Hopefully, you’ve been schooled in the importance of exfoliation by now. It’s that one step that you can’t skip if you want healthy and glowing skin. Exfoliation removes dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and prevents acne, says Dr. Peterson Pierre, a board-certified dermatologist.
But things can get a little tricky when you have sensitive skin. For those with easily irritated skin, the process of exfoliation can be bad news. It can cause redness, inflammation, acne breakouts, and all sorts of bad things to your skin.
So, what can we do? Well, we can start by looking for a gentle exfoliator that has superfine particles, says Dr. Marchbein, professor at Mount Sinai Hospital. And in this article, we’ll help you find the best exfoliators for sensitive, acne-prone skin.
According to Dr. Pierre, whatever exfoliator you choose, it’s important that you start off slowly. If you’re just starting out with exfoliation, you should do it only once a week. And gradually, you can work your way up to twice or thrice a week.
Ready to take the plunge? Ahead, you’ll find the best formulas for sensitive, acne-prone skin.
Best Exfoliators for Sensitive Skin Reviewed
1. La-Roche Posay Ultra-Fine Scrub
This scrub cleanser from La-Roche Posay features a unique blend of chemical and physical exfoliants to gently remove the outermost layer of dead skin cells without disrupting the pH balance.
The formula is paraben- and soap-free. And it contains ultra-fine particles that are not harsh on your skin. In short, it’s the perfect recipe for exfoliating sensitive skin.
Thanks to the inclusion of glycerin, you can expect a brighter and youthful appearance. Not to mention, glycerin also increases the moisture levels and makes your skin less irritated.
If you suffer from frequent acne breakouts, you’re gonna love this product. The directions on the bottle say that you should use it 2-3 times a week. And even though it’s pretty gentle, we recommend that you use it once a week if you’re just starting out.
2. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Admittedly, this is one of the best exfoliators available that money can buy. I mean, it’s regarded as the holy grail BHA product for a reason.
Okay, so exactly can this product do for your skin? Let’s see: it combats dullness, minimizes pores, treats hyperpigmentation, reduces wrinkles, brightens your complexion, and evens out your skin tone. The formula also increases collagen production which is great if you’re determined to preserve your youth.
The key ingredient in this product is salicylic acid that not only gets rid of the outermost layer of dead skin cells but also clears your pores and improves cell turnover rate.
Very simply put, it will take care of almost all your skin problems. The only thing we disliked about this product is the fact that it can leave your skin feeling greasy. No kidding, it will feel like you dipped your face in oil. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it really does leave your skin feeling greasy.
3. COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid
Okay, so we’re big into K-beauty, and let us tell you this exfoliator is straight magic. Not only does it reduce blackheads but it also regulates sebum production, clears pores, and reveals brighter-looking skin.
COSRX has chosen 4% betaine salicylate (BHA) as an active exfoliating ingredient in this product. It’s pretty much similar to salicylic acid except that it’s much gentler on the skin, making it perfect for those with easily irritated acne-prone skin.
Apparently, there are strict laws in South Korea that prohibit manufacturers from using salicylic acid in their products, so you’ll see betaine salicylate in most of the Korean exfoliators.
The formula will not leave your skin greasy, and it’s not drying either. We also found that this product is really good at evening out the skin tone, and it will also clear your acne. Upon regular use, your skin will become much brighter and healthier.
Finally, it’s dermatologist-tested, paraben-free, and animal cruelty-free.
4. Farmacy Honeymoon Glow AHA Resurfacing Night Serum
Combining the power of gentlest alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), Farmacy Honeymoon Glow Night Serum is the perfect exfoliator for those with sensitive skin.
In addition to AHAs and BHAs, this serum also contains flower acid blend to zap dead skin cells and reduce dullness. It also reduces the appearance of dark spots.
The formula also boasts a boatload of hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and honey, so your skin will stay hydrated and healthy. You can forget about the redness and irritation for good.
The best part? It features an anti-aging formula. So, you’ll also see an improvement in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Seriously, can it get any better than that?
5. Glossier Solution Exfoliating Skin Perfector
Dr. Melanie Palm, assistant clinical professor at the University of California, recommends skin exfoliators that contain polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) because PHAs do not penetrate deep into the skin and are gentle on the skin. And Glossier Solution Exfoliating Skin Perfector is a great choice.
It contains PHAs that help you to get rid of dead skin cells and make your skin soft and smooth. The formula also contains a mild concentration of salicylic acid that helps you fight and prevent acne. Then there’s also glycolic acid that brightens your skin and increases cell turnover rate.
With Glossier Skin Perfector, you can also expect blemishes and dark spots to fade away. The reason it just works on sensitive skin is that it contains a low concentration of all those wonderful acids. So, it just won’t irritate your skin.
6. Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Scrub
For those with normal skin type, Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Scrub is an excellent choice. It’s a budget-friendly option, and it’s really effective. It contains soy extract that increases hydration, fixes sagging skin, and brightens your skin tone.
Other notable ingredients include jojoba oil that moisturizes your skin and increases wound healing rate. Then there’s also glycerin present in the formula that soothes dryness and makes your skin look healthy.
The formula has also proven to fade discoloration as well. And it’s non-comedogenic, soap-free, and hypoallergenic. Plus, it’s one of the best-selling exfoliators on Amazon. You seriously can’t go wrong with this product.
7. SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight
If you have dry, sensitive skin, you’re going to love Skinceuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight. The formula boasts 10% glycolic acid derived from sugar cane. Now, Glycolic acid is a potent skincare ingredient that exfoliates and reduces the dead skin cells buildup, boosts cell turnover rate, and improves the overall appearance.
Other ingredients such as jojoba oil, sunflower seed wax, etc. add more power to the formula! If you’re struggling with dullness, this product is for you. Thanks to 2 percent phytic acid, it reduces dullness and promotes skin clarity.
Don’t forget there’s also a triple-action soothing complex that strengthens the skin barrier. It’s very hydrating, so your skin won’t dry out. It doesn’t contain fragrances or dyes. And it’s tested for sensitive skin.
8. Acure Brightening Facial Scrub
With ingredients like sea kelp and French green clay, this facial scrub from Acure means serious business. Sea kelp is rich in minerals and antioxidants and can do wonders for your skin. It rids your skin of all the toxins, increases hydration and moisture retention, and also softens it. Plus, it also combats acne breakouts. It’s like the holy grail ingredient for those with problem skin.
There’s also French green clay which is an amazing ingredient for natural clearing acne. It removes all the impurities by penetrating deep into your skin. Thanks to the inclusion of lemon peel in the formula, this product also has anti-aging effects.
The formula is 100% vegan, paraben-free, and sulfate-free. At the time of writing, Acure Brightening Scrub has nearly 11,000 5-star ratings on Amazon, so you can say it’s very well-received.
If there are so many people raving about a product, it has to be exceptionally good, right? Well, it is. You’re gonna love it, trust us!
9. St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Face Scrub
Fortified with salicylic acid, St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Face Scrub is another great choice for someone who doesn’t wanna shell out hard money on exfoliators. I guess we can all agree that when it comes to sensitive skin, natural skincare products are always a safe choice.
It’s made with 100% natural exfoliants that deeply cleanses and purifies your skin. The formula incorporates ingredients such as green tea extract and bamboo extract. Both these star ingredients have anti-inflammatory properties.
It has 1% salicylic acid as well that gently exfoliates and also clears acne. There’s also a mix of walnut shell powder and bamboo powder that works to promote cleaner and brighter skin. It’s non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores.
10. First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pad
It’s safe to say that using a peel pad makes the whole exfoliation process so much convenient. And the First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads are exactly what you need if you want results and ease of use.
The key ingredients in these pads are lactic acid and glycolic acid. Both these acids are powerhouse ingredients when it comes to exfoliation. They slough off dead skin cells and reveal a more radiant complexion.
The formula also contains lemon peel that combats problems such as dark spots, acne, fine lines, and wrinkles. Indian gooseberries increase collagen levels in your skin. Upon regular use, you can expect evenly toned skin with a natural glow.
These pads are a bit on the pricier side, but you’ll be getting your money’s worth.
11. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
This glycolic acid night serum from Drunk Elephant is as gentle as they come. It features a unique combination of AHAs and BHAs to gently lift dead skin cells and resurface your skin. The gel-based formula delivers an effective chemical exfoliation without any harmful side-effects.
With this formula, you don’t have to worry about dryness, irritation, or redness. It has a pH level of 4.0, which is just perfect for your sensitive skin. Drunk Elephant has added several powerful plant extracts to the formula to ensure its efficacy.
With ingredients such as glycolic acid, tartaric acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid, you can bet that it’s effective. In addition to sloughing off dead skin cells, these acids fight fine lines, wrinkles, dullness, and pigmentation.
And to soothe irritation and redness, the formula is fortified with raspberry extracts that fight free radicals and calm your skin.
12. Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser
Torn between chemical or physical exfoliators? Enter Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser that can function as both a chemical as well as a physical exfoliator. The cleanser contains BHA extracted from white willow bark extract to give you clear and radiant skin.
It also contains apricot microspheres that are rich in antioxidants. They protect you from environmental aggressors as well as protect you from sunburn and wrinkles. There are 16 other botanicals as well that refine the pores and plump your skin.
This product is 100% natural, and you know you can’t really go wrong with natural products when you have sensitive skin. Even though the formula is gentle, it is still very effective.
Now, it’s an expensive product, but if you don’t mind splurging, this might be the perfect choice for you.