Dull skin? Clogged pores? Rough texture? Sounds like you are in the market for an exfoliating face wash to add to your skincare regimen! Whether you prefer a scrub or a gel, drugstore or high end, scented or unscented, our list of the 15 best exfoliating face washes has a product you will want to add to your cart immediately.
Before we reveal all of our favourites, let's first have a little lesson on why we should be exfoliating our skin, what some of the terminology means, and how some of the common ingredients in exfoliators work to give us the skin of our dreams.
Exfoliating: What? Why? How?
Simply put, the action of exfoliation is removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Skin naturally sheds approximately every 30 days to make way for new skin cells. However, dead skin cells aren’t always removed from the skin entirely and properly. This leads to flaky, layered patches of dry skin that clogs the pores and often leads to acne and breakouts. Hopefully by now you’re thing exfoliation is a no brainer! Regular exfoliation results in unclogged pores, renewed skin cells, increased collagen production, and radiant, glowing skin.
Chemical vs Physical Exfoliant
Physical exfoliants are the types of product we have traditionally used and thought of when we think of a skin exfoliator. These include textured particles and abrasive materials that also require the pressure from your hands to buff away dead skin cells. Jojoba beads, oatmeal, and coffee grounds are common physical exfoliants used in skincare, as well as products such as washcloths, loofahs, and body brushes.
Chemical exfoliants essentially provide the same result as physical exfoliants, but are achieved chemically rather than physically. The bonds between dead skin cells and the healthy skin cells underneath them are dissolved and removed to reduce buildup. The exfoliants most commonly used are salicylic acid, glycolic acid, niacinamide, and lactic acid. Don’t go anywhere because we will discuss these in just a moment!
Cleanser vs Scrub
While you may assume an exfoliating cleanser is the same as an exfoliating scrub, you are sort of right and sort of wrong. While both of these products are working to clear away dead skin cells to leave your skin glowing, the most notable difference is how often you should be using the products.
Cleansers are usually designed to be used once or twice a day, as they work gently but need to be used often to achieve the results expected of them. Exfoliating scrubs are usually only meant to be used 2-3 times per week, as they are more rigorous on the skin, and if overused they will damage your skin more than they will help it. Make sure you check the directions on the bottle for appropriate use to achieve your skin goals!
While the names of some of the ingredients sound like they are more suited to be in a window cleaner than a face wash, it’s guaranteed that once you learn about the benefits of these little wonders you won’t be able to live without them!
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) often used in skincare to diminish whiteheads and pimples. It works by breaking the bonds between dead skin cells, which allows them to break away more easily from the pores, thereby exfoliating and removing oil and dirt build up attached to the dead skin cells.
Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is derived from sugar cane and is used in skincare similarly as salicylic acid. Now let’s get a little bit scientific for a second! Glycolic acid has the most simple structure and size, and the smallest molecular weight. This means the product is able to penetrate the skin further than other chemical exfoliants that are bigger in size.
Lactic acid is another alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) which is derived from the fermentation of lactose (found in milk). While it performs the similar functions of other chemical exfoliants, it also has some extra advantages. Lactic acid has the ability to make the skin thicker, so fine lines and wrinkles are diminished. It is also known that Cleopatra enjoyed bathing in sour milk to keep her youthful look, which actually contains a high concentration of lactic acid!
While niacinamide is not technically a chemical exfoliant, it is very often paired with them. It is a form of vitamin B3 that, after exfoliation from an AHA or BHA, is able to penetrate the skin more easily and work to improve fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and acne.
There are also some common ingredients with names that many of us will recognize but aren’t really sure what they are and how they work for our skin.
Jojoba is a shrub that grows in dry landscapes like western Mexico and the southwest of the U.S. Jojoba oil is derived from the seeds of the plant and is the closest thing to the sebum in human skin that exists in the plant world. Jojoba is an emollient which means it is amazing at moisturising the skin, and is non-comedogenic so it won’t clog pores!
We are often told to keep out of the sun to save our skin. While too much exposure to the sun can cause irreversible damage, vitamin D helps our skin immensely. Vitamin D is taken up by the liver and kidneys to get transported throughout the body and create healthy skin cells.
Vitamin C works in our bodies to protect it from damage. It is naturally found in high levels in the surface and deeper layers of the skin. It has antioxidant properties which help to fight cancer, and also has a role in the production of collagen which keeps skin elastic and youthful.
