Fact Checked

How do I Choose the Best Exfoliating Products?

Mandi Rogier
Mandi Rogier

Exfoliating products come in two major types — chemical exfoliants and physical exfoliants. While exfoliation is useful for nearly any skin type, selecting the right product is crucial to successfully removing dead cells from the skin. You must consider several factors when choosing the best exfoliating products for your own personal needs.

Physical exfoliants are the quickest option. These products typically consist of a soap or lotion that contains small, rough particles. A rough, abrasive cloth or sponge is an example of a physical exfoliant as well. These will physically slough dead skin away from the face. To use this type of exfoliant, simply massage the product onto the skin being treated and rinse.

A mashed-up papaya is a natural exfoliant.
A mashed-up papaya is a natural exfoliant.

These are the best exfoliating products for those who want a fast and affordable exfoliating option, but they do have disadvantages. This type of exfoliant can be too harsh for sensitive skin. While it will do a good job of removing dead skin cells on the surface, it does not exfoliate as deeply or as thoroughly as chemical exfoliants will.

Chemical exfoliants are products that use enzymes and acids to chemically remove dead cells from the skin. Alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxyl acids (BHAs) are the most common active ingredients for chemical exfoliants. Each has its own strengths, which make it better for certain skin types.

Exfoliants should be suited to a person's specific skin type.
Exfoliants should be suited to a person's specific skin type.

If your skin is dry and rough, the best exfoliating product is one with AHA. Oily skin that suffers from acne is better suited to an exfoliant with BHA. Chemical exfoliants are more expensive than physical exfoliants. While they provide a deeper cleanse, they can also be dangerous; if left on too long, these products can burn the skin.

For both physical and chemical exfoliants, you have the option of purchasing over-the-counter products, having a professional exfoliation done at a spa, or making a natural exfoliant at home. If you choose to go to a spa, you can have microdermabrasion done for a professional physical exfoliant. A chemical peel is an example of a professional chemical exfoliant.

Sugar is a natural and inexpensive exfoliating product.
Sugar is a natural and inexpensive exfoliating product.

If you are interested in natural ingredients, the best exfoliating option is a homemade product, or one purchased from a health store. To make your own, mash a papaya up with a few tablespoons of honey for a chemical exfoliant. The enzymes in the papaya will act as a natural exfoliant. For a homemade physical exfoliant, use oatmeal or rice powder blended with honey or yogurt.

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Discussion Comments


My skin is pretty sensitive, but I do like to use exfoliating products twice a week. I use the kind with a higher fluid to bead ratio. I find that liquid body wash scattered with beads is best, because too many rough pieces would definitely redden my flesh.

With this body wash, I use a semi-rough washcloth to rub it in and help slough off the dead skin. In my experience, I have noticed that cheap washcloths purchased from a dollar store are much rougher and better suited to this process than nicer ones.

I try to always rub gently, but with this type of body wash, I don’t have to fear doing too much damage. I really think that the washcloth provides about half of the exfoliating action anyway.


My skin has run the gamut in its thirty-two year lifetime. In my teens I frequently got pimples, and in my late 20s, I developed severe acne. I visited a dermatologist who got me back on track, and now in my early thirties, I can benefit from exfoliants at home.

Over the past few years, my skin has become drier, and if I go without exfoliating for a week, it gets rough. That’s why I thought it best to use a gentle chemical peel containing AHA. I’ve had the best results with the kind you wipe on with a cotton pad and rinse off nearly an hour later.

The exfoliating action tingles, but it doesn’t redden or irritate my skin. I feel significantly smoother after each use. I know that the peel is probably more powerful than I am aware of, so to be on the safe side, I only use it once a week.


I have skin that lies somewhere between sensitive and tough, so I can use an exfoliant without irritation. The best body exfoliator to me is St. Ives Apricot Scrub. I rub it across my damp skin in the shower in a circular motion while standing away from the falling water. Then, I rinse before grabbing a washcloth and rubbing the rest off.

I have to rinse once more before toweling off, because the only drawback to that scrub is that the rough pieces of almond in it do tend to stay behind on your skin. I think that the benefits of using it outweigh this little inconvenience, though.


My husband works out in the heat, so he sweats a lot. His back tends to break out because of this, so he uses Irish Spring with Clean Scrubbing Beads to exfoliate in the shower.

My skin is more sensitive than his, so I don’t use it personally, but I have rubbed it across my arm, and I can see how it would do a great job at removing debris. Those little beads are pretty rough, and they stay stuck in the soap so they can do their job. That’s good because you don’t end up with a bunch of hard bits of beads stuck to your skin.


@Mutsy - I agree and I have to say that I use an exfoliating scrub called 7 day scrub. It is the best exfoliating scrub because it does remove the dead skin cells because of the graininess of the product, but it also has some moisturizing benefits built in.

You feel the creaminess of it when you apply it on your face. I always apply it in a circular motion and rinse with warm water. Afterwards my skin feels great. You should only use a grainy scrub like this once a week because if not it can hurt your skin and make it too dry and it can start to flake.


@Bhutan - I really like the facial cleanser that also has exfoliating agents in it. I feel like I kill two birds with one stone.

I don’t want to use a million steps to take care of my skin. The easier the better is what I always say. The best exfoliating cleansers are those that you buy in a department store. These are great because the department stores will always allow you a demonstration, so you can see how the exfoliating cleanser works which helps you decide if you want to buy it or not.

You can't do this in a drug store. Also, I think that the department stores carry higher quality products, and offer the best exfoliators for sensitive skin.


I think that the best exfoliating cream is one that has salicylic acid. Many of the major cosmetic lines offer exfoliating cream that also offers a certain amount of moisturizing benefits as well.

I use a night time cream after I wash my face and use my toner that I place all around my face with the exception of the under eye area and leave it on overnight.

It not only has softened my fine lines, but it also lessened the sun spots that I have and evened out my skin tone. Now when I apply foundation, my makeup goes on evenly which is another great benefit.

None of these creams can take years off your face, but they can enhance your skin by making it look less discolored and more flattering.

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    • A mashed-up papaya is a natural exfoliant.
      By: tashka2000
      A mashed-up papaya is a natural exfoliant.
    • Exfoliants should be suited to a person's specific skin type.
      By: kubais
      Exfoliants should be suited to a person's specific skin type.
    • Sugar is a natural and inexpensive exfoliating product.
      By: bit24
      Sugar is a natural and inexpensive exfoliating product.
    • Soaps that incorporate exfoliants can help rub away dry skin.
      By: Hayati Kayhan
      Soaps that incorporate exfoliants can help rub away dry skin.
    • People with dry skin should choose an exfoliating face soap that also hydrates the skin.
      By: CandyBox Images
      People with dry skin should choose an exfoliating face soap that also hydrates the skin.