Face scrubs and face exfoliators are an important part of every skin care routine. These products remove dead skin build-up from the surface, and allow healthy skin to truly shine. Most face scrubs are simply cleansers with an abrasive powder component, but these days cosmetics companies are branching out and making some truly unique scrubs.
In this article, I’ll clue you in to all of the best face scrubs on the market (that are also not bad for the environment!). I’ll make sure you know exactly what face scrubs are, how they work, including based on skin type, so you can choose the right face exfoliators for you.
We also list directions so that you know how to exfoliate face properly, and even give some recipes so you can make you own face exfoliators at home. What are you waiting for? Get scrubbing!
How to Exfoliate Your Face with the Best Face Scrubs & Exfoliators: Contents
• 19 Best Face Scrubs & Exfoliators for Every Skin Type
• How Face Scrubs Work: Benefits of Using Face Scrubs
• Types of Facial Exfoliators and the Differences Between Them
• Physical Facial Scrub Pros and Cons
• Chemical vs. Physical Exfoliation: Which One Is Right for You?
• How to Choose the Best Face Exfoliator for Your Skin Type
• How to Exfoliate Face Using a Facial Scrub
• Other Face Scrubbing Tips to Know
• Simple DIY Exfoliating Face Scrubs to Try
Also known as face polishes, these are the best face scrubs and exfoliators available on the market for everyone of you out there!
1. Fresh Sugar Face Exfoliator
This sugary sweet exfoliator is one of the best face scrubs for those with dry skin that feels textured and thick. Brown sugar works to dislodge dead skin, while botanical oils and strawberry extract load it up with much needed moisture, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. It doubles as a skin-softening face mask. You can pick up a jar of this scrub at Sephora.
2. Mario Badescu Almond & Honey Face Scrub
This gentle and soothing face scrub is a fabulous choice for most skin types. Ground almonds gently exfoliate the skin, while honey acts as a fantastic humectant to hydrate. There is also a touch of kaolin clay to deep clean the pores, so you can use it as a face mask! This scrub comes in a plastic jar at Nordstrom.
3. Origins GinZing Refreshing Scrub Cleanser
This energizing facial scrub is a perfect choice for normal and combination skin types to use in the morning. It includes refreshing ginseng and caffeine, and a gorgeous citrus scent. The formula itself is of a gentle cleanser with added exfoliating jojoba beads. It is available at Sephora.
4. Dermalogica Skin Prep Scrub
This is one of the best face exfoliators for those with sensitive skin – a truly remarkable thing. The skin is exfoliated with a finely milled powder made of corncob, while extracts of mallow, ivy, and aloe vera keep the skin healthy, hydrated and soothed. As a bonus, it comes in a sanitary and easy-to-carry squeeze tube. It is available for sale at Nordstrom.
5. Philosophy The Microdelivery Exfoliating Facial Wash
With a combination of clays and gentle surfactants, this is a super gentle cleanser and scrub that can work even on sensitive skin. It’s an ideal choice for oily and combination skin types that are concerned about over-exfoliating their skin. It comes in a bottle at Sephora.
6. SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub
If you have oily skin and find that products with too many ingredients make you break out, then this is one of the best face scrubs for you. It’s a simple formula with gentle microbeads made of diatomaceous earth, sitting in a few surfactants. There is a touch of SLES in here, so it is not a great choice for anyone with dry skin. It leaves the skin gently exfoliated and squeaky clean. You can find it online at Dermstore.
7. Clinique Pep-Start 2-in-1 Exfoliating Cleanser
This super gentle cleanser is a great choice for those who like to scrub their skin regularly. It’s best for those with combination skin, since it does contain some sulfates (off-set by ultra-hydrating glycerin). There is also salicylic acid in the blend, to keep breakouts at bay. It is available for purchase at Sephora.
