Regular exfoliation is key for maintaining smooth skin texture and an even complexion. If you’re looking to add an effective exfoliant to your skincare routine, here are our recommendations for the best exfoliating products.

Our Recommendations

1. AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner

Mizon AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner

Mizon Product for Gentle Exfoliation

Mizon AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner

This toner is an excellent product if you’re looking for gentle daily exfoliation. It contains AHAs, BHAs, and papaya enzymes that exfoliate to unclog pores and smooth tone and texture.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Gentle Exfoliation
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, soak a cotton pad with the toner, and then swipe all over the face, neck, and chest. Follow up with a moisturizer.
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This exfoliating toner contains glycolic acid and lactic acid, which are alpha hydroxy acids. These AHAs work on the surface of the skin to improve tone and texture and minimize signs of aging. It also contains salicylic acid, a BHA that works deep in the pores to unclog and prevent acne.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Exfoliating

Cons

  • Contains fragrance

In addition to the AHAs and BHAs, this toner contains glycerin, which hydrates, and papaya fruit extract, which further exfoliates.

Water, Glycerin, Sodium Lactate, Alcohol, Butylene Glycol, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Portulaca Oleracea (Green Purslane) Extract, Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit Extract, Arnica Montana (Arnica) Flower Extract, Artemisia Absinthium (Mugwort) Extract, Achillea Millefolium (Common Yarrow) Extract, Gentiana Lutea (Yellow Gentian) Root Extract, Salicylic Acid, Disodium EDTA, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Fragrance

  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. 26, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 26, 2021.

2. Acne Medication Pads

Stridex Daily Care Acne Medication Pads Maximum Strength

Stridex Product 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.
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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.

3. 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask

Drunk Elephant Product for Smoothing Texture, Anti-Aging, and Evening Skin Tone

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask

This powerful mask contains a potent blend of AHAs and BHA to resurface, unclog pores, and reveal a smooth and even skin tone and texture.

Skin types: Normal, Oily, Dry and Combination
Best for: Smoothing Texture, Anti-Aging, and Evening Skin Tone
Tested on animals: No
How to use: Apply an even layer to clean, dry skin, and leave on for up to 20 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. Use no more than once weekly.
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This super powerful mask has a 25% concentration of an AHA blend (glycolic acid, tartaric acid, lactic acid, and citric acid), as well as a 2% concentration of BHA (salicylic acid). These chemical exfoliators fight signs of aging, smooth the skin, brighten, and unclog pores. It also contains chickpea flour, which brightens the skin.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

Since this mask has such powerful active ingredients, it is best to avoid applying serums or treatments with other strong actives (like AHAs, BHAs, and retinol) after use.

Water (Aqua), Glycolic Acid, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Glycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Salicylic Acid, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Lactobacillus/Pumpkin Ferment Extract, Lactobacillus/Punica Granatum Fruit Ferment Extract, Opuntia Ficus-Indica Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Silybum Marianum Seed Extract, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Juice Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Powder, Cicer Arietinum Seed Powder, Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, Passiflora Edulis Seed Oil, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Sodium PCA, Allantoin, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Dextrin, Polydextrose, Sorbitan Isostearate, Amylopectin, Niacinamide, Phytosphingosine, Lactic Acid, Propanediol, Citric Acid, Titanium Dioxide, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Polysorbate 60, Caprylyl Glycol, Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol

  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. 27, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 27, 2021.

4. Lactic Acid 5% + HA

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA

The Ordinary Product 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.
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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.

5. 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

Paula's Choice Product 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.
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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)

FAQs

Is it bad to exfoliate every day?

This largely depends on the strength of the product that you are using, as well as how your skin responds to exfoliation. There are some gentler products with lower concentrations of chemical exfoliants (like the Mizon AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner) that could be used on a daily basis, if your skin reacts positively to daily use. However, many products contain higher concentrations, and shouldn’t be used on a daily basis, as this can cause irritation and dryness, and also damage the skin’s barrier. If you’re using an exfoliant for the first time, even if it has a lower concentration of chemical exfoliants, it’s best to start slowly and only use it a couple times a week. Note how your skin reacts, and then after a few weeks, you can consider using it more frequently. Of course, always refer to the product’s instructions, as there are some stronger products (like the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel) that should be used no more than once per week. 

What do you do after applying an exfoliant?

You’ll want to apply your exfoliant to clean, dry skin, and then wait a few minutes to allow the product to begin working. After a few minutes, you’ll want to apply a moisturizer. This is a crucial step, as a moisturizer will help counteract the potentially drying effects of the exfoliant. If you’d like, you can apply a gentle hydrating or calming serum after applying your exfoliant and before applying a moisturizer, but you should avoid applying any other serums or products with strong active ingredients that may increase your risk of irritation (like products with retinol, vitamin C, or additional chemical exfoliants). 

What happens if you never exfoliate?

While your skin does naturally shed some dead skin cells and debris on its own, regularly exfoliating ensures that all unnecessary debris is removed from the skin so that it is healthy and radiant. The skin’s natural exfoliation process slows down as we age, so it becomes even more important as we get older. If you avoid exfoliating, you are more likely to experience breakouts, as pores will easily become clogged with sebum, dirt, and excess debris. The skin’s texture and tone will also be rougher and duller. 

The Bottom Line

Exfoliation is a key part of maintaining a healthy and glowing complexion, so it’s important to find an exfoliant that works well for you. Consider adding one of these effective exfoliants to your skincare routine to smooth texture and promote a more even skin tone.