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15 Best Face Exfoliators For Smoother Skin

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Smoother skin, here we come. Exfoliation is an advanced skincare step that goes a long way toward solving any number of concerns. Removing dead skin buildup will make your face instantly smoother. Regular practice can help reduce fine lines, enlarged pores, pigmentation, and even breakouts. 

That said, overdoing it with the scrubbing can have the opposite effect — irritating your skin and making problems worse. That’s why we’ve curated this list of the best face exfoliators to try. Whether you’re just starting your skincare journey or at an advanced stage, there’s an exfoliant here that’ll solve your skin woes. We’ve selected evidence-backed formulas of varying intensities to give the best results regardless of skin type, budget, or unique needs.

Best face exfoliator overview

How we chose the best face exfoliants

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

Our picks for the best face exfoliators

Best overall
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

What we love

  • Gentle and effective for all skin types
  • Salicylic acid helps unclog pores
  • Made with soothing, anti-aging green tea

What we don’t love

  • Awkward dispenser

What started as an internet cult favorite is now one of the world’s best-selling exfoliants. It contains 2% salicylic acid and is gentle, effective, and appropriate for all skin types. Also known as beta hydroxy acid (BHA), salicylic acid is most frequently recommended for acne-prone skin. Still, it’s actually phenomenal for everyone, thanks to its added soothing ability and the fact that it’s not photosensitizing, unlike other chemical exfoliants. 

This formula gets the best out of BHA by pairing it with soothing, anti-aging green tea. Otherwise, it’s quite minimalistic, perfect if your skin is highly reactive. It’s light but nondrying and fits easily into most skincare routines. The shaker bottle is the only drawback since it makes dispensing a little awkward.

Skin type: All | Active ingredients: Salicylic acid, green tea | Exfoliant type: Chemical | Size: 4 fl oz

Best budget
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

What we love

  • Budget-friendly
  • Glycolic acid improves skin tone and texture
  • Hydrating ingredients help prevent dryness

What we don’t love

  • Can be photosensitizing

What looks like a simple pink toner is actually a potent exfoliant. This ultra-affordable formula contains 7% glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that thoroughly exfoliates the skin to improve texture and tone. At this percentage, we think it’s best to use a few times a week, but up to daily use could work for some. 

Glycolic acid is fantastic for all skin types (especially dry and maturing skin). However, it can cause photosensitivity, so sunscreen is a must. While the formula overall is very light, it does include some hydrating agents that can help prevent dryness.

Skin type: Dry, balanced, combination, oily | Active ingredients: Glycolic acid, aloe vera, ginseng, Tasmanian Pepperberry | Exfoliant type: Chemical | Size: 8 oz

Best physical exfoliant
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator

What we love

  • Gentle physical exfoliation
  • Exfoliation intensity can be adjusted
  • Includes soothing and brightening ingredients

What we don’t love

  • Fragranced

This gentle powder is one of the few physical exfoliants we really enjoy. You shake it out into the palm of your hand, lather it up with a bit of water, and then massage it into your skin. Its main ingredients are microcrystalline cellulose and rice powder that gently dislodge dead skin. You can even adjust the level of exfoliation by playing with the ratio of powder to water. 

Adding water helps release a skin-brightening and soothing mix of colloidal oatmeal, allantoin, and licorice. There are also some ingredients meant to promote chemical exfoliation, like papain and salicylic acid, but they likely don’t exfoliate as much as they would in a liquid leave-on formula. 

It also contains a touch of tea tree and grapefruit essential oils that add a fresh scent but may cause trouble to sensitive skin.

Skin type: All | Active ingredients: Microcrystalline cellulose, rice powder, papain, salicylic acid, colloidal oatmeal | Exfoliant type: Physical | Size: 2.6 oz

Best for sensitive skin
The Inkey List PHA Toner

What we love

  • Ultra-gentle chemical exfoliation
  • Includes niacinamide to improve skin tone
  • Glycerin and aloe help hydrate skin

What we don’t love

  • May not be exfoliating enough for some

This budget-friendly toner is our top exfoliant for anyone with ultra-sensitive skin. It’s made with 3% gluconolactone, a polyhydroxy acid (PHA). Thanks to its large molecular size, it doesn’t sink deeply into the skin, giving a milder surface-level exfoliation.

If your skin is too sensitive for AHAs and BHAs, it could be the perfect gentle exfoliant for you. On the other hand, if your skin is pretty tough, you may not find this toner exfoliating enough. The formula also includes niacinamide, which helps with skin tone and oil production while offering antioxidant protection, and aloe and glycerin to hydrate.

