14 Best Facial Scrubs and Exfoliators for Glowing Skin
Wish you could look effortlessly gorgeous and glowy? Experts say adding a facial scrub to your beauty routine is the skin care secret you're missing.
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The key skin care step you’re missing
In our quest for a gorgeous glow and younger-looking skin, we’re willing to plunk down a pretty penny for the best anti-aging face creams and retinol serums. After all, if they work, they’re worth it. But what if we told you that they weren’t working as well as they could because you’re missing an essential step in your beauty routine? Without the best facial scrubs and exfoliators, these miracle products won’t be able to penetrate your skin fully and do their jobs effectively.
“Exfoliants are an important part of a skin care regimen, as they help to unclog pores, promote cell turnover, and cleanse the skin of excess sebum and bacteria,” says Kim Nichols, MD, founding director of NicholsMD in Greenwich, Connecticut. “[They’ll give you] a healthier, clearer, and more radiant complexion.”
There are two types of products in this category to choose from. The first are physical scrubs, which contain microparticles like sugar or plant-based ingredients that manually remove dead skin; they are similar to the body scrubs you might already have in your shower. The second are chemical exfoliants, whose active ingredients include things like glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid, which break apart the bonds that hold together dead skin cells and dissolve them.
How we chose the best facial scrubs and exfoliators
There are a ton of options on the market, and depending on the formulation you choose, they can help minimize breakouts, shrink pores, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, increase moisture for dewy skin, and more. The “best” one really boils down to what you want, the type of exfoliant you prefer, and just how much multitasking you want your product to do. Since we don’t mess around when it comes to skin care, we went straight to the experts and asked dermatologists to give us the scoop on the best of the best—the ones they recommend to their patients and use themselves. Scroll through to find your specific skin type or skin need and choose accordingly. Then, round out your skin care routine with the best sunscreens and anti-aging eye creams worth your money.
Yes to Tomatoes Detoxifying Daily Cleanser
Best for: Budget-minded shoppers
You don’t need to shell out big bucks for a face scrub to see big results. Dr. Nichols is a fan of this Yes to Tomatoes noncomedogenic scrub, and it costs less than $5. “This facial scrub contains three active ingredients,” she notes. “Salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that loosens up dead skin cells and sebum in your pores; detoxifying charcoal to remove impurities; and tomato extract, which is a natural source of antioxidants.” It also contains natural jojoba beads, which allow for a gentle physical exfoliation.
Start using this scrub as your cleanser one to two nights a week. After several weeks, if your skin tolerates it well, you can start adding in more often. “Eventually, it may become your daily cleanser, especially if you have oily and blemish-prone skin,” says Dr. Nichols. Follow up with these moisturizers for oily skin that can work wonders on your complexion.
Environ Sebu-Wash Gel Cleanser
Best for: Acne-prone skin
This foaming gel cleanser was literally made for people with acne, says Anne Chapas, MD, medical director of UnionDerm in New York City. It packs a one-two punch against breakouts. “Salicylic acid helps to open the pores, and tea tree oil helps to reduce inflammation,” she explains. Plus, while it removes dirt and excess oil, it does so gently and without overly drying out your skin.
InnBeauty Project’s Down to Tone Resurfacing Toner
Best for: Minimizing dark spots
Yes, a toner can double as an exfoliant—and that’s exactly what you’ll get with this InnBeauty Project toner, which is infused with chemicals that get rid of pore-clogging dead skin cells. “This alcohol-free blend of six acids (phytic acid, malic acid, gluconolactone, lactic acid, salicylic acid, and citric acid) exfoliates, clarifies, and brightens the skin,” says New York City dermatologist Hadley King, MD, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. “It also contains niacinamide to improve tone and texture and support the skin barrier to keep moisture locked in.” Speaking of keeping moisture locked in, read up on the latest TikTok skincare trend that’s a moisture booster: slugging.
Herla Beauty Kakadu Plum Brightening and Revitalizing Exfoliating Scrub
Best for: An antioxidant boost
Antioxidants help sop up damaging free radicals that cause skin aging, and this Herla Beauty exfoliating scrub offers antioxidants in spades with Kakadu plum, rooibos tea, and gingko biloba. “Plus,” adds Dr. King, “this very gentle exfoliator contains caviar lime, which helps to remove dead skin cells and even out skin pigmentation.” Using a scrub like this is just one of the everyday habits that can make you look younger.
Schaf Facial Scrub
Best for: Vegan beauty fans
This vegan scrub contains a blend of ultra-gentle bamboo beads that manually remove dead cells from the surface of the skin, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, an associate professor of dermatology and the director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Shea butter and hyaluronic acid keep the skin hydrated and plump,” he adds. Some of the best moisturizers on the market also contain shea butter.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
Best for: Daily use
This Amazon’s Choice scrub won’t let you down. It contains salicylic acid to help clean and exfoliate your pores, plus MicroClear Technology to make sure the salicylic acid gets where it is needed most. Meanwhile, a sebum dissolver prepares the skin to better receive the salicylic acid. Verified Amazon reviewer Asia is just one of the 5,600-plus reviewers who gave this Neutrogena scrub five stars. She raves: “Even on the first use, I saw a huge difference in my skin. It made it brighter and eliminated the roughness. I also suffer from discoloration and severe acne on my chin, [and now] my chin has significantly cleared up, and I don’t feel the need to wear makeup over it anymore.” If you still need a little help while this product works its magic, try this redness-reducing concealer with more than 18,000 five-star reviews.