Vitamin E is one that dissolves in fats and has anti-inflammatory benefits. It is normally produced in the sebum made by our skin to keep it hydrated therefore it is particularly helpful to people with dry skin. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant which works to counteract pollution and free radicals (unstable atoms that damage cells) that we face everyday.
Best Exfoliating Face Washes
Gone are the days of clogged pores and oily skin when you use the Blu Atlas Exfoliating Scrub. Coming in on our list as the Best Exfoliating Face Wash of 2023, this amazing little jar gives you everything you could want in an exfoliator. It works to improve nearly all aspects of the skin from hydration to hyperpigmentation to acne spots. You want it? This has got it.
The antioxidant rich hibiscus flower fights off the pollutants and free radicals that our skin accumulates throughout the day. The jojoba oil nourishes deep into the pores, supplying skin with vitamins A, E, and D, as well as fatty acids and antioxidants. The bamboo stem extract then works to soothe the skin and helps with acne and dark spots, as a result of its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antibiotic properties.
You can feel happy using this scrub as all ingredients are from natural origins and are clean, vegan, and preservative-free! People of all skin types, dry, oily, or combination, will enjoy this product and it’s a must-try in 2023.
2. Frank Body Original Face Scrub
This one goes out to the coffee lovers! The Frank Body Original Face Scrub is a fan favorite for skin junkies and is one of the brand’s best-selling products. With thousands of rave reviews and jaw-dropping before and after photos, it is no shock this one has made the list.
99.55% of the ingredients in this beloved bottle are naturally derived and the lineup has some amazing benefits. The star of the show in the mix are the roasted coffee grinds which exfoliate away the skin dead cells and work away at acne scars and current breakouts. White clay works to draw dirt from under the surface and absorb oil buildup in pores leaving, your skin clean as ever. Rosehip oil nourishes and works to brighten the skin while also working to fade acne scarring.
The results? Fresh, clean, smooth, and flawless skin after only 7 days!
3. Paula’s Choice The UnScrub
Paula’ Choice is a brand that has gained mass popularity over the past few years, and The UnScrub is no exception to that. This exfoliant is unique on the market as it takes pride in not only keeping the skin undamaged but keeping the environment undamaged as well.
The scrub contains dissolvable jojoba beads. This makes it virtually impossible to damage your skin from exfoliating with too much weighted pressure. The beads dissolve, which also means that there are no physical beads left over to be flushed down the sink. Its milky texture allows makeup and excess dirt to be dissolved and removed easily.
The UnScrub can be used alone on more sensitive skin or in combination with a non-exfoliating cleanser for skin that requires extra cleansing. Give this product a try if you want a gentle exfoliating face wash that leaves a positive impact on your skin and the environment!
4. Cetaphil Daily Exfoliating Cleanser
Cetaphil is a household brand, known for its simple ingredients and gentle cleansing. Cetaphil’s Daily Exfoliating Cleanser embodies exactly what the brand is known for. This product works for people of all ages and all skin types.
The cleanser is infused with bamboo stem extract and vitamins E and B5. Glycerin works as a humectant, which pulls water from the deep layers of the skin to its outer layers, hydrating and refreshing the outer skin layer. Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that works to improve skin hydration, minimize enlarged pores, and brighten uneven skin tones. Finally, panthenol, a form of vitamin B5, ensures that the moisture built up from the other ingredients is not evaporated from the skin. Microfine particles buff away dead skin cells.
Unlike many other exfoliators this product is gentle enough to use everyday without over drying or irritating your skin. Cetaphil’s Daily Exfoliating Cleanser works for dry, oily, or combination skin that may also be sensitive and is the perfect starting product for new skincare lovers!
5. Dermalogica Multivitamin Thermafoliant
Dermalogica has a massive range of quality skin products, but it is this unique Multivitamin Thermafoliant that has made our list of the best exfoliating face washes. For lovers of high-tech skincare, this one may just be for you!
Physical and chemical exfoliants are combined in this wonder product to smooth out skin texture. The physical exfoliant (microgranules) polish off dead skin cells while the chemical exfoliants (lactic acid, salicylic acid, and retinol) work below the first layer of skin. Unique thermal technology is activated when added to water, resulting in a deeper penetration of the skin and product that is warm to the touch. You did read that right, a warm cleanser even if you only have cold water!
