Skincare Products » Best Exfoliators for Sensitive Skin

Best Exfoliators for Sensitive Skin

The Glowsly editors independently test and choose the best products. We may receive commissions on purchases made from the affiliate links.

Exfoliating your skin can mean reaping a ton of benefits: clog-free pores and brightened skin that glows. Exfoliating can also whisk away dead skin cells, so you’ll notice smoother skin. If you have sensitive skin, don’t fret. We’ve got you covered with a list of the best exfoliators made for you.

You’ll find a variety of products in this list, from toners to liquids to masks, and more. There are some scrubs or physical exfoliants as well as plenty of chemical exfoliants, which can be gentler on the skin. 

Best exfoliators for sensitive skin overview:

How we chose the best sensitive skin exfoliators

To compile this list, we researched manufacturer specifications, including the type of exfoliant, active ingredients, and more, to create a short list of the top exfoliators for sensitive skin. Then, we combed through detailed product descriptions, ratings, and reviews to find the best exfoliator for sensitive skin for each category.

Our picks for the best exfoliators for sensitive skin

Best overall
Aveeno Calm + Restore Nourishing PHA Facial Exfoliator

What we love

  • 2-in-1 exfoliator and cleanser
  • Contains oat oil
  • Free of fragrance

What we don’t love

  • Some may be sensitive to oats
  • Weak lather

Formulated especially for those with sensitive skin, this cleanser exfoliates without gritty or abrasive particles. The polyhydroxy acid (PHA) sloughs away dead skin cells for smoother skin. Plus, this cleanser even repairs your skin’s moisture barrier with oat oil, an ingredient commonly used in the brand’s products. 

You may not want to use this if you have a sensitivity or allergy to oats. Reviewers have noted that it doesn’t provide as much lather as other cleansers, which isn’t a deal breaker for us. Overall, we chose this as the best sensitive skin exfoliator because we love the moisturizing, cleansing, and exfoliating benefits without irritation.

Active ingredients: Polyhydroxy acid (PHA) | Type: Liquid | Size: 4 oz

Best budget
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

What we love

  • Contains lactic acid
  • Costs less than $10
  • Brightens skin

What we don’t love

  • Nighttime use only
  • Can’t use in conjunction with certain ingredients

This is an affordable option that costs less than $10, and you can find it at multiple retailers. It contains lactic acid, which is generally a bit gentler — ideal for sensitive skin. It also includes Tasmanian pepperberry, which cuts back on inflammation that can happen when you exfoliate. 

The brand recommends using it at night, so it’s not your best bet if you’d prefer morning exfoliation. You’ll also want to be cautious using it in conjunction with products with certain ingredients like peptides, retinoids, or direct vitamin C. However, if you don’t use those ingredients, this is a fantastic option that exfoliates while brightening skin.

Active ingredients: Lactic acid | Type: Serum | Size: 1 oz

Best splurge
Soho Skin Liquid Exfoliator

What we love

  • Brightens skin
  • Evens out skin tone
  • Cuts back on oils

What we don’t love

  • High price

Sometimes, skincare is worth splurging on. That’s definitely the case for this liquid exfoliator, which incorporates lactic acid and mandelic acid for a gentler exfoliation experience. Lactic acid also helps brighten the skin, while mandelic acid evens out the tone. Plus, succinic acid reduces sebum and encourages dead skin cell removal. 

One potential drawback to this exfoliator is its higher price. It runs about $100 per bottle, but you’ll receive over six fluid ounces of product, which is a decent size.

Active ingredients: Lactic acid, succinic acid, mandelic acid | Type: Liquid | Size: 6.7 oz

Best brightening
REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic

What we love

  • Reduces the look of pores
  • Gently exfoliates
  • Provides the skin with a glow

What we don’t love

  • Some may not like the scent
  • Nighttime use only

If you prefer exfoliating at night and want brighter skin that glows, reach for this liquid tonic. Its lactic acid exfoliates while salicin (a BHA) minimizes the appearance of pores. Azelaic acid is also included to bring you a glowy finish. 