8. Eminence Organic Skin Care Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant
This natural face scrub can work for any skin type. It combines chemical exfoliants with a ton of skin-healing natural extracts, and uses gentle oatmeal and chickpea powders to exfoliate. The best way to use it is to let it sit on the skin for a couple of minutes before rinsing, to get the full effect. You can pick this exfoliant up from Dermstore.
9. Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment
I love it when a scrub exfoliates on multiple levels. This is one of the best face scrubs for dry and mature skin, since it contains a nourishing touch of soybean oil along with chemically exfoliating lactic acid and physically exfoliating silica beads. It leaves the skin totally smooth and supple. You can purchase a tube of it from Sephora.
10. Frank Body Creamy Face Scrub
This Australian brand made a splash on the market with a delicious body scrub, but its offerings for the face are just as amazing. It’s a skin-softening option loaded with non-comedogenic oils as well as skin-purifying clay, which makes it one of the best face scrubs for combination skin that needs a bit of moisture. Ground-up coffee beans do the work to remove dead skin. You can buy this fabulous product at Bloomingdale’s.
11. TONYMOLY Latte Art Strawberry Cream-in-Scrub
If you’re a sucker for cute packaging, then this scrub is definitely worth a purchase. It provides a very light exfoliation that can work for those with very sensitive skin, for whom most face scrubs are too abrasive. This nourishing formula also cleanses the skin, and leaves it feeling somewhat hydrated but not greasy. It is available for sale at Ulta.
12. Bobbi Brown Buffing Grains For Face
Buffing grains give us a totally different take on face scrubs. This little glass bottle contains a dry scrub made of adzuki beans, which can gently dislodge dead skin cells. You can play around with them by mixing them with just water, your cleanser, oil, or even honey, to create a unique scrub that will work perfectly for your skin. If you’d like to give it a try, you can find it at Sephora.
13. Olehenriksen Pore-Balance Facial Sauna Scrub
This is a stimulating facial scrub that warms up a little when it comes in contact with the skin. It includes both skin-exfoliating acids and clay-based beads to remove dead skin in multiple ways. It’s one of the best scrubs for those dealing with oily skin and blackheads. It is available for sale online through Sephora.
14. Luzern Laboratories Micro-Exfoliant Deep Hydrating Scrub
This simple, natural scrub hydrates the skin while exfoliating it. It contains a hefty dose of humectant glycerin along with jojoba oil and jojoba beads. It leaves the skin soft, smooth, and totally free of dead skin build-up. It is a great scrubbing choice for dry and dehydrated skin types. It is sold online at Dermstore.
15. Port Products Skin Renewing Face Scrub
If you’re hoping for soft, refined skin, then this is one of the best face scrubs around. It is made of a natural formula with finely milled walnut shell powder to remove dead skin, and glycolic acid to give a deeper resurfacing. It’s a great choice for all skin types. If you’d like to give it a try, you can find it at Nordstrom.
16. Nia 24 Physical Cleansing Scrub
This is a fabulous face scrub choice for those trying to improve texture in their skin. It contains gentle jojoba beads for exfoliation, and pro-niacin for a skin-brightening and smoothing effect. It’s an anti-aging facial scrub that can work for any skin type. Buy it online through Dermstore.
17. Caudalie Deep Cleansing Exfoliator
This is a stronger face scrub that works beautifully for all skin types. It removes dead skin with natural corn beads and keeps it hydrated and strong with grape pulp. The formula leaves the skin feeling super clean but also soft and nourishing. It is available for sale at Sephora.
18. Bioré Pore Unclogging Scrub
This powerful exfoliator is one of the best face scrubs for keeping acne from popping up. It gives a deep cleansing and exfoliation, and helps prevent breakouts with 2% salicylic acid. For the best effect, let it sit on the skin for 2-3 minutes before rinsing away. You can pick it up from Ulta.