Skin type: All | Active ingredients: Gluconolactone (PHA) | Exfoliant type: Chemical | Size: 3.4 fl oz

Best scrub
Clinique 7 Day Scrub Cream Rinse-Off Formula

What we love

  • Gentle physical exfoliation
  • Non-drying lotion base
  • Free from potentially irritating ingredients

What we don’t love

  • Coconut oil can be an issue for some

This gentle, creamy scrub is our top choice for anyone who wants a simple physical exfoliation. The exfoliating action comes courtesy of mineral silica particles, which are embedded in a water-based lotion. It doesn’t lather at all, which is great if you find most foaming formulas drying. Once removed, Clinique’s scrub leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.

It’s not particularly complex but that makes it ideal if your skin reacts to many different ingredients. It’s free from fragrances, sulfates, and other chemicals that have irritating potential. The formula does include coconut oil, however, which can be nicely moisturizing but may be comedogenic for some.

Skin type: Dry, balanced, combination | Active ingredients: Silica | Exfoliant type: Physical | Size: 3.4 oz

Best budget scrub
Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub

What we love

  • Budget-friendly
  • Exfoliates gently with microfine particles
  • Doubles as a cleanser

What we don’t love

  • Might be irritating for some

This budget-friendly scrub is another great option for those who want to keep things simple. It gently exfoliates the skin with microfine particles while removing debris, dirt, and oils. The formula is gel-based, lathering up gently as you use it, making it ideal for combination or oily skin types. This scrub shouldn’t be too drying due to glycerin and vitamin B5. 

While it’s fairly gentle compared to many other physical scrubs, we’d still caution those with sensitive skin to be careful. Some reviewers mentioned it was too aggressive on their skin, especially if they were experiencing active irritation. While Cetaphil recommends it for daily use, we think one to three times a week would be better.

Skin type: Oily, combination | Active ingredients: Microfine granules, glycerin | Exfoliant type: Physical | Size: 6 oz

Best cleanser
CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

What we love

  • Gentle method of exfoliating
  • Helps to clarify pores
  • Multitasks as a cleanser

What we don’t love

  • Not as exfoliating as a leave-on product

For easy, mild exfoliation, consider using a salicylic acid-based cleanser. This ingredient still works to remove dead skin and clarify pores but not quite as dramatically as in a leave-on formula, making it a great option for daily use or sensitive skin. Ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid work to keep the skin fortified. 

Because it’s a cleanser, it also helps to remove debris from your skin, which is perfect if you prefer multitasking products. The foaming gel removes excess oil, so while it’s suggested for balanced skin, we think those with combination and oily skin will also enjoy CeraVe’s product.

Skin type: Balanced, oily, combination | Active ingredients: Salicylic acid | Exfoliant type: Chemical | Size: 16 oz

Best peeling gel
COSRX Low pH Goodnight Soft Peeling Gel

What we love

  • Fun to use
  • Gentle physical exfoliation
  • Includes skin-nourishing ingredients

What we don’t love

  • Might be too mild for some

Peeling gels offer one of the gentlest forms of physical exfoliation, and that’s particularly true for this clever formulation from COSRX. The way it works is a lot of fun — it comes out of the tube looking like a regular gel, but as you rub it in, the cellulose in the formula balls up to create ultra-gentle “bits” that dislodge dead skin. This results in an instant smoother feel but with less risk of irritation than from harsher physical scrubs. 

Back in the day, exfoliants like this were often advertised as though the cellulose was dead skin, but COSRX doesn’t participate in such deception. The formula also includes lactobionic acid (a PHA), making this a hybrid formula, as well as niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to nourish the skin. We think it’s gentle enough for daily use, although some users may find it too mild.

Skin type: All | Active ingredients: Cellulose, lactobionic acid | Exfoliant type: Both chemical and physical

Best splurge
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

What we love

  • Easy-to-use gel
  • Powerful blend of exfoliants
  • Soothing and hydrating ingredients

What we don’t love

  • Pricey

If you don’t mind spending a little more, this exfoliating serum is a serious upgrade. It’s a pleasant, easy-to-spread gel that resurfaces the skin overnight. Designed with a blend of around 10% AHA and 1% BHA, it’s powerful but not overly aggressive. The acid’s potential to irritate is softened by a long list of soothing and hydrating ingredients, including raspberry extract, horse chestnut extract, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin.