Some reviewers noted there’s a scent to the tonic that’s a bit unpleasant, but that tends to boil down to personal preference. The formula is perfect for getting your glow on, and the packaging is made from recycled plastic for a greener option.

Active ingredients: Lactic acid, salicin, azelaic acid | Type: Liquid | Size: 3.3 fl oz

Best mask
True Botanicals Resurfacing Moisture Mask

What we love

  • Takes just 5 minutes to use
  • Moisturizes skin
  • Anti-aging properties

What we don’t love

  • Expensive
  • Should only use once a week

Got five minutes? This mask is the perfect excuse for a quick dose of “me” time when your schedule is jam-packed. Lactic acid exfoliates the skin, and avocado butter provides a splash of hydration. You’ll also get anti-aging benefits, thanks to the astaxanthin, which translates to smooth, soft skin that looks younger.

People with sensitive skin or rosacea may only want to use the mask once a week. It’s best to start small and see what works best for you. Plus, five minutes once a week makes this exfoliator much easier to fit into a busy schedule.

Active ingredients: Lactic acid | Type: Mask | Size: 1 oz

Best peel
Beautycounter Reflect Effect Overnight Resurfacing Peel

What we love

  • Smoothing
  • Brightening
  • Easy to leave on overnight

What we don’t love

  • High price
  • May tingle

When it comes to skincare routines, efficiency is everything. This peel is one you apply before bed and leave on all night long to let it do its magic. The blend of glycolic, malic, and lactic acids mean your skin will look brighter and dead skin cells will be cleared away while you sleep. 

The price is a bit higher, but the smoothing and brightening benefits make it worthwhile. Arginine and fatty acids bring in a beautiful glow, so your skin will look more radiant. Just keep in mind your skin may tingle when using this product.

Active ingredients: Glycolic, malic, and lactic acids | Type: Overnight peel | Size: 1 oz

Best for acne
Byoma Clarifying Serum

What we love

  • Helps prevent pimples
  • Cuts back on excess oil
  • Soothes skin

What we don’t love

  • May feel sticky
  • Scent can be unpleasant

If you experience acne, this exfoliating serum can help prevent pimples or breakouts while reducing excess facial oil. Zinc and PHA team up to exfoliate for smoother-feeling skin, and blue tansy comes in for a soothing finish. 

Some reviewers feel the formula can be a bit sticky, and the scent doesn’t appeal to many. But the combination of acne-fighting ingredients and exfoliation makes this a winner.

Active ingredients: Blue tansy, PHA, zinc | Type: Serum | Size: 1 oz

Best glow
Shani Darden Skin Care Lactic Acid Serum

What we love

  • Brightening
  • Soothing
  • Moisturizing

What we don’t love

  • High price
  • Takes 5 minutes to dry

This product’s power combo of lactic acid and gluconolactone, a PHA, combine to give you brighter, smoother, and more moisturized skin. You’ll also notice a glow after using this serum — an added bonus. According to the brand, all of the study participants reported brighter and glowy skin. 

Though the price is higher than other options, these benefits make it a fabulous exfoliator for sensitive skin. Note you’ll want to wait about five minutes for it to dry before applying moisturizer, so give yourself a little extra time when using this one.

Active ingredients: Lactic acid, gluconolactone (PHA) | Type: Serum | Size: 1 oz

Best drugstore
Good light Moon Glow Milky Toning Lotion

What we love

  • Cleanses skin
  • Adds moisture
  • Free of fragrance

What we don’t love

  • Not ideal for dry skin
  • May feel sticky

Running to the drugstore is a convenient way to pick up a cleanser and exfoliator in one. CeraVe’s formula includes salicylic acid to bring in multiple benefits, like whisking away dead skin and removing excess oil. Meanwhile, hyaluronic acid ensures your skin gets a splash of hydration. 

