In the old days, exfoliating your face was about as delicate a process as resurfacing your floors. But the newest generation of products lets you achieve clear, smooth skin without rubbing it raw.
There are two kinds of exfoliators: Physical ones slough off dead skin cells using grains, while chemical ones do it using face acids. Both will give you softer skin without turning you red or creating wrinkles in the process. The market has a ton right now, and we’ve probably tried most of them. Below, we’ve rounded up the best ones for creamy, velvety, bump-free skin.
The Affordable Exfoliator
Trust the Ordinary — the minimalist, direct-to-consumer Everlane of skin care — to make exfoliation easy. This is made of straight-up glycolic acid, one of the smallest types of acid molecules, making it incredibly effective because it can penetrate the skin so well. It’s also wildly affordable, which is the other nice thing about the Ordinary.
The French One
Known online as “Jesus in a bottle,” this is an extremely potent chemical exfoliator. There are seven different P50 products, all with slightly different names. The original is the strongest, but may not be best for sensitive skin. The skin-care obsessives on Reddit consider P50 PIGM 400 a Holy Grail product because it’s gentle yet sturdy — ideal for people with hyperpigmentation issues and who struggle with skin tone.
The French Dupe
Considered a gentler dupe to P-50, this has cult status in the U.K., where it’s often sold out. With five percent glycolic acid, it’s strong enough to be effective but not irritating. Cut senior beauty editor Ashley Weatherford swears by it. (It comes in a more potent pad form as well.)
The 5-Star One
This cult serum is another great chemical exfoliator, with almost 1,000 5-star reviews at Sephora. If you’re wondering what gives the product its yeasty smell, that would be lactic acid, the star ingredient. A potent acid that’s less irritating that glycolic acid, it’s derived from milk and comes with great humectant moisturizing properties.
The Cut Favorite
Created by cosmetic cop Paula Begoun of Paula’s Choice’s, this is perhaps the product used most by Cut editors. With a mix of beta-hydroxy acids (a category of acids known for “degunking” or cleaning out pores), it keeps skin clear and bright.
The Gentle One
This very gentle physical exfoliator from Tatcha comes in an easily transportable powder. Add a little water, and the formula transforms into a milky lather with grains of soft Japanese rice bran. The grains are so delicate that you might wonder, “Is this even working?” but the proof is in the aftermath, when your skin will feel soft and not at all tight.
The Hollywood One
Created by Kate Somerville — always the busiest facialist in L.A. come awards season — this a blend of chemical and physical exfoliators. The formula is made up of grains and nearly every botanical ingredient you’ve ever heard of (honey, papaya, pumpkin ferment). On Sephora, where it has over 2,000 five-star reviews, fans rave about how it turns skin into a smooth canvas for seamless makeup application.
The One Cate Blanchett Loves
This exfoliator has a very similar texture to Tatcha’s and very similar ingredients — but it also has the endorsement of Cate Blanchett, patron saint of perfect skin. Like Tatcha’s, it uses rice bran to exfoliate, but adds a blend of salicylic acid (most commonly seen in acne products) and soothing, anti-inflammation ingredients like green tea and colloidal oatmeal. Because it comes in a powder, it’s great for travel.
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