The 8 Best Exfoliators of 2022

The T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial will help give you healthy, smooth skin

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Including an exfoliator in your regular skincare routine can provide benefits. Exfoliation, the removal of dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin, stimulates the turnover of new cells that "helps reveal brighter, more polished skin," says Debra Jaliman, MD, board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.“It also helps serums and certain skincare products penetrate the skin better. This allows for a smoother and more even application of your moisturizer.”

Reviewed & Approved

We chose Drunk Elephant's T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial as our best overall pick because it exfoliates without irritating, making it great for a range of skin types. If you want a product that is made specifically for facial exfoliation, we recommend the Skinceuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight.

When looking for an exfoliator, keep in mind that there are two main methods of at-home exfoliation—physical exfoliation, which uses a tool or a scrub to remove dead skin cells; and chemical exfoliation, which uses products that contains acids such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs, which include glycolic acid) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs, which include salicylic acid). Additionally, you'll want to make sure you're looking for products that cater to your specific skin type, especially if you have sensitive skin. We researched dozens of exfoliators and evaluated them for form, key ingredients, usage, targeted anatomy, and pricing.

These are the best exfoliators on the market today.

Best Overall: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial

4.8
T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial

 Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Formulation of AHA and BHA blend for gentle exfoliation

  • Free of essential oils, silicones, and fragrance

  • pH level of 3.5

Cons
  • Expensive

  • May be too strong for particularly sensitive skin

Who else recommends it? Harper's Bazaar also picked the Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial.

What do buyers say? 1,200+ Drunken Elephant reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

Drunk Elephant is known for its focus on “clean” formulations—products free of essential oils, alcohols, silicones, and other ingredients that can cause skin issues—which is one of the reasons why it's our top pick when shopping for an exfoliator.

T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial is a mask treatment that’s packed with a blend of 25 percent alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs (glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric acids) and 2 percent beta hydroxy acid or BHA (salicylic acid) that exfoliate and resurface skin for a smoother, brighter appearance. It can help minimize the look of pores, fine lines, acne, and wrinkles while delivering brightening benefits for a more even and “baby-soft” complexion.

The brand recommends using the treatment once weekly, applying the mask to clean skin and leaving it on for 20 minutes. And while it’s formulated with all skin types in mind, the potent ingredients can be too strong for some with sensitive skin, so it’s important to do a patch test or start slow with usage, especially if you already have redness or sensitized areas.

Key Ingredients: AHA blend (glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric acids), BHA (salicylic acid), chickpea flour | Usage: Leave-on mask (20 minutes), use once weekly | Scent: Fragrance-free

What the Experts Say

“Lactic acid  gently exfoliates to reveal smoother and more glowing skin. It also plumps the skin.” Dr. Debra Jaliman, board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Best for Face: SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight

SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight

Courtesy of Bluemercury

Pros
  • Promotes exfoliation and clarity

  • Dye- and fragrance-free

  • Tested tolerable for nightly use

Cons
  • Nighttime use only

  • May cause temporary skin purging

  • Expensive

Glycolic acid has the smallest-sized molecules of all the alpha-hydroxy acids, which means it can easily penetrate the skin to exfoliate more effectively. The highlight of the SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew is its 10 percent glycolic acid formulation, which does just that.

This night cream features glycolic acid to promote cellular turnover, but it is also blended with 2% phytic acid to help with skin clarity and brightness. A blend of natural oils and botanicals further helps in soothing and hydrating skin. A 12-week clinical study showed that users of the SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew experienced an improvement in the appearance of hyperpigmentation, skin texture, and tone.

While glycolic acid is a safe and effective ingredient in skincare, some skin types may need time to acclimate to it. SkinCeuticals recommends initially using the Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight to once every other evening then increasing to every evening after one week. The high concentration of glycolic acid may also cause mild symptoms, such as redness and temporary skin purging, but these side effects resolve with continued use.