Bliss Jelly Glow Peel
Best for: Super gentle exfoliation
This gentle, non-abrasive exfoliator has a bouncy jelly base that promises to nourish and hydrate skin. It contains pineapple and papaya enzymes to exfoliate your skin, plus coconut fruit extract and pro vitamin B5 to seal in hydration. One five-star reviewer notes, “Unlike other exfoliants, it is not a mask—it doesn’t technically ‘peel off.’ And it doesn’t contain any of those annoying sharp kernels that are supposed to scrub your face but never do.” These makeup removers are also excellent for sensitive skin.
Alpha-H Liquid Gold Exfoliating Treatment
Best for: Nighttime use
It’s not just what you do when you’re washing your face that can improve your skin and reduce signs of aging. Apply this Alpha-H Liquid Gold Exfoliating Treatment before bed and leave it on overnight, and its highly concentrated, low-pH glycolic acid, will work some serious magic while you sleep. “Besides improving the glow of the skin, it can minimize the appearance of wrinkles and brighten dark spots,” says Dr. Zeichner. In general, he recommends using exfoliating products at night because that’s when skin-cell turnover is at its highest. You may not even need your favorite foundation after using this regularly, but for the times you do want to wear it, these treatments will help it go on more smoothly.
The DefenAge 2-Minute Reveal Masque
Best for: Cleaning clogged pores
This award-winning exfoliating mask contains fine sugar crystals that slough away dead cells and debris to leave the skin feeling smoother. “It is gentle for all or most skin types and has a warming sensation,” says Bryan G. Forley, MD, a New York City plastic surgeon. “It also helps to minimize the appearance of pores and enhance skin radiance.” The best part? It takes just two minutes to get real results.
Here’s how to do it: “Once or twice a week after cleansing, dry skin thoroughly and apply a dollop to your face and jawline,” says Dr. Forley. “Using dry fingertips, gently massage it in a circular motion for about 20 seconds, then wait two minutes and massage until the crystals are completely dissolved. Then rinse your face.”
AlphaRet Exfoliating Peel Pads
Best for: Smoothing fine lines and wrinkles
These exfoliating pads feature SkinBetter Science’s AlphaRet, which is comprised of a retinoid plus a triple-acid blend of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid, says Dendy E. Engelman, MD, the director of dermatology, Mohs surgery, and laser medicine at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in New York City. These are all powerful anti-aging ingredients, but this formulation is gentle on skin. “The pads improve the appearance of skin smoothness, clarity, lines, and wrinkles,” says Dr. Engelman. “As a pro tip, I often tell patients to use the pads on their face and—before they throw out the pad—to wipe their upper arms with the peel pad in order to help get rid of keratosis pilaris bumps.”
The Skin Medica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
Best for: Regular cleansing
This Skin Medica cleanser is a favorite of New York City plastic surgeon David Shafer, MD. “The benefits of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) are improved skin texture, tone, and smoothness, leaving skin feeling refreshingly clean,” he says. It’s also gentle. “I have found that even though I am exfoliating, my skin does not feel traumatized or irritated.” For best results, use in the morning and evening, as tolerated.
ZO Skin Health Dual Action Scrub
Best for: Whole-body polishing
This two-in-one product, which is a physical and chemical exfoliator, can also be used on your body, shares Michael Somenek, MD, a facial plastic surgeon in Washington, D.C. “Key ingredients include lactic acid and salicylic acid to exfoliate debris and purge congested pores,” he says. It also contains fine wax beads for non-abrasive sloughing without irritation. “It is great for my acne-prone patients and is equally powerful to exfoliate other areas like your arms and legs.” Keep in mind that if you’re applying self-tanner, you’ll definitely want to exfoliate first, so this multitasker will come in handy.
SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub
Best for: All skin types
This SkinCeuticals facial scrub purifies pores while simultaneously hydrating, so it’s gentle enough for daily use, says Dr. Nichols. Its power comes from hydrated silica, glycerin, and aloe extract, which work synergistically to clean out pores, promote a healthy skin barrier, and give skin a moisture boost. Use two or three times per week for best results.
Bioré Charcoal Acne Scrub
Best for: Detoxing skin
Can activated charcoal really improve your skin? In a word, yes, says Orit Markowitz, MD, a New York City–based dermatologist, and she recommends this Bioré facial scrub to do just that. “It is a great product for cleaning out pores and removing debris formed from keratin, which appears in the form of a blackhead,” she says. It also contains salicylic acid to keep skin blemish-free. That said, you’ll need to do a little extra maintenance to keep skin clear, Dr. Markowitz says. “The limitation is that the pores will refill unless you add additional products to help prevent the reformulation, such as a retinoic acid.” Now that your skin is in tip-top shape, check out the makeup secrets that will do it justice.
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- Kim Nichols, MD, founding director of NicholsMD in Greenwich, Connecticut
- Anne Chapas, MD, medical director of UnionDerm in New York City
- Hadley King, MD, a New York City dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University
- Joshua Zeichner, MD, an associate professor of dermatology and the director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
- Bryan G. Forley, MD, a New York City plastic surgeon
- Dendy E. Engelman, MD, director of dermatology, Mohs surgery, and laser medicine at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in New York City
- Michael Somenek, MD, a facial plastic surgeon in Washington, D.C.
- David Shafer, MD, a plastic surgeon in New York City
- Orit Markowitz, MD, a New York City–based dermatologist