Dermalogica is a trusted brand by product users and dermatologists alike. The Multivitamin Thermafoliant is a unique product from an established brand that should definitely be tried out in 2023!
6. Clinique All About Clean™ 2-in-1 Cleansing + Exfoliating Jelly
Fans of a fresh face, listen up! Clinique's All About Clean™ 2-in-1 Cleansing + Exfoliating Jelly cleanses the skin in two ways; think double cleansing magic. The cleansing portion gets rid of dirt deep in the pores while the exfoliating portion removes buildup and dead skin cells.
The driving chemical exfoliant in the cleanser is salicylic acid, a mighty exfoliant that clears dead skin which would otherwise contribute to clogged pores. There are two physical exfoliants, bamboo powder and silica beads, which team up to clear the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. There are no parabens, no phthalates, and no added fragrance. Boom, no irritated skin!
Your skin will be smooth and brightened, leaving you with a refreshing glow. This little beauty is also perfect for all skin types from very dry to very oily!
7. Kiehl’s Pineapple Papaya Facial Scrub
Kiehl’s has a long history that started in 1851, and is still popular to this day. Kiehl’s Pineapple Papaya Facial Scrub is a testament to the years spent creating their range of skincare and utilizing all the goodness nature has to offer.
Luffa cylindrica fruit is a derivative of the cucumber family and is ground to a powder, gently exfoliating the skin. The apricot seed powder is ground from the apricot shell and acts as the second exfoliating factor. Think skin exfoliated to the gods!
Again, this exfoliating scrub is perfect for all skin types and for those who love to make the most of what Mother Nature has to offer!
8. Tatcha Rice Wash
Luxury lovers, here is the one for you! Tatcha is a hugely hyped brand and is well loved by those willing to reach a little further in their pockets to achieve gorgeous looking skin. The Rice Wash has been received very warmly, not only for its results but for its unique ingredient.
Japanese rice powder has been used for centuries in cleansing routines and leaves skin softened, radiant, and moisturized. This cleanser also utilizes an amino acid base that neutralises pH and removes impurities from the skin, and a blend of Okinawa algae and hyaluronic acid that fixes the skin barrier to keep water within the skin’s surface.
Feel luxury skincare combined with centuries old cleansing practices to achieve soft skin and a gorgeous, radiant glow.
9. Avène Gentle Exfoliating Gel
Ooh la la! French skincare brand Avène creates and provides products for all types of people with all types of skin, but they cater especially to sensitive skin. The brand only uses thermal spring water, without any type of additives in their products which ensures the skin is not left irritated.
The exfoliating gel contains biodegradable and exfoliating cellulose and jojoba beads to buff away dead skin cells, while niacinamide and sodium salicylate exfoliate by dissolving dead skin cells. Then of course the thermal spring water soothes the skin, leaving it smoothed and soothed. Mother Nature strikes again!
This product is a great one for those with sensitive skin and who appreciate the high quality ingredients that make this a high quality cleanser.
10. CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
CeraVe gained enormous popularity in 2020 for their budget friendly price points and simple ingredient lists, with the Renewing SA Cleanser flying off the shelves. It was therefore bound to make our best exfoliating face washes list.
This cleanser relies fully on chemical exfoliators to remove the dead skin cells, however that can often mean it is more gentle on the skin. Salicylic acid exfoliates the skin, niacinamide works to calm the skin, hyaluronic acid keeps the skin moisturized, and ceramides keep the skin’s water barrier intact. This product does no more and certainly no less than what our skin needs to be healthy and radiant.
If what you need is a gentle yet effective everyday cleanser to help you achieve smooth and cleansed skin while not having to reach too far into your wallet, this is the product for you!
11. Dr Dennis Gross AHA/BHA Daily Cleansing Gel
Just what the doctor ordered! Dr Dennis knew how to make a stunning product when creating their AHA/BHA Daily Cleansing Gel. The product is powerful enough to remove makeup, oil, and dirt, but gentle enough to even be used around the eyes.
ABAs are used to gently exfoliate the skin, while jasmine and bisabolol (active ingredient in chamomile) follow the exfoliating effects to soothe the skin. The results are deep cleansing, even texture, refined pores, and balanced oil levels.
12. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Peeling Cleanser
Another French skincare brand for the win! La Roche-Posay combines what dermatologists require in a product with affordability to bring their epic skincare products to everyone. The Effaclar Micro-Peeling Cleanser combines powerful ingredients to provide powerful results.