19. Tarte FRXXXTION Stick Exfoliating Cleanser
If you’re looking for a unique exfoliation experience, then definitely give this face scrub a try. It comes in the form of a stick that you rub into the skin, and exfoliates with diatomaceous earth. It leaves the skin feeling smooth and soft, and never overly dry. It works well with all skin types You can find it online at Sephora.
Face scrubs are so simple, but they make such a difference. Face scrubs are made up of small, abrasive pieces that, when rubbed into the skin, work to dislodge dead skin. Think about them like ulta-gentle sand paper for the face that rubs against the skin to make it smooth and polished.
By dislodging dead skin scrubbing has all kinds of wonderful effects on the skin.
• Dead skin build-up can cause all kinds of texture issues in the skin. By removing that build-up, the skin instantly feels softer and smoother. Over time scrubbing can also have a remarkable effect over more serious texture issues like scarring or hyperpigmentation.
• Excess dead skin on the stratum corneum (the top layer of the epidermis) can have an impact on the lowers layers. It can prevent new skin cells from forming adequately or as quickly. By exfoliating the skin you can ensure that the skin cell regeneration process keeps running smoothly, to keep your skin looking healthy and youthful.
• Moisturizers and serums simply cannot penetrate as well into the skin when it has a thick layer of dead skin sitting on top of it. Scrubbing the skin increases the skin’s ability to take in moisture and active ingredients from all kinds of products, to ensure that they can do their best to improve the health and beauty of your skin.
• Build-up of dead skin really brings out and magnifies skin texture issues, including large pores, fine lines, and wrinkles. With exfoliation you can instantly remove that dead skin and quickly minimize the look of pores and fine line and wrinkles.
• Some people, especially those with dry skin, find that they can get dry patches or areas of flakey skin. Face exfoliators are the quickest solution, as they instantly remove the flakey skin and make the face look smoother.
• Blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples are all formed partially because of dead skin clogging the pores. Exfoliation helps to prevent those clogged pores in the first place, which keeps the skin clear. It can also slowly work to dislodge cloggings, and over time reduce the look of blackheads and whiteheads.
When the skin has pimples, however, it is better to avoid scrubbing, since it can irritate the already inflamed skin and spread bacteria around.
In addition to all of these benefits, the best face exfoliators also contain other ingredients that will improve the look of the skin. Keep reading this article to learn what kind of face scrubs will have unique benefits for your skin type.
Traditional Facial Scrubs
Most of the best face scrubs are simply made as facial cleansers that had some abrasive pieces added to them. This is the most common way in which face scrubs are formulated.
They work double duty to both remove dead skin and to clean the face, and they tend to be the best face scrubs for those with oily skin. Companies often recommend using them as a two-in-one, instead of a cleanser, but I think that it’s best to only exfoliate the skin when it’s clean, so I wouldn’t recommend skipping cleansing before exfoliating.
Scrub and Mask in One
These kinds of face scrubs are more like face masks that have had some abrasive elements added to them. I am a big fan of these, because you can simply apply them to the skin, rub them in a little to exfoliate, and then let them sit and nourish your skin.
They’re two-in-one products that actually work to beautify the skin and save time. Some of these masks/ scrubs are made with clay, and are better suited to those with oily skin. Others are made with nourishing extracts, hydrators, and oils, and they really help improve the look of dry skin.
Sugar and salt scrubs often fall into this face exfoliators category. They are made up primarily of the abrasive material, which sits in some kind of skin care oil.
These kinds of scrubs are more common for the body than for the face. If you do want to try an oil-based face scrub, keep in mind that they tend to work better for those with dry skin.
Dry scrubs or exfoliating powders are a recent addition to the cosmetics market, which is quite surprising, since they are such a simple yet brilliant product. These are dry powders, normally sold in a glass jar, that are meant to be combined with water, oil, or cleanser in order to make a semi-DIY face scrub.
They are great for people whose skin acts differently from week to week, since they can play around with the other ingredients based on their skin’s needs. These are also very easy to prepare at home.
