How to Pick the Best Exfoliating Cleanser for Your Skin
Written by: Matigan King
Published on: November 17, 2022
Adding a bit of exfoliation into your daily cleanse delivers serious benefits for almost every type of skin, helping to soften, clear, brighten, and smooth your complexion. More-intense exfoliants absolutely have their place, but the mild daily cell turnover you get from an exfoliating cleanser helps all the other skin care in your routine sink in better, as well as stealthily helping to stimulate collagen, enliven dull skin, and keep pores clear over time.
Chemical exfoliation uses acids (such as glycolic acid) or enzymes (pineapple enzyme is an example) to gently loosen cells, whereas physical (or mechanical) exfoliation involves more-textured ingredients like jojoba beads, ground minerals, or grains that manually scrub away dirt, pollution, makeup, sweat, and any other buildup (skin brushes and even washcloths also fall into the physical exfoliation category). The two types of exfoliants can work together beautifully, or they might function better on their own, depending on whether your skin skews dry, oily, mature, or sensitive.
Finding the right exfoliating cleanser for your skin—there are versions that exfoliate with enzymes, acids, microminerals, rice particles, bamboo fibers, and more—involves a look at the ingredients, along with some trial and error. With that in mind, we chose the below all-stars by skin type to help you zero in on your ultimate daily cleanser.
The gradual, gentle work of daily exfoliation really helps dry skin better absorb moisturizer, and function better overall. These formulas deliver moisture-locking butters and oils, along with both chemical and physical exfoliants, to hydrate, and they also sweep away dead, dry skin.
Antioxidant-Rich Moringa Seed and Castor Seed OilsYINA Bioadaptive Cleanser goop, $68SHOP NOW
Plumping Cocoa Butter and BakuchiolAlpyn Beauty Juneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cream Cleanser goop, $39SHOP NOW
Organic Macadamia and Coconut OilsMAKANAI Clean Cleansing Morning Zen goop, $35SHOP NOW
Cleansers made with a combination of both chemical and physical exfoliants can help control oil production and clarify and resurface skin—we love the powerful plant enzymes here, and the luscious formulas that soften and luminize.
Fruit Enzymes and Bitter Orange Peel Powdergoop Beauty GOOPGLOW Cloudberry Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser goop, $35/$25 with subscriptionSHOP NOW
Ruby Crystals and Organic Red TeaGoldfaden MD Doctor’s Scrub Advanced goop, $98SHOP NOW
Glycolic Acid and Rice ParticlesHumanrace Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator goop, $46SHOP NOW
Vitamin C and CelluloseDr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser goop, $75SHOP NOW
As we age, the rate of cell turnover slows, so our skin can handle more-powerful exfoliation—think grittier textures or more-potent ingredient concentrations—on a daily basis to brighten and smooth.
Diamond Powder and Rose WaterThe Organic Pharmacy Rose Diamond Exfoliating Cleanser goop, $73SHOP NOW
Apricot Microbeads and NeroliTata Harper Regenerating Cleanser goop, $88SHOP NOW
Bamboo Fiber and Pomegranate EnzymesFāTH The Resurfacing Botanical Cleanser goop, $82SHOP NOW
Many people with sensitive skin avoid exfoliating altogether, but using a super gentle exfoliant every day can actually be incredibly beneficial. It’s important to go slowly when trying a new product and, for some, to use an exfoliating cleanser less frequently (say, every other day) to help skin adjust to the new regimen.
Turmeric and Willow BarkPlantkos Phyto Exfoliating Cleanser goop, $37SHOP NOW
Rice Powder and Cranberry EnzymesTata Harper Refining Cleanser goop, $88SHOP NOW
Miehei and RhodiolaUrsa Major Making Moves Milky Cleanser goop, $34SHOP NOW