Key Ingredients: 10% glycolic acid, 2% phytic acid, 1% soothing complex (natural oils and botanicals, including jojoba ad sunflower seed) | Usage: Once every evening | Scent: Fragrance-free

What the Experts Say

“It is best to exfoliate after cleansing at night as most chemical exfoliants contain ingredients that can cause your skin to become sun-sensitive.” – Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, cosmetic dermatologist, chief medical officer and founder of PFRANKMD, and author of The Pro-Aging Playbook

Best Body Wash: OGX Smoothing + Coconut Coffee Body Cream

OGX Smoothing + Coconut Coffee Body Cream

Courtesy of Walmart

Pros
  • Moisturizing

  • Sulfate-free surfactants

  • Nice scent

Cons
  • May not be exfoliating enough for some

  • Scent doesn't last long

Regular exfoliation can be beneficial all over the body, and one way to exfoliate the body is with a good body wash and scrub, like the OGX Smoothing Coconut and Coffee Scrub and Wash.

This affordable body wash is infused with arabica coffee and coconut oil that help moisturize your skin and is formulated with scrubby rice bran wax that exfoliate and smoothen rough patches. We especially love the scent of this lathering wash—the coconut oil and arabica coffee aroma is invigorating but not overwhelming.

This is a great option for those looking for extra exfoliation in the shower or bath, though due to the fact that it is sulfate-free, it doesn't give you a sudsy, bubbly wash. It is, however, gentle enough for sensitive skins.

Key Ingredients: Coconut oil, Arabica coffee, Oryza sativa (rice) bran wax for exfoliation | Usage: In shower or bath | Scent: Coconut and coffee

Best for Sensitive Skin: Maelove The Night Renewer Glycolic Acid Cream

Maelove The Night Renewer
Courtesy of Maelove.
Pros
  • Formulated with 10% glycolic acid

  • Has soothing and hydrating ingredients

  • Gluten-free formula

Cons
  • May cause slight tingling

  • May not be hydrating enough for extra dry skin

Glycolic acid is also the key ingredient in the Maelove The Night Renewer, helping deliver the benefits of efficient but gentle exfoliation for sensitive skin. This exfoliator uses 10% medical-grade glycolic acid, which can help improve skin texture, fade dark spots, and diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pores.

Even with its potent glycolic acid formulation, this exfoliator is soothing enough for skin that’s easily irritated. It features a blend of calming ingredients—vitamin E, squalane, shea butter, arnica flower, and aloe—to soothe, while hyaluronic acid aids in increasing hydration in the skin.

Key Ingredients: 10% glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, shea butter, arnica flower, aloe | Usage: Three nights a week until skin adjusts | Scent: Fragrance-free

What the Experts Say

“When looking for an exfoliant for sensitive skin, a lower percentage of exfoliant is best tolerated.” — Emily Wood, MD, board-certified dermatologist, Westlake Dermatology

Best for Dry Skin: Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

5
Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

Nordstrom

Pros
  • Combines both physical and chemical exfoliation

  • Can be used in mornings or evenings

  • Tested in independent clinical study

Cons
  • Expensive

  • May be too harsh for sensitive skin types

Combining the benefits of physical and chemical exfoliation, the Kate Somerville Exfolikate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment is an at-home facial that can bring effective, “clinic-inspired” exfoliation into your regular skincare routine.

This exfoliating scrub helps to improve texture and pores, remove surface dullness, and soften fine lines and wrinkles. That’s thanks to the AHA lactic acid and BHA salicylic acid, which help to chemically exfoliate by dissolving dead skin, and the papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin enzymes, which help naturally smoothen dry and flaky skin. The silica in this treatment provides the physical exfoliation by acting as a natural bead to slough off dead skin cells.

The other ingredients, which include aloe vera, honey, and vitamin E, provide the soothing and smoothing properties, gentle enough for sensitive skin.

Key Ingredients: AHA (lactic acid) and BHA (salicylic acid), papaya, pineapple and pumpkin enzymes, aloe vera, honey, and vitamin E | Usage: Once or twice a week; massage into skin for 30 second and leave on for up to two minutes | Scent: Aloe vera

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Tula So Poreless Deep Exfoliating Blackhead Scrub

Tula Blackhead Scrub

 Courtesy of Ulta

Pros
  • Targets pores and blackheads

  • Sulfate-free

  • Cruelty-free

Cons
  • May be too harsh for sensitive skin

  • Not fragrance-free

If you have oily skin, you may find that you’re constantly dealing with blackheads or clogged pores. The Tula So Poreless Blackhead Scrub is another effective exfoliating scrub that combines the benefits of physical and chemical exfoliation to help remove the dead cell build-up on the skin that can plug up pores and cause comedones.

