The 18 Best Face Exfoliators of 2020

If you were to list three products you need for glowing skin, an exfoliator would probably be at the top of the list. After all, the act of exfoliating entails literally sloughing away dead skin cells to reveal the newer, more radiant cells underneath. Resurfaced skin can also allow your products to sink in more effectively (and work better as a result). 

However, despite the benefits of using an exfoliator, overuse can lead to redness, irritation, and even breakouts. Additionally, using an exfoliator that’s either too harsh or too gentle for your skin type can rob you of that luminous finish you’re going for. To strike a balance, first, make sure you’re not exfoliating too often (no more than three times a week). For dry or sensitive skin, one to two times a week should be enough. Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Medical College in New York City, recommends exfoliating with a physical exfoliator for about 30 seconds (or less) using small, gentle, circular motions. For chemical exfoliators, follow the instructions printed on the packaging.

Second — and perhaps more important — make sure you’re using a formula that contains the best exfoliants for your skin type. Henry suggests initially avoiding mechanical exfoliation if you have sensitive skin and instead choosing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid. “They exfoliate the upper layers of the skin while also hydrating and helping your skin retain moisture,” she says.

On the other hand, Henry says physical exfoliation is key for oily skin, since it helps remove any layers of oil buildup. “When you have oily skin, your dead skin cells are more adherent and don’t flake off as quickly, and this can contribute to breakouts.” She recommends using an exfoliating scrub with salicylic acid (a type of beta hydroxy acid, or BHA), which “gently speeds up skin turnover and better penetrates oil and oily follicles” to keep skin clear and clean.

Below, we rounded up a few dermatologist-approved exfoliators to get you glowing — whether you’re sensitive, oily, or somewhere else on the skin-type spectrum. 

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