Skin type: Dry, oily, combination, balanced | Active ingredients: Glycolic acid, salicylic acid | Exfoliant type: Chemical | Size: 4.05 fl oz

Best peel
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

What we love

  • May improve texture and tone with regular use
  • Powerful, thorough exfoliation
  • Budget-friendly

What we don’t love

  • Should only be used by those with experience
  • Not appropriate for sensitive skin

This intense blood-red treatment is almost as strong as a salon-grade peel. A blend of AHAs makes up 30% of the formula, with 2% salicylic acid providing a pore-clarifying boost. 

In case we haven’t made it clear, this is an incredibly high percentage of acids. This is the most powerful chemical exfoliant on our list, which can remove much more dead skin than average. You’ll probably notice smoother skin with the first use. The effects of this level of resurfacing will be even more apparent with regular use, whether you’re trying to improve texture or reduce pigmentation.

That said, don’t purchase this exfoliant on a whim. It shouldn’t be anyone’s first chemical face exfoliator, and it’ll likely be too intense for those with very sensitive skin.

Skin type: Dry, oily, combination, balanced | Active ingredients: Glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, tartaric acid | Exfoliant type: Chemical | Size: 1 oz

Best hybrid
Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

What we love

  • Powerful hybrid of exfoliating ingredients
  • Immediate smoothing effects
  • Made with nourishing aloe and honey

What we don’t love

  • Pricey
  • May be too harsh for sensitive skin

This hybrid chemical and physical exfoliant is a very intensive way of removing dead skin. If you know your skin can handle anything you throw at it, this will make you smoother within a single use. This scrub is made with silica, a polishing mineral that dislodges dead skin. Lactic and salicylic acids give a chemical exfoliation boosted by a blend of enzymes. 

Soybean oil, aloe, and honey add a nourishing touch to prevent this potent scrub from drying out your skin. That said, we still wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with extremely dry or sensitive skin — it’s a strong blend of ingredients, not to mention the formula also includes some essential oils.

Skin type: Dry, oily, combination, balanced | Active ingredients: Lactic acid, salicylic acid, silica, enzymes | Exfoliant type: Both chemical and physical | Size: 2 oz

Best pads
Nip + Fab Salicylic Fix Night Pads

What we love

  • Easy and convenient to use
  • Made with pore-unclogging salicylic acid
  • Features hydrating and healing ingredients

What we don’t love

  • Fragrance might be an issue

If you find yourself skipping skincare steps more often than you should, you might find these pads a little easier to use. You pull one out of the jar, rub it over your skin, and toss it away. The salicylic acid will help clear away dead skin buildup and unclog your pores. 

While this formula is designed to purify the skin, it includes high percentages of hydrating and healing ingredients to keep the skin supple and soft. That said, it’s scented, which might be an issue. And if you have complicated thoughts about disposable pads (as you may well should), you’ll be happy to know these are biodegradable.

Skin type: Oily, combination, acne-prone | Active ingredients: Salicylic acid | Exfoliant type: Chemical | Size: 2.7 oz

Best for dry skin
Biossance Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Serum

What we love

  • Gentle but thorough exfoliation with lactic acid
  • Moisturizes with squalane
  • Smooth serum-like texture

What we don’t love

  • Essential oil can be an issue

This exfoliant doubles as a moisturizing serum, making it an ideal option for dry skin. The key exfoliant here is lactic acid, an AHA known for its ability to hydrate. At 10%, it’s perfect for regular weekly exfoliation. Squalane, the other star ingredient, is a phenomenal moisturizing oil that helps to nourish the skin further. 

Biossance’s formula has a luxurious serum-like texture, so it glides over the skin easily to smooth and soften overnight. Scented with lavender essential oil, it’s perfectly calming at night, although this might be an issue for those with fragrance sensitivities.

Skin type: Dry, oily, combination, balanced | Active ingredients: Lactic acid, squalane | Exfoliant type: Chemical | Size: 1.01 fl oz

Best device
Buttah Vibe Brush

What we love

  • Gentle physical exfoliation
  • Works with any cleanser
  • Can be used in the shower

What we don’t love

  • Batteries will need replacing

Cleansing brushes can be an excellent physical exfoliation tool as long as their bristles aren’t too harsh. Made with rounded, medical-grade silicone nodules, the Vibe Brush gives a pleasant massage as it gently removes dead skin. 

This brush is large, so using it is a quick process. It vibrates for added stimulation with four settings to play with. Since it’s waterproof, you can use it with just about any facial cleanser in the shower. It comes packaged with batteries, but keep in mind that you’ll need to replace them once they run out.

Skin type: Dry, oily, combination, balanced, sensitive | Active ingredients: N/A | Exfoliant type: Physical | Size: N/A

Best cloth
Pai Twin Flyer Cloths

What we love

  • Sustainable exfoliation method
  • Soft side is great for cleansing
  • Textured side exfoliates gently

What we don’t love

  • Cloths must be washed carefully

Muslin cloths are a sustainable option for exfoliating the skin since you can wash and reuse them almost endlessly. We love these organic cotton cloths, in particular, because of their clever dual-sided design. 