This scrub’s physical exfoliation comes in the form of pink salt, volcanic sand, and pomegranate to help purify pores and minimize their appearance. Tula’s formulation also includes lactic acid and hibiscus flower acid, which chemically exfoliates the skin to dissolve dirt and unclog pores. It’s further packed with probiotic extracts and raspberry leaf to help soften and balance skin. 

The So Poreless Blackhead Scrub is also free of common skincare ingredients that may cause irritation for some sensitive skins, such as parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and formaldehyde.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, hibiscus flower acid, pink salt, volcanic sand, witch hazel | Usage: Use two to three times a week; massage into clean skin with warm water | Scent: Raspberry and pomegranate

Best Scrub: Acure Brightening Facial Scrub

Acure Brightening Facial Scrub

 Courtesy of Ulta

Pros
  • Suitable for all skin types

  • Vegan and cruelty-free

  • Affordable

Cons
  • Some found the texture runny

  • Some found granules to be inconsistent

We love the Acure Brightening Facial Scrub for its effective physical exfoliation and skin-brightening benefits—all for an affordable price. This refreshing facial scrub uses sea kelp and lemon peel to exfoliate and soften skin, French green clay to help detoxify pores, and Madonna Lily to brighten skin.

It’s also free of many skincare ingredients that can cause issues for those with sensitive or easily irritated skin, such as parabens, sulfates, mineral oil, petrolatum, and formaldehyde. In addition, it’s vegan and cruelty-free.

Key Ingredients: Sea kelp, French green clay, lemon peel, sage, blackberry | Usage: Use three times a week, apply to wet face and scrub gently | Scent: Fresh citrus

Best for Legs: Mario Badescu Raspberry Body Scrub

Mario Badescu Raspberry Body Scrub
Pros
  • Silky, whipped consistency

  • Gentle exfoliation

  • Refreshing scent

Cons
  • Not for use on face

  • Not for intense exfoliation

Many tend to ignore the legs when it comes to exfoliation, but exfoliating is a key step in keeping legs smooth and soft to the touch—especially if you shave your legs. The Mario Badescu Raspberry Body Scrub uses a blend of papaya extract and raspberry seeds to deliver the gentle exfoliating powers of granular seeds and fruit enzymes. The fruit-based formulation helps gently buff away dull, dry skin, which can be helpful before applying products, such as sunless tanner, to ensure you get an even application.

We also love the silky, whipped consistency of this body scrub, which helps bring a luxe, spa-like experience in the shower. This gentle exfoliator can also be used in conjunction with an AHA body scrub or body lotion for more intense exfoliation.

Key Ingredients: Papaya extract, raspberry seeds | Usage: Use three times a week in the shower, massage on wet skin using your hands, a loofah, or sponge | Scent: Light berry scent

Final Verdict

The Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial (view at Amazon) is our top pick because of its potent blend of AHAs and BHA that helps resurface skin in 20 minutes, and while it’s on the pricier end, less expensive than a chemical peel at a dermatologist’s office. For a more affordable but still effective pick, we recommend the Maelove The Night Renewer Glycolic Acid cream (view at Maelove) to help improve skin texture and diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pores.

How We Selected

When selecting the best exfoliators, we spoke with dermatologists and spent hours combing the web for the best and most effective products. After taking all of our options into consideration, we determined which to feature based on a few key criteria as recommended by dermatologists: key ingredients, form, and dosage.

Once we narrowed down our options, we compared each exfoliator's benefits to its price tag. While some choices on our list may be more expensive than others, we wanted to give a wide range of options for buyers that would fit all needs and budgets. Based on all of these factors, we compiled this list of the best exfoliators.