They are usually made of a dry bean powder, rice powder, or oatmeal powder, although occasionally you’ll also see blends with clay in the mix.
Facial Cleansing Brushes
Another popular way of manually exfoliating the skin is with facial cleansing brushes. These brushes exfoliate the skin during cleansing, with lightly abrasive bristles. Some are very simple, while others are battery powered electrical tools like the Clarisonic.
I go into more detail later on, but chemical exfoliants like glycolic or lactic acid are not scrubs. They usually come in the form of a toner or serum, and they are made up of acids that melt down the glue that connects dead skin cells together, forcing them to shed themselves. Most people will use either a physical scrub or a chemical scrub, although some actually enjoy a routine with both.
• Physical face scrubs are very easy to use and to fit into a pre-existing skin care routine, especially when compared to chemical exfoliators.
• Face exfoliators have an instant effect of removing dead skin and improving the overall look of the skin.
• By removing dead skin, face scrubs ensure that serums and moisturizers penetrate into the skin better and have a stronger effect.
• For those whose skin does not tolerate chemical exfoliants like glycolic or salicylic acid, face scrubs make for a great alternative.
• Physical scrubs can irritate sensitive skin, especially if they are over-used, since they remove dead skin through an abrasive action.
• Face scrubs are not a good choice for those with acne-prone skin, physical scrubs can break pimples open and spread bacteria around.
• Physical scrubs made with plastic microbeads can have a terrible effect on the environment. Since the microbeads cannot be filtered out, they end up in lakes and oceans, and can seriously harm the ecosystems there. These days many countries are banning plastic microbeads, and you’ll be happy to know that all of the best scrubs that I’ve listed are perfectly safe for the environment.
• With an improperly formulated face scrubs the exfoliation can simply not be thorough enough, or it can be done with exfoliating bits that have sharp edges that scratch the skin instead of exfoliating it – this is something to keep in mind.
You probably already know, but generally I prefer to recommend chemical exfoliants. Acid based chemical exfoliants with glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acids simply have an amazing effect on the skin.
These acids penetrate through the top layers of the epidermis, and melt down the sebum that keeps dead skin cells connected. This allows them to shed from the skin in a way that is very gentle and comprehensive.
Additionally, chemical exfoliants tend to have either a humectant effect on the skin, so they leave it more hydrated, or they can have an anti-inflammatory effect that reduces irritation.
On the other hand, face scrubs dislodge the dead skin cells manually. By rubbing the skin with the scrub the little abrasive bits have a sandpaper like effect on the skin. This can be very effective, but it can also irritate those who have sensitive skin or spread bacteria from acne around by popping the pimple.
You can think of it like this: chemical exfoliants work from below to essential push off or make the dead skin cells easier to remove, while face scrubs work from above, to dislodge the dead skin cells manually. Some people find that a routine that includes both a face scrub and a chemical exfoliator works best for them, since they get both the exfoliation from above and the exfoliation from below.
With all this in mind, I actually prefer only using face scrubs in my routine, albeit very gently and sparingly. While I know that chemical exfoliants are usually the better choice, I don’t like how they make my skin appear a little flakey, as the dead skin cells start to come off.
I also don’t like that they make the skin more prone to sunburn, since I already burn easily. That is my personal reason for only using face scrubs.
So if you already know your skin type, here is how you should choose the right facial exfoliator for you!
Best Face Scrubs for Normal and Combination Skin
If your skin doesn’t produce too much or too little oil throughout the day, and if you have either medium-sized pores or both large and small pores in different parts of your face, then you want to choose faces scrubs that will work for either normal or combination skin.
With your skin types you want to choose face scrubs that will be gentle, will not strip your skin of oils, but will also not load your skin up with too much oil. Look for gentle, sulfate-free formulas with a lot of moisture-binding ingredients like glycerin.
