Should you be exfoliating the skin on your face?

Sian Babish

There's a lot of conflicting information out there about exfoliating and whether it's actually good for your skin, and it turns out that it all depends on the type of exfoliator and your skin type.

Should you be exfoliating the skin on your face to remove dead skin? Or will this only enlarge your pores?

We were curious about exfoliation and whether this should be a component of a daily skincare routine, so we talked to Dr. Katie Manno from the Skin Cancer and Dermatology Institute of Reno, Nev. 

She gave us the breakdown on exfoliating, which types of exfoliants are good for skin, and how to do it properly. 

If you're looking to buff away your dull complexion and achieve healthy, glowing skin, keep reading.


What does exfoliating actually do?

If your skin feels dull or is affected by acne, it probably has an uneven texture and tone from build-up and layers of dead skin. When you exfoliate, you're removing these extraneous layers to leave skin smooth and refined. Manno says that the main benefit of exfoliators is that they promote skin cell turnover, which results in a radiant, more youthful appearance.


What type of exfoliator should I use?

Not all exfoliators are the same; in fact, formulas vary considerably and depending on your skin, you could have mixed results. As a result, Manno recommends using gentle chemical exfoliators, which contain alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs). 

These exfoliators target texture and tone by at the microscopic level by penetrating the skin's surface. For most people, they won't cause irritation or skin eruptions. These exfoliators to your skincare routine should have long-term results like improved suppleness, smoothness, and elasticity.


BestReviews-recommended exfoliators:

Revolution Skincare Mild Skin Exfoliator: $7 at Ulta

Pick up this vegan, cruelty-free formula with five percent lactic and hyaluronic acids. Both your face and neck will feel plump and firm after use, and you'll love how even your skin tone looks. An ideal option for the person with a tight budget.

The Body Shop Seaweed Pore-Cleansing Facial Exfoliator: $18 at Ulta

Look no further for a gentle blended formula featuring seaweed, vitamins, and minerals for intense hydration. This natural, non-GMO exfoliator is also free of oil, phthalates, and triclosan. Be aware that this exfoliator does have fragrance if you're sensitive to that.

Paula's Choice Skin-Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant: $29.50 at Amazon

This non-abrasive formula helps unclog pores from stubborn blackheads and diminishes dead skin. Its formula even includes green tea that acts as a skin-calming antioxidant to combat redness 

Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Exfoliating Peel Spray: $52 at Ulta

This plant-derived exfoliator is a skin-quenching combination of botanical juices, including cucumber and aloe. Simply spray it on your face and within seconds, the formula begins lifting away old cells. 


Understanding glycolic acid

Gentle chemical exfoliators often contain glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). This has a reputation for working quickly and effectively and works well with other AHAs and BHAs in exfoliator formulas.  

Glycolic acid immediately penetrates skin to promote collagen production, and in turn, aids in giving skin a supple, firm appearance. It's often chosen by those with acne-prone or mature skin, though individuals with normal skin can also benefit from an exfoliator with glycolic acid.

Here are some exfoliators featuring glycolic acid:


The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution: $7.20 at Sephora

Treat your face to this all-natural exfoliator featuring glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid. Within 10 minutes, dead skin cells become old news and you end up with radiant, smooth skin. 

L'Oreal Paris Pure Glycolic Acid Face Serum: $23.94 at Amazon

This formula intended for daily use features 10 percent glycolic acid and is free of parabens, oils, dyes, and fragrances. It's lightweight enough to be worn under makeup, and it absorbs quickly so it won't transfer to garments or bedding.

Gytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel: $64 at Dermstore

Restore your skin's natural glow by removing the build-up of dead skin cells, especially around your chin and cheeks. This glycolic acid exfoliator is specially formulated to be irritation-free for smooth and soothing results.

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Baby Facial 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask: $80 at Sephora

Enjoy a spa-quality exfoliation experience with this top-rated formula. Glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric acids work together to improve clarity and even out dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. 


How to work exfoliators into your routine

Like any new skincare product, Manno advises that people introduce gentle chemical exfoliators into skincare routines gradually. This will allow time for skin to acclimate to the formula, and you'll be able to identify results or reactions more easily. 


Helpful exfoliation tips from a dermatologist

It's best to stay away from exfoliators featuring tiny beads, says Manno, as they can be far too abrasive on skin. While the idea of buffing away rough and bumpy skin is appealing, a gentle, non-abrasive exfoliator will do the job. 

BestReviews recommends Ofra Cosmetics Soft Pearl Peel Exfoliator. This gentle, non-abrasive exfoliator is safe for all skin types and can be used wet or dry. Skin feels clearer and softer within a couple uses, especially since it also targets blackheads. 

If you have sensitive skin, you might want to think twice about using exfoliators. Manno says there's the possibility that exfoliators will exacerbate irritation and redness in sensitive skin -- which ultimately counterproductive. If you're going to use them, choose carefully and opt for exfoliators specially formulated for sensitive skin.

BestReviews recommends SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser for people with sensitive skin. Brighten skin and clear blemishes with this dual-action cleanser featuring glycolic acid. It's alcohol-free, sulfate-free, and safe for all skin types -- especially sensitive and mature skin.

Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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