Salicylic acid is the main chemical exfoliant, which we know is great at removing dead skin cells from the skin’s surface and reducing acne. LHA is a derivative of salicylic acid that works more slowly and gently. Therefore it works more thoroughly, ensuring that each dead cell is removed from the surface. Zinc is another component of this product which acts to reduce inflammation and is proven to reduce the severity of acne.
The brand works specifically for oily, acne-prone skin and is therefore a very powerful product. If you have this type of skin that could use a kick up the butt, this product may just be for you!
13. Alpha-H Micro Super Scrub
Want the luxurious feel and results from an exfoliating face wash without putting down a mortgage? You’re going to feel like you’ve pulled off daylight robbery when you try Alpha-H’s Micro Super Scrub. Chemical and physical exfoliants are combined to deliver stunning results.
Glycolic acid is the main chemical exfoliant in this face wash which is breaking the bond that holds the dead skin cells to the skin surface. This loosens the bonds so the tiny pieces of biodegradable bamboo stem extract can more effectively remove the loosened dead skin cells. Macadamia seed oil works to restore the function of the skin barrier and replenish skin’s natural sebum. Caffeine then works to increase skin’s circulation to deliver nutrients to cells.
Go ahead and make the steal with this product. Officer, this one right here!
14. Clarins One-Step Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser
Okay, what is in the water in France? Because we have yet another amazing product from a French brand. Clarins has become a skincare name that almost all of us know, whether we have seen our parents using it while we grew up or we see it in every skincare section around the world.
Clarins’ One-Step Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser uses silica microbeads and cellulose microspheres to remove dead skin cells to renew the skin. Moringa seed extract works as an anti-pollution factor to protect the skin from everyday pollutants and free radicals. Orange extract refreshes and tones the skin after exfoliating and cleansing.
Clarins has been popular for many years, and trust there is a reason for this. Made for all skin types, this is definitely a product to look out for on the shelves!
15. Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser
Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate Cleanser works to gently cleanse makeup and dirt from the skin using chemical exfoliants and natural fruit enzymes.
Glycolic acid and lactic acid work together to remove dead skin cells and exfoliate the skin. Papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin enzymes gently exfoliate the skin by breaking down the keratin that sticks skin cells to each other, leaving behind smooth, glowing skin.
This cleanser can be used twice a day on any skin type. Combine natural ingredients with naturally occurring ingredients to fulfil your desire for smooth, gorgeous skin. What’s left to say? Give it a go!
Now you’ve got your brand new exfoliating face wash and you’re raring to go. But, how do you maximize the benefits and avoid damaging your skin? Fear not, we are here with all the tips and tricks for a successful exfoliating session.
How-To Guide: Exfoliation
Drier and flakier skin requires exfoliation to remove the built-up excess skin cells. Some products that rely on physical exfoliation may be too harsh for dry skin, so instead opt for a face wash that is more chemical exfoliant heavy, such as from Cetaphil (number 4) CeraVe (number 10), or Dr Dennis Gross (number 11). As dry skin can often equate to sensitive skin, using an exfoliating product once a day maximum should be plenty, but be sure to check the directions of each product to achieve maximum results! However. if a product with physical exfoliants is made with sensitive skin in mind, these are also options to try.
As opposed to dry skin, oily skin can really benefit from a nourishing physical exfoliant. Oily skin often has an extra layer of buildup that first needs to be broken down through physical exfoliation to even allow the chemical exfoliants to work to break the bonds between surface and dead skin cells. Therefore, people with oily skin should try products such as the Blu Atlas Exfoliating Scrub (number 1), the Frank Body Original Face Scrub (number 2), and Kiehl’s Pineapple Papaya Facial Scrub (number 7). People with oily skin can also try products without physical exfoliants made specifically for their needs such as La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Micro-Peeling Cleanser.
People with combination skin will benefit most from products that combine physical and chemical exfoliation. Often physical exfoliators in combined products are more gentle for the parts of the face that are more dry and sensitive, but will break down the extra layer of buildup that comes with the oily parts of the skin. Chemical exfoliants then work gently to exfoliate the skin. If you have combination skin, try products such as The UnScrub from Paula’s Choice (number 3), Dermalogica’s Multivitamin Thermafoliant (number 5), or Clinique's All About Clean™ 2-in-1 Cleansing + Exfoliating Jelly (number 6).