Skin-nourishing extracts and vitamins will also have a nice effect on the skin. You can choose face scrubs that are formulated like a gentle cleanser with abrasive elements, or you can opt for two-in-one abrasive face masks.
Best Face Scrubs for Dry Skin
If you have smaller pores, and your skin produces little to no oil throughout the day, then you have dry skin, and you should choose face scrubs that will help your skin. For the most part face scrubs that are formulated like cleansers with abrasive pieces in them are not the best choice for you, since they can strip the skin of too much oil.
Instead you’re better off using face scrubs with nourishing formulas that will hydrate the skin or oil-based face scrubs. Look for skin-repairing botanical extracts as well as humectants like aloe vera, honey, or glycerin.
Best Face Scrubs for Oily Skin
If your skin produces a lot of oil throughout the day, or if you have larger pores, then this is what you need to know about face exfoliators. The best face exfoliators for oily skin are made up of ingredients that will be gentle, but will also help remove excess oils from the skin.
These can be face scrubs with cleanser formulas, where gentle abrasive pieces sit in a blend of gentle surfactants like coco-betaine or decyl glucoside. Another option is to find face scrubs that are also reinforced with a deep cleansing element like kaolin clay or charcoal.
Try to avoid oil-based face exfoliators, as those can make the skin feel greasy. Also make sure to avoid face scrubs made with harsh sulfates like sodium lauryl or sodium laureth sulfates, as these will totally strip your skin of oil and throw it off balance.
Best Face Scrubs for Acne-Prone Skin
If you regularly suffer from acne flare-ups, then the truth is that face scrubs are simply not for you. Even the gentlest of face scrubs work to dislodge dead skin through friction or abrasion.
Unfortunately, this same action can also end up damaging skin that is broken out, irritating active pimples, popping them, and spreading bacteria around the skin. This is especially important if you break out with pimples at the surface of the skin.
If your skin only breaks out occasionally, physical scrubs are totally fine at times when your skin is clear or when breakouts are living deep under the surface of the skin. In those times you want to use a scrub that is gentle and based on either a cleanser formula with surfactants like coco-betaine or decyl glucoside, or you want to use an exfoliator reinforced with clay for deep cleansing.
Best Face Scrubs for Sensitive Skin
If your skin turns red, hot, or irritated very easily after you’ve used new products or ate something spicy, then that’s a sign that you have sensitive skin. Those with sensitive skin are usually better off avoid physical face scrubs, and instead use a gentle chemical exfoliant like lactic acid or salicylic acid.
If your sensitive skin doesn’t react well to chemical exfoliants, you want to make sure that the physical scrub you choose is very gentle. Search for scrubs that exfoliate the skin with the gentles abrasives: oatmeal powder, corncob beads, or rice powder all come to mind as great gentle exfoliants.
Look for them in formulas that contain skin-soothing and anti-inflammatory natural extracts, and definitely avoid most scrubs with cleanser-based formulas or that profess to provide a “deep exfoliation”.
Simply scrubbing the skin is not enough – you need to exfoliate the right way, as part of a comprehensive skin care routine that will keep you glowing and healthy. These are comprehensive instructions for exfoliation that will work with most face scrubs.
While some brands recommend that you use their face exfoliators every day, I recommend you exfoliate your skin following these instructions only 3-4 times a week at the most.
• You always want to start with thoroughly cleansed skin. Clean your skin with a gentle cleanser that has a low pH, or you can even try the oil cleansing method if you’re going to be using a face scrub in an abrasive cleanser formula.
• Once your skin is clean, you are ready to exfoliate. Some scrubs require that your skin be damp before you apply them, while others require dry skin. Depending on the requirement either splash your face with water, or pat it dry with a clean towel.
• Dispense some of your face scrub of choice into the palm of your hand. Using both hands gently massage it into the skin in upward, circular motions. Be careful not to use too much pressure, instead letting the gliding motion of your hand disperse the product and exfoliate your skin.