What to Look for in an Exfoliator

Physical Vs. Chemical

Chemical exfoliation involves products with ingredients that do the work for you, versus a manual method. Chemical exfoliators are derived from different active ingredients that have the ability to remove dead skin cells, according to Dr. Wood.

Physical exfoliators manually remove skin cells and other debris from the surface of the skin.  “Physical exfoliators typically have salt or sugar granules, or sometimes finely ground powders, that physically remove dead skin cells as they are massaged on the skin,” says Dr. Wood.

While many physical exfoliators are gentle enough for regular use, pay close attention to the type of granules a scrub or product uses. “I recommend avoiding [physical] exfoliators with large beads or particles that are harsh for the skin surface,” says Dr. Wood. “These larger particles or beads can cause microabrasions to the skin surface.”

Ingredients

Many dermatologists recommend chemical exfoliants as they work to improve skin texture without abrasive agents. Before you choose an exfoliant, consider the active ingredients of the product for your skin type.

Acids

“Within the category of chemical exfoliators are alpha and beta hydroxy acids,” explains Emily Wood, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology. “Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as salicylic acid, are able to penetrate oil glands which is helpful for acne.” 

Alpha hydroxy acids are reported to improve wrinkling, roughness, and mottled pigmentation of photodamaged skin after weeks of daily application. “Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) include glycolic, lactic, tartaric, mandelic, malic, and citric acids,” says Dr. Wood.  She adds that both AHAs and BHAs can help with decreasing the appearance of pores and wrinkles, even out skin tone, improve skin texture, and unclog pores.

Retinoids

Some chemical exfoliants also include topical retinoids, such as retinol and Retin-A. Topical retinoids are prescribed to help improve and diminish signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.

Skin Type

Exfoliation is an effective way to improve the appearance of the skin, but it’s important to consider your skin type before using an exfoliating product so you can avoid damaging your skin.

For sensitive skin, it’s all about the concentration of the exfoliant, according to Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist, chief medical officer and founder of PFRANKMD. “I usually recommend a glycolic acid that’s about two percent or a retinol that contains 0.025% and moisturize first before applying the retinol,” says Dr. Frank.

According to the ADA, those with oily, thicker skin may want to use stronger chemical treatments or mechanical exfoliation. “Acne-prone skin can generally tolerate higher exfoliating acids like 10 percent glycolic acid or retinol in 0.05-0.1 percent concentrations,” Dr. Frank explains.

Those with more mature or drier skin types may also need to exfoliate more gently or carefully. “Mature skin typically lacks hydration so stick with lower acids and build up a tolerance if your skin can handle it without irritation or dryness,” says Dr. Frank.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do I need to exfoliate?

    While exfoliation is not necessary, it's a step that can help in brightening skin and improving the effectiveness of topical skincare products such as serums, moisturizers, and moisturizers. “It is helpful for gently removing dead skin cells to improve pores, texture, and dull appearing skin,” says Dr. Wood. “Exfoliating can also help prevent acne from developing, especially whiteheads and blackheads.”

  • How often should I use an exfoliant?

    It’s important to start slow when it comes to exfoliation, whether you’re using a physical or chemical exfoliator. “Start with only a few times weekly as it can be irritating if done too often,” says Dr. Wood. “If one is new to exfoliating, I recommend starting about twice weekly in the evening.”

    You'll want to choose the right method of exfoliation for your skin type. While many exfoliating products are gentle enough for most people to use, those with sensitive skin may need to be more careful. “If you have sensitive skin, you can exfoliate one to two times a week,” says Dr. Jaliman. “You can exfoliate daily if you don’t have sensitive skin.”

  • How does exfoliating fit into my skincare routine?

    Experts recommend adding an exfoliating product into your nighttime skincare routine. “It is best to exfoliate after cleansing at night as most chemical exfoliants contain ingredients that can cause your skin to become sun-sensitive,” says Dr. Frank. If you are using an exfoliant, being diligent with sunscreen use during the day is important.

Why Trust Verywell Health

Stephanie Valera has written and edited articles for Mashable, Everyday Health, Weather.com, HuffPost, and CBSNewYork.com, among other publications. She has also held editorial positions at CBS, NBC, and BBC America. She is passionate about climate and environmental issues, health, and wellness.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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