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Nothing wipes dirt and grime off your face and leaves your skin clean as exfoliation does. It’s the ultimate step in any skincare routine to refine the skin texture, slough off dead skin cells, unclog pores, and brighten it at the same time. And the easiest way to add exfoliation into your daily routine is by using an exfoliating face wash.
Unlike peels or treatment serums, exfoliating face washes are gentle enough for daily use. Plus, there’s no shortage of exfoliating agents. Be it acids, scrubs, or enzymes, exfoliating cleansers come in several forms.
And it doesn’t matter if you have dry skin, sensitive skin, or oily skin. They come in gel, lotion, and cream forms, which makes it easier to find one depending on your skin type. And we’ve got them all!
Best Exfoliating Face Washes
Below are the best exfoliating face washes for every skin type.
Best For Normal Skin: Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser Daily Foaming Wash
This one is great for all skin types, except for maybe really sensitive skin. The formula contains both alpha-hydroxy acids and enzyme exfolitors. Glycolic and lactic acids resurface the skin and polish it with every wash. The added papaya, pumpkin, and pineapple enzymes are incredibly gentle exfoliants.
And they enhance the effects for a thorough exfoliation. The creamy cleanser foams up and removes makeup and dirt from the skin and leaves it soft and clean. With regular use, it helps with discolorations, dullness, dehydration, and congestion.
Key Ingredients: Glycolic acid, lactic acid, papaya enzymes
Key Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths skin texture
Size: 4 oz/150 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free
Best For Oily Skin: CeraVe SA Renewing Cleanser
When excess oil is concerned, salicylic acid is the best ingredient in a face wash. It’s the ultimate oily-skin-loving beta-hydroxy acid to penetrate the pores and unclog them. It both reduces acne and prevents future breakouts. This exfoliating cleanser is made with 2% salicylic acid to maintain normal sebum levels and stop acne at its tracks.
As acids can be drying, they can dehydrate oily skin. But the fragrance-free cleanser packs glycerin, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid to prevent that. The gel formula foams up and mattifies the skin while removing makeup and the day’s dirt.
Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, niacinamide, ceramides
Key Benefits: Gently exfoliates, unclogs pores, prevents oiliness
Size: 8 oz/237 ml
Good To Know: Non-comedogenic, fragrance-free
Best For Acne: Renee Rouleau AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser
If you’re dealing with acne and acne marks besides oily skin, this all-in-one exfoliating cleanser might be what you’re looking for. It’s made with all that is exfoliating to clear up congested skin that’s prone to acne. Salicylic acid helps with excess oil, clogged pores, and acne while glycolic and lactic acids help with dark spots and acne marks.
Plus, papaya enzymes supercharge your exfoliation and calm inflammation as well. To avoid drying out the skin, the cleanser has jojoba beads, which are packed with fatty acids to replenish the skin. It’s an amazing exfoliating face wash to manage oily skin while keeping the complexion clean and clear.
Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, enzymes
Key Benefits: Prevents acne, smooths texture, brightens
Size: 6 oz/180 ml
Good To Know: Vegan
Best For Dry Skin: PCA Skin Facial Wash
Dry skin is probably the one that needs exfoliation the most. Because with dry skin comes dry patches and roughness all over the face. And no matter how much you moisturize, those dry patches will show through your foundation unless you get rid of them. With its additional hydrating properties, lactic acid is great for people with dry skin.
This lactic acid cleanser gently exfoliates by dissolving the bond that holds those dry patches together. It smooths out the skin texture and helps with discolorations and fine lines while boosting hydration. Soothing allantoin, aloe, and willow bark extract help with inflammation and redness to avoid irritating dry, sensitive skin. The lightly foaming gel cleanser won’t leave the skin dry or tight, but clean and supple. Plus, it’s free of alcohol and fragrance!
Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, allantoin, aloe
Key Benefits: Exfoliates, hydrates, softens skin texture
Size: 7 oz/206.5 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free, fragrance-free
Best For Aging Skin: SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser With Glycolic Acid
As we age, our skin turnover rate slows down considerably. Besides retinoids, glycolic acid is the best skincare ingredient to accelerate skin turnover rate. And that’s why this exfoliating cleanser is great for aging, mature skin. It gets rid of stubborn dead skin cells and brightens your skin while removing impurities from the skin.
The gel formula also hydrates with glycerin and ensures that your skin doesn’t feel dry or tight afterward. It’s a great addition to an anti-aging skincare routine. But keep in mind that the skin tends to get sensitive as we age. If that’s you, check out the one below.
Key Ingredients: Glycolic acid, glycerin
Key Benefits: Improves skin tone, exfoliates, softens wrinkles
Size: 6.8 oz/200 ml
Good To Know: Alcohol-free, fragrance-free
Best For Sensitive Skin: Neostrata PHA Facial Cleanser
Any dermatologist will tell you to steer clear from mainstream exfoliants if you have sensitive skin. It’s because scrubs and alpha-hydroxy acids can be too harsh on the skin, resulting in redness and irritation. That’s where polyhydroxy acids like gluconolactone come in. It works on the surface of the skin, gently exfoliates, and works as a humectant to hydrate the skin too.
