Exfoliants are excellent for promoting an even tone and smooth texture, and they’re a great addition to a combination skin skincare routine. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best drugstore exfoliants for combination skin.

Our Recommendations

1. Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA

Paula’s Choice Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA

Paula's Choice Exfoliant for Exfoliation, Large Pores, and Acne

Paula’s Choice Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA

This exfoliant contains a powerful concentration of salicylic acid, which works to unclog pores to minimize their appearance while also fighting breakouts.

Skin types: Normal, Oily and Combination
Best for: Exfoliation, Large Pores, and Acne
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, massage the exfoliant into the skin. Follow up with a moisturizer.
See on Amazon

The 4% concentration of salicylic acid (which is higher than the cult-favorite Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant) helps to unclog pores and promote a more even skin texture and tone. This makes this an excellent exfoliant for those dealing with large pores and breakouts and wanting to improve the overall appearance of the skin.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Non-greasy
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

This exfoliant contains additional antioxidant-rich ingredients that protect the skin and fight signs of aging, as well as soothing and hydrating ingredients. This includes glycerin, allantoin, grape seed extract, green tea leaf extract, and matricaria flower extract.

Water (Aqua), Butylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Salicylic Acid, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Glycerin, Aminomethyl Propanol, Adenosine, Allantoin, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizinate, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract, Avena Sativa (Oat) Bran Extract, Punica Granatum Fruit Extract, Sambucus Nigra Fruit Extract, Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Lycium Barbarum Fruit Extract, Peucedanum Graveolens (Dill) Extract, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Benzyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 27, 2021.

2. Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion Exfoliant

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion Exfoliant

Paula's Choice Exfoliant for Exfoliating, Lightly Hydrating, and Reducing the Signs of Aging

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion Exfoliant

This 8% AHA product exfoliates the skin while also lightly hydrating to keep the skin smooth, calm, and moisturized.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Exfoliating, Lightly Hydrating, and Reducing the Signs of Aging
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, apply a dime-sized amount of the lotion over the entire face. Those with drier skin may choose to use an additional moisturizer on top. During the day, follow up with an SPF.
See on Paula's Choice

The star ingredient in this exfoliating lotion is glycolic acid. Glycolic acid – an alpha hydroxy acid – is an exfoliant that reduces the signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles. It also helps smooth the skin for a more even tone and texture.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight
  • Hydrating

Cons

  • May irritate more sensitive skin

In addition to the glycolic acid, this lotion contains a variety of ingredients that help soothe and moisturize the skin, including glycerin, vitamin E, matricaria flower extract, and sunflower seed oil.

Water (Aqua), Glycolic Acid (exfoliant), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (skin-replenishing emollient), Glycerin (skin-replenishing/hydration), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Beheneth-5 (emulsifier), Behenyl Alcohol (fatty alcohol/emollient thickener), Dimethicone (silicone slip agent), Neopentyl Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate (emollient thickener), Polyglyceryl-3 Stearate (emollient emulsifier), Undecane (emollient), Phospholipids (skin-replenishing fatty acids), Allantoin (skin soothing), Tocopheryl Acetate (vitamin E/antioxidant),Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract (soothing plant extract), Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil (non-fragrant skin-replenishing emollient), Bisabolol (soothing plant component), Arctium Lappa Root Extract (burdock root; antioxidant and soothing plant), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (licorice-derived soothing agent), Panthenol (hydrating B vitamin), Sodium Acrylates Copolymer (film-forming agent), Tridecane (emollient), Hydrogenated Polyisobutene (emollient), Sclerotium Gum (emulsion stabilizer), Polyglyceryl-10 Stearate (emulsifier), Disodium EDTA (chelating agent), Ethylhexylglycerin (preservative), Phenoxyethanol (preservative)

3. Blackhead Power Liquid

COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid

COSRX Exfoliant for Acne and Blackheads

COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid

This beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliator is one of the best COSRX products for those prone to acne and blackheads. It penetrates deep into the skin to unclog pores, which helps maintain clear, smooth skin.

Skin types: Normal, Oily and Combination
Best for: Acne and Blackheads
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, dispense the product onto a cotton pad, and then gently wipe all over the face.
See on Amazon

BHAs are some of the most effective chemical exfoliators when it comes to unclogging pores. This product contains gentle BHAs – willow bark water and betaine salicylate – which exfoliate with a minimized risk of irritation.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • May not be suitable for sensitive skin

This product contains sodium hyaluronate (the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid) and panthenol, which help counteract some of the potentially irritating side effects of the exfoliating ingredients.

Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Water, Butylene Glycol, Betaine, Niacinamide, Betaine Salicylate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Hyaluronate, Panthenol, Xanthan Gum, Ethyl Hexanediol

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 27, 2021.

4. Acne Medication Pads

Stridex Daily Care Acne Medication Pads Maximum Strength

Stridex Exfoliant for Acne and Blackheads

Stridex Daily Care Acne Medication Pads Maximum Strength

These cleansing pads use the power of salicylic acid to help treat and prevent breakouts.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Acne and Blackheads
Tested on animals: Yes
How to use: Cleanse and dry the skin, and then sweep a pad across the entire face. Follow up with a moisturizer.
See on Amazon

These pads are soaked with a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (or BHA). Salicylic acid is an incredibly effective chemical exfoliator that unclogs pores to help treat current breakouts and prevent new acne from forming.

Pros

  • Lightweight solution
  • Exfoliating

Cons

  • Contains fragrance

These alcohol-free pads are textured, which increases the product’s ability to sweep away debris and exfoliate the skin.

Salicylic Acid, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Ammonium Xylenesulfonate, Citric Acid, DMDM Hydantoin, Fragrance, Menthol, PPG-5-Ceteth-20, Purified Water, Simethicone, Sodium Borate, Tetrasodium EDTA.

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 27, 2021.

5. Mandelic Acid 10% + HA

Mandelic Acid 10% + HA

The Ordinary Exfoliant for Exfoliating and Smoothing Tone and Texture

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA

This product offers gentle exfoliation to smooth skin tone and texture, and includes hydrating and soothing ingredients to fight irritation.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Exfoliating and Smoothing Tone and Texture
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, massage the product into the skin. Follow up with a moisturizer. Use up to one time per day.
See on The Ordinary

This exfoliating product contains a 10% concentration of mandelic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid that has a larger molecular size than other commonly used AHAs (like glycolic acid). This means it is gentler on the skin, but still helps to exfoliate and smooth tone and texture while minimizing signs of aging.

Pros

  • Oil-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • May not be strong enough for those experienced with stronger acids

In addition to the mandelic acid, this product contains glycerin, sodium hyaluronate (the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid), and tasmannia lanceolata fruit extract, which hydrate and soothe the skin.

Propanediol, Aqua (Water), Mandelic Acid, Glycerin, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Pentylene Glycol, Polysorbate 20, Sodium Hydroxide, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Effects of Topical Mandelic Acid Treatment on Facial Skin Viscoelasticity"

    Accessed Aug. 26, 2021.

6. Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

The Ordinary Exfoliant for Exfoliating

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

This chemical exfoliator is one of the most-loved The Ordinary products, with an effective 7% concentration of glycolic acid (an alpha-hydroxy acid, or AHA).

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Exfoliating
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, dispense the product onto a cotton round, and gently sweep across the face, neck, and chest.
See on Amazon

Regular exfoliation is necessary in order to maintain clear, smooth skin. This product contains an effective 7% concentration of glycolic acid, which has been shown to reduce the signs of aging (including wrinkles and sun spots) and minimize texture.

Pros

  • Oil-free
  • Alcohol-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight and non-greasy
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

This chemical exfoliator also contains Tasmanian pepperberry, which helps reduce irritation, as well as aloe vera and ginseng, which soothe the skin.

Aqua (Water), Glycolic Acid, Rosa damascena flower water, Centaurea cyanus flower water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Propanediol, Glycerin, Triethanolamine, Aminomethyl Propanol, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Aspartic Acid, Alanine, Glycine, Serine, Valine, Isoleucine, Proline, Threonine, Histidine, Phenylalanine, Glutamic Acid, Arginine, PCA, Sodium PCA, Sodium Lactate, Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose, Urea, Hexyl Nicotinate, Dextrin, Citric Acid, Polysorbate 20, Gellan Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Chloride, Hexylene Glycol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

7. Lactic Acid 5% + HA

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA

The Ordinary Exfoliant for Gentle Exfoliation

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA

This chemical exfoliator gently exfoliates while soothing and hydrating the skin to reduce irritation.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Gentle Exfoliation
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, gently massage a few drops of the serum into the face, neck, and chest. Follow up with a moisturizer.
See on Amazon

All skin types need regular exfoliation in order to maintain smooth and clear skin. However, some may need a gentler exfoliation to minimize irritation. This option contains lactic acid, a mild alpha-hydroxy acid that gently exfoliates the skin to minimize hyperpigmentation, improve texture, and promote a clear complexion.

Pros

  • Alcohol-free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free
  • Oil-free
  • Fragrance-free

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin (although milder than many other AHAs)

In addition to lactic acid, this product contains sodium hyaluronate (the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid), which increases moisture levels in the skin. It also contains Tasmanian pepperberry, which soothes the skin.