Some reviewers said the cleanser leaves a sticky feeling that goes away after a minute or two. Others noted the formula was not great for dry skin, so it’s best for normal or oily skin types. We like that it’s free of fragrance, along with its exfoliating benefits, of course.

Active ingredients: Salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid | Type: Cleanser | Size: 16 oz

Best toner
Good light Moon Glow Milky Toning Lotion

What we love

  • Can use day and night
  • Hydrates skin
  • Reduces redness

What we don’t love

  • May not be ideal for eczema
  • Initial adjustment period

Want an exfoliator that hydrates skin and reduces redness? Try out this toning lotion containing exfoliating AHAs as well as snow mushroom and meadowfoam seed oil to hydrate. 

Some reviewers noted there’s an adjustment period when first using the lotion, potentially causing irritation at first. Others said it wasn’t ideal for eczema, so use caution here. As with any exfoliator, it’s a good idea to go slow and take note of how your skin reacts to it.

Active ingredients: Meadowfoam seed oil, snow mushroom, niacinamide, AHAs | Type: Toning lotion | Size: 3.38 oz

Best for oily skin
SkinCeuticals LHA Cleansing Gel

What we love

  • Unclogs pores
  • Smoothes skin
  • Brightens

What we don’t love

  • May require additional products
  • Not everyone will love the gel

A combination of three acids (capryloyl salicylic, glycolic, and salicylic) means this cleanser offers pore-unclogging exfoliation, in addition to cleansing benefits. Plus, your skin will look brighter and free of excess oil. Note this is a gel product, so it’ll feel different than liquid cleansers. 

You might need to use additional products depending on when you apply it. For morning use, SkinCeuticals recommends using sunscreen and its vitamin C serum. At night, it suggests using a SkinCeuticals moisturizer.

Active ingredients: Capryloyl salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid | Type: Gel cleanser | Size: 8 oz

Best pads
First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads

What we love

  • Soothing
  • Toning
  • Provides a dewy look

What we don’t love

  • Disposable pads create more waste

These presoaked disposable pads come loaded with glycolic and lactic acids for convenient exfoliation. Lemon peel brightens the skin, cucumber water soothes, and Indian gooseberry tones for a beautiful finish.

Ninety one percent of the brand’s study participants reported a glowy look after using the pads. These are a great choice for exfoliating in a hurry, thanks to their convenience. Plus, they’re great for travel. The downside? Disposable pads create more waste.

Active ingredients: Glycolic and lactic acids, lemon peel, cucumber water, Indian gooseberry | Type: Saturated pads | Size: 60 pads

Best physical
PCA Skin Daily Exfoliant

What we love

  • Includes biodegradable exfoliant
  • Moisturizes skin
  • Anti-aging properties

What we don’t love

  • Not everyone will love the scent

This is a mild physical exfoliant option with biodegradable cellulose acetate made from wood pulp. Plus, salicornia herbacea extract gives your skin a drink, while green tea extract packs some anti-aging benefits, thanks to its antioxidants. Aloe steps in to soothe skin, so this is a multitasking powerhouse. 

Note that the exfoliant is scented, so it may not be for everyone. You can use it daily or even twice daily if you need additional exfoliation.

Active ingredients: Salicornia herbacea extract, cellulose acetate, green tea extract, aloe | Type: Liquid | Size: 7 fl oz

Best for dry skin
Neutrogena Skin Perfecting Dry Skin Liquid Face Exfoliant

What we love

  • Made for dry skin
  • Smoothes and brightens
  • Free of fragrance

What we don’t love

  • May cause irritation

The inclusion of more gentle PHA makes this a fantastic option for people with sensitive skin. And the fact that Neutrogena formulated this liquid exfoliant for dry skin is even better. After using it, you should see smoother, brighter, and more moisturized skin, thanks to the added hyaluronic acid.

When using this exfoliant, you may experience a burning sensation or irritation, so be sure to test it out on a small area and work your way up to using more. It’s free of fragrance, which is a bonus for those sensitive to smells.

