is also packaged in a mono material jar of 30% post-consumer recycled plastic for easy recycling and features an easy-to-pour spout made with greater accessibility in mind. It’s even easy to use in the shower.

Armani Men The Face Wash

BEST FOR: Men

Men are frequently a tough sell on skincare, so buying something specifically created to smell, feel, and work on their skin is important.

Made from 99% natural ingredients, the Armani Men scrub is meant to cleanse, purify, and rid men’s skin of excess debris that can clog pores and lead to breakouts. It’s especially helpful around beard lines that are prone to painful ingrown hairs and on larger pore-containing surfaces like the nose or forehead.

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