10 best facial exfoliators
Unblock pores and even out skin tone with the help of these tried-and-tested products
Exfoliation is without doubt the very best thing you can do for your skin to improve circulation and keep your complexion radiant and glowing. Polishing away dead skin cells delivers a deep-down cleanse, rejuvenates and brightens and can help with excess oil, blackheads, rough skin texture, acne scarring and hyper pigmentation.
Florida dermatologist Dr Gary Goldfaden explains, “Regular exfoliation helps maintain clean pores, decreases pore size and minimizes many types of superficial scarring, fine lines and wrinkles. In addition, removing the top layer of dead and damaged cells allows moisturisers, serums and other collagen boosting ingredients to better penetrate the skin and work more effectively.”
There are two main types of exfoliators – chemical and physical. Chemical exfoliators include enzyme creams which use natural fruit enzymes, and pads or liquid toners using glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid or AHA's to break down the top layer of dead skin cells. The physical exfoliators include masks, powders which activate on contact with water, and of course your regular granular manual exfoliators.
Opt for one that fits into your day – a quick sweep with a toner or pad or a scrub in the shower instead of a cleanser is more time effective than sitting down with a ten minute mask. Those with sensitive skin should look for gentle options – there are plenty on the market that work on exfoliating slowly and gently to minimise irritation. And remember skin is more sensitive when you’re regularly exfoliating, so use an SPF to protect the new delicate skin.
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Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Gentle for Sensitive Skin: £55 for 60ml, katesomerville.co.uk
One of the world’s leading skincare experts, Kate Somerville, has been fine-tuning her signature red-carpet glow for 25 years and from her iconic Melrose Place salon she delivers cutting edge treatments based around natural products to some of Hollywood’s most famous faces. She grew up on a Californian farm suffering with eczema and her mum used soothing goat’s milk in the bath. With a drive to help others overcome skin problems, Kate bottled her expertise into a product range, which arrived in the UK last year.
The original ExfoliKate is an intense treatment and perhaps not for all skin types, but this gentle suits-all version is superb. The very fine granules feel much less abrasive than other scrubs we tested, but it still delivers an incredible glow. Pineapple, pumpkin and papaya enzymes alongside lactic acid exfoliate, vitamin A helps fade discolouration, vitamin E and aloe vera soothe and smooth, caffeine boosts circulation and honey keeps skin moisturised.
But it’s the natural extracts of lemon, orange, geranium, sweet almond and sage that hit the olfactory button and make this an absolute pleasure to use. We found using it once or twice a week was enough to get rid of dull lacklustre skin and replace it with some serious radiance.
Goldfaden MD Doctor’s Scrub: £65 for 100g, SpaceNK
Florida dermatologist Dr Goldfaden has produced one of the best dermatologist-strength natural skincare lines in the industry. His products are packed with organic natural ingredients, free from parabens, petro chemicals, mineral oils, alcohol, silicones, artificial colours and fragrances and gluten, there’s no animal testing, they’re 100 per cent vegetarian and hypoallergenic. And yet their efficacy and results are astonishing. Not easy on the purse strings, but a little goes a very long way with this scrub, so probably more cost effective than it first appears.
It’s a satisfyingly abrasive scrub, which uses perfect spherical ruby crystals (no jagged edges to scratch or aggravate the skin) to polish away dead skin cells, dirt and oil. Organic red tea extract fights ageing free radicals, tightens pores and soothes skin, hyaluronic acid helps to hydrate and plump and seaweed extract firms. This powerhouse cocktail of ingredients makes a hard-working, result-driven scrub that we found after just two weeks of use delivered extraordinary radiance.
Bobbi Brown Radiance Boost Superfine Walnut Grain & Orange Oil Exfoliating Mask: £34 for 75ml, bobbibrown.co.uk
This isn’t as quick as a traditional scrub, but also not as time consuming as a full mask. You apply the slightly watery abrasive cream to damp skin and leave for 2-5 minutes, perfect to leave on during a shower while you wash your hair. The zesty orange oil hit wakes up tired dull skin, while the absorbent kaolin clay helps keep oily skin shine-free. Massaging it off in circular motions creates the friction and the walnut grains feel satisfyingly abrasive. A good one to choose if you need a really effective scrub, it left our skin feeling ultra-smooth.
Super Facialist Vitamin C+ Brighten Gentle Daily Micro Polish Wash: £9.99 for 125ml, Boots
Easy on the beauty budget, this is one of the better high street options. A lovely light gel texture with mid-level abrasion, that’s just enough to work well on stubborn skin cells, but not too much for sensitive complexions. It’s ever so slightly drying, which worked wonders on our tester's oily t-zone to minimise their usual shine, and would be good for skin prone to oil and breakouts. The zesty orange scent is a delightfully refreshing, pick-me-up in your morning shower.
Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel: £34.50 for 50ml, elemis.com
One of the original chemical exfoliators (and arguably the best), this cream is completely non-abrasive and instead uses the natural fruit enzymes of exfoliating papaya and pineapple to exfoliate and purify tired, congested or lacklustre skin. It feels really gentle because you’re not scrubbing or irritating the skin at all – no harsh content in this peel – which makes it perfect for sensitive complexions.
It’s also ideal for more mature skin tones, as the milk protein and anti-oxidant-rich vitamin E and marine algae deeply nourish, repair and protect the skin. Incredibly easy to use, just apply for 10-15 minutes and then rinse off with lukewarm water. It can tingle a little, but even on the most sensitive skin it won’t irritate.
The Sanctuary Daily Glow Radiance Tonic: £6.65 for 150ml, Superdrug
Liquid exfoliators are simply re-texturising toners that accelerate cell renewal and even out skin tone. Some liquid exfoliators contain high amounts of AHA, glycolic acid or lactic acid, and they can feel quite tingly and sometimes can even slightly sting. Always check the ingredients to make sure you aren’t buying something that is too harsh for your skin. Exfoliators containing salicylic acid are good too, because they help improve the appearance of enlarged pores in oily complexions.
If you want to build up to one of the more advanced liquid exfoliators, or your skin is still quite young, then Sanctuary's daily glow is the perfect place to start. The 5 per cent glycolic acid provides enough gentle exfoliation to minimise the look of pores, fine lines and signs of premature ageing, without any tingling at all. We found after a couple of weeks use, skin looked brighter and felt softer and smoother.
ESPA Refining Skin Polish: £30 for 55ml, espaskincare.com
Refining Skin Polish has the consistency of a rich face cream that’s had fine sand added to it, and after just one use it felt like this had really deep cleaned the pores, lifted out all the dirt and cleared out congestion. Skin afterwards felt a little dry, but reassuringly squeaky clean. The perfect scrub for heavily congested skin breaking out, dull complexions in need of heavy-duty brightening, or skin prone to excessive oil production. You hardly need any at all, so it will last for ages, and the shea butter and rose damascena nourish more sensitive complexions.
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant: £44.55 for 74g, Look Fantastic
This multi award-winning, industry cult classic is a gentle but still incredibly effective exfoliator. Simply add water to a small amount of powder in the palm of your hand and mix together to activate the papain, salicylic acid and rice enzymes, which polish and buff away imperfections. The salicylic acid will work wonders on clogged pores – both cleaning them and reducing the appearance of their size. It took longer than some of the other scrubs to have an effect, but is a good choice for sensitive skin.
Trish McEvoy Correct and Brighten Beta Hydroxy Pads Daily Exfoliator: £45 for 40 pads, libertylondon.com
One of the best pad exfoliators on the market, these are nicely drenched to ensure one pad is more than enough for the whole face and it doesn’t dry out half way round. When you get near the end of using this pot, store it upside down to make sure the top pad remains moist. The skin feels cold and a little tingly during the sweep and cleanse, but not at all stingy – lots pads we have tried can be quite uncomfortably so.
Easy and fast to use – with no cleansing needed, cotton wool or rinsing – just a quick swipe and you’re good to go, which makes them great if you’re pressed for time in the morning, or travelling. Not only can they control breakouts, we found they helped them clear up quicker than normal too.
REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic: £25 for 250ml, renskincare.com
This is designed for daily use and works wonders on combination skin as the AHA, lactic acid, BHA and salicin exfoliate the skin’s surface and inside the pore (great for polluted city-living complexions), which reduces oiliness, helps prevent breakouts and minimises the look of pores. We found it quite zingy and tingly, which is normal, but REN do say to use it only once or twice a week if your skin is sensitive, and advise not to use alongside another exfoliator.
The handy one-touch well-pump dispenser makes it quick and easy to get the tonic onto the cotton wool pad, and the big bottle makes it great value. We found it a little bit drying, so use a good nourishing moisturiser afterwards.
The verdict: Facial exfoliators
If you’ve got the beauty budget Goldfaden produces astonishing results and The Sanctuary was exceptional value for money. But our IndyBest winner Kate Somerville delivers salon-worthy results at home with a hi-tech formula packed with natural ingredients and it suits sensitive skin too.
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