Aqua (Water), Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Propanediol, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Acacia Senegal Gum, Xanthan Gum, Isoceteth-20, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Hydroxide, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin"

    Accessed Aug. 9, 2021.

8. B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum

La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum

La Roche-Posay Exfoliant for Hyperpigmentation and Wrinkles

La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum

This serum combines glycolic acid with other exfoliating and soothing ingredients that minimize fine lines and wrinkles, brighten hyperpigmentation, and improve overall skin tone and texture.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Hyperpigmentation and Wrinkles
Tested on animals: Yes
How to use: At night, after cleansing, apply the serum all over the face, neck, and chest.
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This serum contains a 10% concentration of exfoliating glycolic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid), which promotes the production of collagen and speeds up skin cell renewal. This is excellent for fighting fine lines and wrinkles and evening skin tone and texture. It also contains kojic acid, lipo-hydroxy acid, and tranexamic acid to further exfoliate and brighten the skin.

Pros

  • Oil-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Dermatologist tested

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

In addition to the acids mentioned above, this serum contains vitamin B5, which helps soothe the skin.

10% Pure Glycolic Acid, Aqua / Water, Alcohol Denat., Glycolic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Potassium Hydroxide, Ammonium Polyacryloyldimethyl Taurate, Tranexamic Acid, Kojic Acid, C12-13 Alkyl Lactate, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Panthenol, Capryloyl Salicylic Acid, Disodium Edta.

9. 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

Paula's Choice Exfoliant for Exfoliating and Reducing the Signs of Aging

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

This gel exfoliant contains glycolic acid (an alpha-hydroxy acid, or AHA), a chemical exfoliator that sheds dead skin cells to reveal smooth, younger looking skin.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Exfoliating and Reducing the Signs of Aging
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, apply a dime-sized amount of the gel all over the face. Follow up with a moisturizer.
See on Amazon

AHAs like glycolic acid are commonly used to reduce the signs of aging, including wrinkles. This gel exfoliant contains an effective 8% concentration of glycolic acid, along with other soothing ingredients.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • May irritate more sensitive skin

In addition to the glycolic acid, this exfoliator contains soothing and hydrating ingredients, including chamomile, aloe, and green tea.

Water (Aqua), Glycolic Acid (alpha hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Chamomilla Recutita Matricaria Flower Extract (chamomile/skin-soothing), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (hydration), Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract (green tea/antioxidant/skin-soothing), Sodium Hyaluronate (skin replenishing), Panthenol (hydration), Sodium PCA (skin replenishing), Propylene Glycol (hydration), Butylene Glycol (hydration), Hydroxyethylcellulose (texture-enhancing), Polyquaternium-10 (texture-enhancing), Phenoxyethanol (preservative), Sodium Benzoate (preservative)

10. 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel

Paula's Choice Exfoliant for Evening Tone and Texture

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel

This peel contains a high concentration of chemical exfoliators, which work to resurface the skin and unclog pores to smooth fine lines and wrinkles and achieve a more even complexion.

Skin types: Normal, Oily, Dry and Combination
Best for: Evening Tone and Texture
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, apply the peel over dry skin. Leave on for ten minutes, and then rinse with lukewarm water. Use no more than once per week.
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This peel contains an effective blend of chemical exfoliators that work to achieve a smoother and more even skin tone and texture. The AHAs (glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid) help minimize fine lines and wrinkles, smooth texture, and diminish hyperpigmentation, while the BHA (salicylic acid) unclogs pores.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Exfoliating

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

Since the chemical exfoliators can be irritating, this peel contains soothing ingredients, including chamomile, licorice extract, and allantoin. This peel is potent, and you should patch test prior to using (particularly if you’re new to acids).

Water (Aqua), Aminomethyl Propanol (pH adjuster), Glycolic Acid (alpha hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Lactic Acid (alpha hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Mandelic Acid (alpha hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Isoamyl Laurate (emollient), Tartaric Acid (alpha hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Propanediol (hydration), Salicylic Acid (beta hydroxy acid/exfoliant,) Malic Acid (alpha hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Butylene Glycol (texture enhancer), Clitoria Ternatea (Butterfly Pea) Flower Extract (antioxidant/skin-soothing), Sodium Hyaluronate (skin replenishing), Glycyrrhetinic Acid (licorice-derived skin soothing), Glycerin (skin-replenishing), Tocopherol (vitamin E/antioxidant), Bisabolol (skin soothing), Allantoin (skin soothing), Hydroxyethylcellulose (thickener), Hydrogenated Lecithin (skin-restoring), Xanthan Gum (thickener), Polyglyceryl-4 Laurate (emulsifier), Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6 (stabilizer/thickener), Titanium Dioxide (Cl 77891) (mineral-derived pigment), Mica (CI 77019) (mineral-derived pigment), Phenoxyethanol (preservative).