One side is a smooth flannel that helps with facial cleansing. The other is a textured muslin for effective yet gentle dead skin removal. You can control the level of exfoliation by adjusting your pressure. Just make sure to wash these cloths carefully between uses so that they stay clean and intact.

Skin type: All | Active ingredients: N/A | Exfoliant type: Physical | Size: N/A


When done right, exfoliation is magic. It leaves your skin smooth and soft, and if you have specific goals for your skin, it’ll help you achieve them faster. However, using the wrong exfoliant can break down your skin barrier and set your progress back by weeks or months. 

If you’re not in the mood to play guessing games, Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is a thorough, pore-unclogging option that’s gentle enough for most skin types. That said, with our long list of exfoliators of various intensity levels, you have plenty of other options to consider. 

How to pick the right face exfoliator for you

There are a few types of exfoliants and ingredients to choose from. Here are the main options and how to decide based on your skin type. 

Exfoliant type

  • Chemical. Made with acids or enzymes, chemical exfoliants dislodge dead skin by breaking down the connection between skin cells, forcing the layers at the surface to shed. We think they’re the best way to exfoliate because they’re thorough yet gentle. 
  • Physical. Physical exfoliation can be done with scrubs or facial skincare tools like brushes or washcloths. They dislodge dead skin mechanically by literally scrubbing it off. This method provides faster exfoliation, but it’s harder to keep it even, and the risks of irritation are a little higher than with a mild chemical exfoliant. 
  • Hybrid. Hybrid exfoliants include gritty elements to slough away dead skin and chemical exfoliants that promote shedding. They can be very thorough with both immediate and long-term effects. 


  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). There are a lot of different alpha hydroxy acids in skincare, including glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acid. Thanks to its small molecular size, glycolic acid is the most thorough of the bunch but also the most aggressive. The others are a little more gentle and can have hydration-boosting properties. AHAs can be photosensitizing, so you should always pair them with sunscreen. 
  • Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). The most common BHA in skincare is salicylic acid. It’s oil-soluble, so it’s often recommended for oily or acne-prone skin. Additionally, it has soothing effects and isn’t photosensitizing, so it may work well for sensitive skin.
  • Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs). This new category of acids includes gluconolactone and lactobionic acid. These larger molecules are very gentle and hydrating, which are excellent for sensitive and dry skin. 
  • Polishing powders. The microfine texture of a powder is ideal for achieving a more even and gentle physical exfoliation. These powders are usually made from minerals or natural ingredients like rice or bamboo. 
  • Beads. Many scrubs used to include plastic microbeads, but they’ve been phased out in recent years due to their negative environmental impact. Today, jojoba esters and biodegradable beads are far more common. There are no microplastic-based scrubs on our list. 

Skin type

  • Dry. Look for formulas infused with hydrating ingredients like plant oils, glycerin, or hyaluronic acid. Lactic acid and PHA are the ideal exfoliants since they can also hydrate the skin. 
  • Oily. Salicylic acid is your ideal exfoliant since it can penetrate through oils, but you can also use formulas that combine AHA and BHA. 
  • Balanced or combination. Chances are, all exfoliant formulas will work for you, and you can even change up your exfoliation from season to season.
  • Sensitive. Choose gentler chemical exfoliants or products with lower percentages. You may want to avoid glycolic acid altogether and stick to lactic acid or PHA. 
  • Maturing. There’s a lot of research showing that glycolic acid offers anti-aging benefits. That said, all exfoliants will help address signs of aging by removing dull, dead skin and allowing your other products to penetrate better. 


What do dermatologists recommend for exfoliating? 

The American Academy of Dermatology highlights the importance of exfoliating gently. With that in mind, most dermatologists recommend gentle products. The CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser was developed with dermatologists and is a very mild option since it ultimately gets rinsed off.

What’s the best exfoliant for mature skin?

AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid are best for maturing skin, thanks to their ability to reduce signs of photoaging like wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. The Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum and Biossance Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Serum are the best options on our list since they’re also made with other anti-aging components. Just remember that using sunscreen is a must when exfoliating with AHAs.

What happens if you don’t exfoliate?

Contrary to popular belief, exfoliation isn’t mandatory. Our skin sheds dead skin cells all on its own, and exfoliation just helps to speed up that process. It’s only a must when your skin struggles to shed fast enough or at all, which can lead to dullness, rough texture, flakiness, or clogged pores.