Hands-down some of the best exfoliators we've ever tried
For such an important step in your skin care routine, you need one that (over)delivers
Beauty Crew Contributing Editor / January 24 2019
We don’t like to pick favourites, but we’re pretty obsessed with exfoliants. Because it’s basically impossible to have great skin without a good exfoliant. Big call, we know, but we’ll explain our reasoning.
When we think ‘bad skin’, we think dull and lacklustre, maybe congested with acne, or perhaps it’s a dry and flaky complexion getting you down. All not ideal, but all fixable with a worthy exfoliant.
An exfoliant’s job is to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin and encourage cell turnover so you’re left with a clearer, smoother and brighter complexion. If you leave all that debris - which builds up every day - just sitting there, it can get in the way of your skin functioning properly and your products sinking in and doing their thing.
Exfoliants have changed so much lately and the options out there have truly stepped up their games. If you’re not head-over-heels in love with your current face exfoliator, then it’s time you swapped it out for a new one.
Given the overwhelming number of exfoliants on the market (did you know that they come in every possible variation: physical, chemical, natural, peels, serums, masks - and many don’t outright call themselves exfoliants), it’s no wonder you’re yet to meet ‘The One’. Thankfully, we’ve been lucky enough to find some pretty amazing ones ourselves, which we think you’ll love, too. These are some of the best exfoliants, according to our Beauty Crew team and SUPERcrew members.
#13 / Skinstitut Glycolic Scrub 14%
If acne, blackheads, congestion and/or pigmentation are among your top concerns, this exfoliant will help sort your skin out. Glycolic acid, which is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), is an excellent exfoliant and anti-ageing ingredient, and you’ll find 14 per cent of it in this chemical and physical exfoliant hybrid (jojoba beads take care of the manual exfoliation). The addition of antibacterial tea tree oil in this exfoliating face wash helps clear breakouts and keep them from reappearing.
The review: “I recently started using this scrub a few times a week to try and boost cell turnover and improve post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation. Although the marks are still there, the overall texture and appearance of my skin is much nicer, and the spots are slowly beginning to fade.” Shannon, SUPERcrew member
#12 / Frank Body Creamy Face Scrub
Starring the hero ingredient Frank Body is famous for, freshly roasted and ground robusta coffee is in charge of smoothing and refining your skin texture. Then it’s over to white clay to detoxify skin, and a team of nourishing oils (coconut, rosehip, sweet almond and grapeseed) to ensure your complexion is topped up in the hydration department post-exfoliation. We’ve also read reviews about it helping heal acne scarring! On Frank Body’s website, this exfoliating face scrub has 240 five-star reviews! Our tip: Use it in the morning - its nutty, coffee scent will perk you right up!
The review: “I’m loving Frank Body Creamy Face Scrub at the minute. While it removes dry skin, it isn’t too face-hurty rough and it doesn’t make my skin feel tight and dry afterwards. My skin looks fresh, even and smooth after each use, and I’ve actually noticed that I’m getting less breakouts. On a side note, it smells *amazing*.” Erin Docherty, Beauty Crew’s Beauty Writer
#11 / First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Intensive Peel
This peel mask needs to be left on for one to five minutes to give it time to really remove all those dead skin cells, and brighten and smooth in the process. As the name suggests, this is an intensive formula, so start off slow by using it just once a week. It contains lactic acid, salicylic acid and mushroom enzymes to exfoliate, and clay and charcoal to rebalance the skin’s pH level to get excess oil under control.
The review: “One of my favourite products for sweeping away dead skin cells is the First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Intensive Peel. If my skin is looking a little dull or in need of a good exfoliation, I whip this one out. As it only needs to be left on for up to five minutes, I like to apply it to cleansed skin before I get in the shower and then I can wash it off more easily when I’m under the shower. If you’re like me, you’ll feel a strong tingling sensation but that’s just the acids working their magic – it is an ‘intensive’ formulation so it’s quite strong. Once you see the results from the mask, any discomfort is totally worth it! I’ve actually had people comment on how glowy my skin has been on the days after using this product - it really does deliver visible results.” Isobel Larkin, Beauty Crew’s Beauty Assistant
#10 / QV Face Exfoliating Polish
Anyone with sensitive skin who is worried that physical exfoliants will irritate their skin, this one will change your mind. It has beads in the formula to take care of the exfoliating part, while vitamin B3 helps reduce skin sensitivity. There’s also moisturising safflower oil and antioxidant vitamin E for a little something extra. Dry skin types will also love this pharmacy buy.