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin"

    Accessed Aug. 2, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 2, 2021.

11. Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution

Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid

Paula's Choice Exfoliant for Acne, Blackheads, Hyperpigmentation and Redness

Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid

This gentle exfoliating product is ideal for skin prone to breakouts, as it unclogs pores to minimize blemishes while soothing the skin to decrease redness.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Acne, Blackheads, Hyperpigmentation and Redness
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, soak a cotton pad with the product and swipe all over the face. Follow up with a moisturizer.
See on Amazon

This product contains a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid that is able to work deep in the pores to unclog and treat breakouts (and prevent new blemishes from forming). It also helps minimize the appearance of pores, and will work to diminish the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from previous blemishes. This concentration is high enough to be effective on acne-prone skin, but still gentle as to reduce the risk of irritation.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight
  • Non-greasy

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

Additional hydrating and soothing ingredients are paired with the salicylic acid to minimize irritation and reduce redness. This includes glycerin, hyaluronic acid, allantoin, and panthenol.

Salicylic Acid 2%, Water (Aqua), Dipropylene Glycol (hydration), Pentylene Glycol (hydration), Polysorbate 20 (stabilizer), Butylene Glycol (hydration), Glycerin (skin replenishing), Sodium Hyaluronate (hydration/skin replenishing), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (skin-soothing), Allantoin (skin-soothing), Panthenol (hydration), PEG/PPG-17/6 Copolymer (texture-enhancing), Methyl Gluceth-20 (hydration), Glycereth-26 (texture-enhancing), Bis-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane (hydration), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Tetrasodium EDTA (stabilizer), Sodium Metabisulfite (stabilizer).

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments A Review"

    Accessed Aug. 31, 2021.

12. 2% BHA Exfoliant

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ExfoliantCult favorite

Paula's Choice Exfoliant for Gently Exfoliating and Preventing Breakouts

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

This cult-favorite product contains salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliator that gently exfoliates dead skin cells and unclogs pores for a clear complexion.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Gently Exfoliating and Preventing Breakouts
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, soak a cotton pad with the product and swipe all over the face. Follow up with a moisturizer.
See on Amazon

This is a best seller at Paula’s Choice, and for a good reason. Salicylic acid (a beta-hydroxy acid, or BHA) is an excellent chemical exfoliator that sheds excess skin cells and decongests pores to fight acne and blackheads and promote a more even skin tone.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight
  • Non-greasy

Cons

  • May irritate more sensitive skin types

This product also contains green tea, which soothes irritation and provides anti-aging benefits.

Water (Aqua), Methylpropanediol (hydration), Butylene Glycol (hydration), Salicylic Acid (beta hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Polysorbate 20 (stabilizer), Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract (green tea/skin calming/antioxidant), Sodium Hydroxide (pH balancer), Tetrasodium EDTA (stabilizer)

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Jul. 30, 2021.

FAQs

How often should you exfoliate combination skin?

You should exfoliate around one to three times per week, but this depends on the product you're using and how your skin reacts to exfoliation. Over-exfoliation can irritate the skin and cause damage to the skin barrier, so as you’re trying out a new exfoliant, be conservative with your usage to start. At the beginning, try doing a once a week application, and build from there to more frequent usage if it seems appropriate. Of course, refer to the label for the most accurate usage instructions for the product you’re using. There are products with very high concentrations of chemical exfoliants that should be used no more than once per week, as well as products with super low concentrations that can be used every or every other day.

Is exfoliating good for acne?

Yes, chemical exfoliant products are great for acne. Salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid) in particular is great for people prone to acne, because it is oil-soluble and works deep in the pores to unclog debris that can cause breakouts. Some excellent salicylic acid products from this list that will help with acne include the Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, the Paula’s Choice Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA, and the Stridex Daily Care Acne Medication Pads Maximum Strength.

Should I moisturize after exfoliating?

Yes, you should absolutely use a moisturizer after applying a chemical exfoliant. Moisturizing after exfoliating is incredibly important, as a moisturizer can help fight dryness and irritation that the product may cause. It also keeps your skin balanced and adequately hydrated.

The Bottom Line

If you’re considering adding an exfoliant to your routine, there are some excellent choices at the drugstore. Add one of our recommended exfoliants to your combination skin skincare routine to promote a more even and smooth skin tone and texture.