• Make sure to avoid scrubbing sensitive parts of the face like the area surrounding the eyes. Be careful not to over-do it – if your skin starts feeling raw then you have over-exfoliated.
• Once you’ve exfoliated your whole face, you can rinse your scrub off. If you’ve used a scrub with a nourishing, non-cleansing formula, you can let it sit on your skin for a few minutes.
• You can simply rinse off your scrub with a splash of water, although I find that removing it with a gentle, damp face cloth works much better.
• Once all of the scrub is gone, you can apply a nourishing face mask, or you can simply finish off your skin care routine with a splash of toner, serums, and moisturizers. If you are exfoliating your skin in the daytime, make sure to apply sunscreen as well.
• For a stronger exfoliation, you can use your face scrubs in conjunction with a face brush. This will give you a more thorough exfoliation, although be careful not to overdo it and irritate your skin.
• If you shave or wax your face, use a gentle face scrub right before hair removal. The exfoliation process will help lift the hairs and prevent irritation and ingrown hairs from forming.
• If you find that sometimes your makeup looks a little dull, you might want to save your face scrubs for the morning. Exfoliating can instantly revitalize your skin, and ensure that makeup goes on more smoothly!
• If you find that scrubbing your face is a messy process to do over the skin, simply save it for the shower. It’ll be much easier to rinse away all of those little abrasive bits!
Face scrubs, like face masks, are some of the few products that I think are perfectly fine to make at home by yourself. It’s possible to make really effective and nourishing face exfoliators.
Follow one of these recipes so that your skin will feel smooth and soft, and you will know that it is all thanks to your hard work. You’ll be happy to know that these DIY exfoliators can also double as face masks, for the most amazing skin ever.
Note that these recipes are for one-off use. Since there are no preservatives in these DIY face scrubs, they are not appropriate to keep for more than a couple of days.
DIY Face Scrub for Normal and Combination Skin
This super simple recipe will soften your skin, remove dead skin build-up, and will give you an overall glow. It’ll work for all skin types, but especially for normal skin.
• 1 tablespoon of rice, chickpeas, or oatmeal
• 1 tablespoon of plain yogurt
Begin by turning your abrasive of choice into a powder by running through a food processor. In a small bowl combine your exfoliating powder with the yogurt.
Massage it into cleansed skin, as outlined in the directions above. Let it sit on your skin for up to 10 minutes in order to gain the maximum benefits.
DIY Face Scrub for Dry and Sensitive Skin
This recipe uses gentle and skin-soothing oatmeal to exfoliate the skin, combined with soothing and hydrating honey and moisturizing jojoba oil. It is best applied to the skin in a damp environment, like during a shower.
• 1 tablespoon of oatmeal flakes
• 1 tablespoon of honey
• ½ teaspoon of jojoba oil (or any other plant oil of your choice)
Run your oatmeal flakes through a food processor to turn them into a very fine powder. In a bowl combine the oatmeal, honey, and oil. Mix them together well, and apply them to cleansed skin in circular motions. Let the face scrub sit on your skin for 10-15 minutes in order to enjoy maximum softness.
DIY Face Scrub for Oily Skin and Acne-Prevention
This blend includes skin-purifying diatomaceous earth to exfoliate the skin, along with hydrating yet non-comedogenic honey, and skin-balancing and astringent apple cider vinegar. You can choose to also add a few drops of tea tree oil for its anti-acne properties.
• 1 tablespoon of diatomaceous earth
• ½ tablespoon of honey
• ½ tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar
• 1-2 drops of tea tree oil
In a clean bowl, combine all of the ingredients, and mix them together. Apply the face scrub to cleansed skin, and rub it in in circular, upward motions. When you’re done, you can let it sit on your skin for another 10 minutes, as a mattifying, acne-fighting face mask.
Photos via @theglamourdrama, @luanasilva, @frankies.skin, @readyzenglow, @alicetrewinnard