The review: “I love this because I do have dry to normal skin depending on the season and this cream has very tiny grains that gently remove the dead skin on your face. After rinsing and drying off, it really smoothes your skin. Skin feels totally clean and refreshed. This polish can be used whether you have normal, dry or sensitive skin. I've been using it for years and still love it.” Amanda C, SUPERcrew member
#9 / Neutrogena Deep Clean Purifying Cooling Gel Scrub
We love it when a drugstore product can compete with the best of them, and this one will pleasantly surprise you. It’s oil-free and cooling on skin, and contains tiny, environmentally-friendly and natural exfoliator beads to polish the skin while salicylic acid and glycolic acid deliver a gentle chemical exfoliation. It has 91 reviews on our site and has earned itself a 4.5 star rating.
The review: “I am a huge fan of Neutrogena skincare, it just seems to work wonders on my skin. My favourite scrub is Neutrogena Deep Clean Purifying Cooling Gel Scrub. It has a light mint scent and has a really lovely cooling sensation when applied to the skin. It also has small granules or beads that work to lightly exfoliate the skin as you work the cleanser in. It is gentle and doesn't leave any irritation. Affordable and easily accessible. By far a skin saviour in the cleansing category.” Amanda G, SUPERcrew member
#8 / Arbonne Genius Nightly Resurfacing Pads & Solution
More than just an exfoliant - although mandelic acid in the formula does an exception job of removing dead skin cells and boosting cell turnover - this active solution contains retinoids to improve pigmentation and phytinol to smooth the skin’s surface and even out skin tone. Applied at night, it works while you sleep so you wake up with radiant and younger-looking skin.
The review: “I recently discovered chemical exfoliants and I am hooked on them. This one in particular. It’s a bit expensive, but it’s what helped clear my hormonal acne when I’d lost all hope! Weirdly, it doesn’t even claim to be an acne treatment, but it definitely works brilliantly as one. It’s surprisingly gentle (my first few times using it my skin tingled a bit - which is completely normal - but my skin never felt irritated) and it is the most nourishing of all the chemical exfoliants I’ve tried. I saw improvements in my skin straight away - smoother, clearer and just plain happier skin.” Chelsea Tromans, Beauty Crew’s Contributing Editor
#7 / Sand & Sky Exfoliating Treatment
First up, if vegan, cruelty-free, homegrown Australian ingredients, sustainably sourced and/or a formula that contains zero nasties is important to you, this one ticks all of those boxes. As for its exfoliating abilities, bamboo and macadamia slough away that skin-dulling layer of dead skin cells while the AHA chemical exfoliant ingredient - Australian finger limes - speeds up cell turnover. And of course, we can’t forget Sand & Sky’s infamous ingredient, Australian pink clay, to soak up excess oil and detox skin. Hello, a more radiant and clearer complexion.
The review: “Without a doubt it's the Sand & Sky Exfoliating Treatment. This is a great all-rounder, you can use it as a clay treatment mask for a gentle exfoliation and deep clean, or just simply as an exfoliator. It's a bit pricey but when it shrinks and cleans my pores as effectively as this I'm more than happy to pay.” Anne, SUPERcrew member
#6 / ASAP Clear Complexion Gel
Watch out stubborn pimples, because this chemical exfoliant is determined to leave no breakout behind. Using a mix of AHAs (glycolic acid and lactic acid) and BHA salicylic acid, the gel formula unclogs pores, gently removes dead skin, washes away acne-causing bacteria, and decongests skin. Other ingredients like liquorice, bilberry and calendula extracts ensure skin stays calm and not irritated, while also tackling those niggling issues that long-term acne can cause, like an uneven skin tone and acne scarring.