Active ingredients: Glycolic acid, gluconolactone (PHA), hyaluronic acid | Type: Liquid | Size: 4 fl oz

Best with sea salt
COOLA Pacific Polish Gentle Sea Salt Facial Exfoliator

What we love

  • Soothes skin
  • Unclogs pores
  • 70% or more organic ingredients

What we don’t love

  • Physical exfoliants could cause irritation

Though physical exfoliants could cause irritation for more sensitive skin, this exfoliator is crafted to be gentle. The sea salt is ultra-fine, so it’s less likely to irritate. A blend of Ayurvedic oils adds soothing qualities, and at least 70% of the ingredients are organic. Plus, the papaya extract will unclog your pores, and you’ll notice softer, clearer skin after use.

Active ingredients: Ayurvedic oil blend (centella, asiatica, coconut oil, sunflower oil), papaya extract, ultra-fine mineral sea salt | Type: Paste | Size: 3.4 fl oz

Reveal smoother skin with the right exfoliator

Just because you might have sensitive skin doesn’t mean you can’t exfoliate. There’s something out there for everyone, from dry skin to oily skin and everything in between. Our pick for the best exfoliator for sensitive skin goes to Aveeno Calm + Restore Nourishing PHA Exfoliator. It cleanses while exfoliating, is free of fragrances, and soothes the skin with oat oil.

How to pick the right exfoliator for you

Sensitive skin needs a little extra TLC, but don’t let that scare you away from adding exfoliation into your routine. Just be sure to look for a few key ingredients to determine what works best for you. If you find that something irritates your skin, it’s best to cut back or stop using it. 

Active ingredients

You’ll notice a few common active ingredients when it comes to chemical exfoliants. Lactic acid, for instance, is one type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s a bit gentler on the skin. Glycolic acid is another AHA that’s great for exfoliation. However, it’s not as gentle as lactic acid, so use caution with this one. 

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), like salicylic acid, are another great option for sensitive skin. They whisk away dead skin cells while clearing away excess oil. However, you may not want to use exfoliators with salicylic acid if your skin tends to be dry, as it could lead to irritation. Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), like gluconolactone, are another chemical exfoliant you’ll see in many sensitive skin products.

Skin type

If you have acne or experience oily skin, reach for an exfoliator with salicylic acid. Normal skin types can benefit from either chemical exfoliators (like AHAs) or physical exfoliators with gritty or abrasive particles. With dry or sensitive skin, you’ll likely want to opt for a chemical exfoliator rather than a physical one for a gentler way to exfoliate.


You can exfoliate in the morning or at night, and each has some advantages. Exfoliating at night gives your product time to soak into your skin as you sleep. It allows your body to repair any damage your skin sustained during the day. 

On the flip side, exfoliating in the morning means you’ll whisk away the dead skin cells your body produces overnight. However, chemical exfoliators can make you more sensitive to the sun, so applying them in the morning isn’t a great idea. 


Should you exfoliate if you have sensitive skin? 

Each person’s skin is unique, and some people have more sensitive skin than others, though that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t exfoliate. Just be cautious if you have sensitive skin because it could cause irritation or inflammation, or may even dry out your skin. Whether or not you have sensitive skin, be sure to use a moisturizer if you choose to exfoliate.

What’s the gentlest way to exfoliate your face?

Chemical exfoliation, which relies on alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), beta hydroxy acid (BHA), or polyhydroxy acid (PHA), is typically a gentler way to exfoliate. But you could also use a cloth as a physical exfoliant if your skin tends to be more sensitive. If you want gentle exfoliation, avoiding scrubs with grit or abrasive particles that could irritate or inflame the skin is best.

Do dermatologists recommend exfoliating?

Some dermatologists do recommend exfoliating. However, others note that exfoliation isn’t necessarily beneficial for everyone. There’s no hard and fast universal rule, so pay attention to how your skin reacts if you choose to exfoliate or speak to your dermatologist to see what they recommend for you.