This cleanser contains 4% gluconolactone to gently polish the skin. Its soap-free, fragrance-free formula does not foam, which makes it an amazing exfoliating cleanser for people with sensitive skin. Use it to purify your complexion and to keep a smooth base.
Key Ingredients: Gluconolactone, panthenol
Key Benefits: Gently exfoliates, hydrates, softens
Size: 6.8 oz/200 ml
Good To Know: Fragrance-free, soap-free
Best Scrub: Fresh Sugar Strawberry Exfoliating Face Wash
At this point, chemical exfoliants have replaced mechanical exfoliants almost completely. Because the majority of the formulas are too irritating for the skin because of friction, which might lead to inflammation. When it comes to scrubs, harsher doesn’t mean better. It just means a higher possibility of skin damage.
So if you’re on the lookout for a gentle cleansing scrub, you can try this luxurious goodie. It exfoliates with sugar crystals. As you massage the cleanser in, the sugars melt with heat. And it feels like a makeup-removing balm instead of a scrub. It cleans up the skin and leaves it incredibly soft, supple, and nourished.
Key Ingredients: Sugar crystals, strawberry extract
Key Benefits: Removes daily dirt, leaves skin bright and smooth
Size: 4.2 oz/125 ml
Best Enzyme: Amorepacific Treatment Enzyme Exfoliating Powder Cleanser
This powder cleanser gives you the option to manage how deep or light you’re going to keep things. It’s an enzyme exfoliator made with green tea enzymes. You mix the powder with water and foam the cleanser up. More water means gentler exfoliation and less water gives you a more thorough exfoliation.
Enzymes make some of the gentlest exfoliants as they work on top of the skin to remove dead skin cells and prevent clogging from leading to breakouts. This is a great option for people who are not a big fan of acids but still want polished, smooth skin.
Key Ingredients: Green tea enzymes, hyaluronic acid, allantoin
Key Benefits: Hydrates, thoroughly cleans pores, brightens skin tone
Size: 1.94 oz
Best For Hyperpigmentation: iS Clinical Cleansing Complex
Exfoliation is a must for people who are dealing with hyperpigmentation. Be it acne marks or dark spots, exfoliants help lift off pigmentation from the surface of the skin. This cleanser contains willow bark extract, a natural source of salicylic acid, and sugar cane extract, a natural source of glycolic acid.
So it gives you a nice, gentle chemical exfoliation. In addition, it has a blend of antioxidants from green tea and chamomile as well as Centella Asiatica and vitamin C. The super gentle gel cleanser leaves the skin clean as a whistle, smooth, and soft.
Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, Centella Asiatica
Key Benefits: Softens lines, exfoliates, brightens
Size: 6 oz/180 ml
Best Drugstore: L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives 3.5% Glycolic Acid Cleansing Gel
This is one of the best drugstore exfoliating face washes that are worth your money. The 3.5% concentration of glycolic acid gives you daily exfoliation to keep the skin smooth. It’s affordable, it’s effective, and it’s all you need to manage acne, pores, and dullness.
The budget-friendly formula is gentle enough for daily use but still effective in getting rid of excess oil, stubborn makeup, and of course, stubborn dry flakes. The fragrance-free glycolic acid cleanser also has aloe to soothe and hydrate.
Key Ingredients: Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, aloe
Key Benefits: Exfoliates, improves skin tone and texture
Size: 6.7 oz/200 ml
Good To Know: Fragrance-free
This concludes our round-up of the best exfoliating face washes. Overall, Kate Somerville’s Cleanser checks all the boxes and in my opinion, it offers exactly what you’d expect from an exfoliating cleanser.
What To Look For in an Exfoliating Face Wash
The Right Exfoliants
Exfoliating face washes can contain one or more different exfoliants. And you need to choose depending on your skin type. Alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid are usually safe for all skin types but may not be so for sensitive skin types. Beta-hydroxy acids like salicylic acid are usually the better exfoliant for people with oily and acne-prone skin. And for people with sensitive skin, enzymes or polyhydroxy acids like gluconolactone are better as they’re the gentlest exfoliants.
The Right Formula
Some cleansers contain alcohol or sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). These can be drying for the skin. Combining these types of ingredients with exfoliants can result in a feeling of skin tightness and dryness after cleansing. Try to avoid these and look for cleansers that are soap-free, SLS-free, and alcohol-free. Additionally, if your skin is sensitive, try to avoid fragrance in your cleanser too.
Skin Restoring Ingredients
Exfoliation can be drying for the skin. To avoid it, look for skin-restoring ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants in your exfoliating cleanser. They will mitigate potential dryness and irritation.