The review: “This is spectacular at evening out skin tone and clearing up any pimples. My face feels baby soft and smooth after using it. You only need a tiny amount so it lasts a long time.” Milan, SUPERcrew member
#5 / Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid
For those concerned with large pores, ageing, redness and blackheads, reach for this leave-on exfoliant. It’s enriched with two per cent salicylic acid, which is a great chemical exfoliant, plus we all know how good it is for clearing acne-prone skin. Oh, and it’s Paula’s Choice’s number one product worldwide, so that’s saying something! You can expect radiant, smoother and younger-looking skin with this formula.
The review: “This has transformed my skin! Great value as it lasts a long time, it's gentle even on my sensitive skin, makes my face super smooth and it has been the only product to minimise the sebaceous filaments on my nose. From the very first time I used this I saw and felt a difference.” Georgia, SUPERcrew member
#4 / NIP+FAB Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads
Yep, this little jar of solution-soaked pads is an exfoliant. And a damn fine one, too. Exfoliating pads are basically the easiest, most effortless and an incredibly effective way to clear your skin of dead skin cells and improve your skin texture. This one has 2.8 per cent glycolic acid to take care of the exfoliating task, witch hazel to even out the skin tone, hyaluronic acid to moisturise, and blue daisy is there to keep your skin calm. What you’re left with is a smooth skin texture and a bright, healthy-looking glow. And who wouldn’t want that?! PS. Kylie Jenner is a big fan, too.
The review: “My favourite exfoliant has to be the NIP+FAB Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads. Using these pads about 3 times a week has helped in dramatically decreasing the redness and uneven skin tone on my face. It contains hyaluronic acid also so my skin never feels dry as it sometimes does when using other exfoliants!” Alex, SUPERcrew member
#3 / Murad Age Reform AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
Packed with all your favourite AHAs (lactic and glycolic acid) and BHA (salicylic acid), as well as jojoba beads, this product does it both: physical and chemical exfoliation. Expect brighter, smoother, more even and younger-looking skin in a very short amount of time. Bonus: It’s great for treating keratosis pilaris (you know, those annoyingly stubborn red bumps on your arms), too.
The review: “I love that this exfoliant ticks two kinds of exfoliation in one step: a gentle manual scrub with the gentle jojoba beads, and a chemical one with salicylic, lactic and glycolic acids. I only use it once or twice a week (depending on how congested I feel my skin is) and it leaves my skin feeling really fresh, smooth and clean. I found that after using it my congestion doesn’t get as bad as it used to.” Carli Alman, Beauty Crew’s Editor
#2 / Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys
Noticing a bit of a trend? It's all about exfoliating pads right now. These ones in particular are drenched in an all-natural solution that exfoliates while still being hydrating on skin (yep, it’s possible!). This chemical exfoliant contains lactic acid (the most gentle AHA) and aloe vera (soothing and hydrating) to effortlessly get rid of dead skin cells and reveal a more refined skin texture, reduce the appearance of fine lines, and revitalise a dull complexion. It boasts a 4.9 star rating on both Go-To’s website and Sephora US’s website.
The review: “Go-To SWIPEYS!!! I had been using them for so long and changed to test another brand and I have nothing but REGRET! Changing products really highlighted how amazing these swipes are. They really kept my skin lovely and smooth and handled my breakouts. I honestly love this product.” Pru, SUPERcrew member
#1 / Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant
They don’t get much more iconic that Dermalogica’s Microfoliant. This powder, when mixed with water, gives skin a non-abrasive scrub to dislodge stubborn surface debris that is getting in the way of your glowing skin goals. Ingredients like green tea and colloidal oatmeal make sure your skin is soothed as you slough, and a skin brightening complex works to even out your skin tone.
The reviews: “The best exfoliant is a classic, Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant. It exfoliates my sometimes-sensitive skin, giving it a glow without any irritation. The product lasts a long time as you don’t need a lot of it to do the job, leaving the skin incredibly smooth.” Aneta, SUPERcrew member
“Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant is my fave physical exfoliant - you can adjust the grittiness with how much water you add to the powder and it’s really gentle on the skin whilst getting rid of all the dead skin and debris.” Bree, SUPERcrew member
Have you ever tried a face exfoliator brush? Here’s why you should, plus your other options when it comes to washing your face. And if you’re keen to boost the benefits of your exfoliant, you need to add this product into your skin care routine.
What do you think is the best face exfoliator? Share your review with us below!
Main image credit: Getty
Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.