Regular exfoliation works wonders for the skin. First, it clears out pores to get rid of blackheads and clear up acne. Then it makes skin radiant and smooth by removing dull, dead cells. And exfoliating makes sure that serums and moisturizers penetrate to best effect. But if you have sensitive skin, is it even possible to use an exfoliator?
Fortunately, there are many exfoliating products compatible with acne-prone, and other types of sensitive skin. The key is not to overdo it. Exfoliate just once a week, and prefer chemical exfoliants over physical ones. Unfortunately, the industry is full of products that don’t do what they claim. That’s why we put together these reviews and buying guide. Take a look at the top products below.
Best Exfoliators & Face Scrubs for Sensitive Skin in 2024
1. Paula’s Choice Exfoliant
Paulas exfoliant refreshes the skin by removing the acne, blemishes, wrinkles on your skin. It makes the skin glow and look more youthful. It releases a chemical BHA which is a natural exfoliator. It unclogs the pores and makes your skin breathe. This product is perfect for all skin types. Those with sensitive skin have had no issues with this exfoliant.
This exfoliator goes deep into the skin. It clears out all the dead skin, dirt and reveals a much healthier complexion. It keeps your skin hydrated, clear and smooth. It is not rough on the skin when you compare it to other exfoliators you find in the market. This product is highly recommended online.
2. Paula’s Choice–SKIN PERFECTING 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant
The AHA Gel Exfoliant from Paula’s Choice is another good product for users with sensitive skin because it has no abrasives. Instead, it uses glycolic acid to perform a chemical peel to erase discolorations. And it has green tea to shrink pores and stimulate circulation. Finally, the chamomile soothes away irritation.
3. Acure Brilliantly Brightening Facial Scrub
Acure’s Brilliantly Brightening Scrub uses natural exfoliants like sea kelp, lemon peel, and French green clay to remove dull skin. It’s a formula with more finesse than the old-school apricot scrubs that left skin red and raw.
If you choose the Acure Facial Scrub, you’ll get a vegan-friendly exfoliator that does not contain parabens, sulfates, or phthalates.
4. Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Scrub
Aveeno’s Positively Radiant Scrub says that it’s hypoallergenic for sensitive skin, but take note of what it contains. For example, it has a fragrance, parabens, and SLS. Also, one of the main exfoliating ingredients is soy. But some customers who self-report that they have sensitive faces say it works well for them.
5. Proactiv+ Skin Smoothing Exfoliator
The Proactiv+ exfoliator uses glycolic acid, another gentle option, to make skin look younger and smoother. Glycolic acid also clears up acne, hydrates skin, and shrinks pores.
While this exfoliator can work alone, it’s part of the Proactiv+ 3-step system that includes a face wash. And it’s free from oils, sulfates, and parabens.
6. Alba Botanica Even Advanced, Sea Algae Enzyme Scrub
The Sea Algae Enzyme Scrub from Alba Botanica is a physical exfoliator with natural ingredients. It uses aloe, lavender, jojoba wax beads, almond meal, and an Organic Marine Complex to clear away dead skin and make your face radiant. It does not contain parabens, synthetic fragrances, or phthalates, and it was not tested on animals.
7. Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant
Dermalogica has introduced an exfoliating powder. It contains rice powder which when comes in contact with water, becomes a paste which can be applied to your face. It clears out the dead cells on your skin and makes it look youthful and refreshed. This product is suited for all skin types.
All you need to do is add 1 teaspoon of the rice-based powder and place it on your hands which have to be completely wet. This powder releases Papain, Salicylic Acid, and Rice Enzymes. These ingredients make your skin look brighter and smooth. It clears out all blemishes, and acne from the face leaving it looking hydrated and fresh.
8. Neutrogena Deep Clean Gentle Daily Facial Scrub, Oil-Free Cleanser
Neutrogena’s Deep Clean Gentle Scrub creates a foamy lather for a satisfying session at the sink. It relies on a beta hydroxy formula to remove old surface skin and cleanse pores. But take note that it contains parabens as well as a fragrance.
9. Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub
Simple’s Smoothing Facial Scrub is an inexpensive choice with gentle cleansing action. The creamy texture contains rice powder and hydrated silica to smooth away impurities while Vitamin E and B5 nourish your face, too. There are no artificial fragrances or parabens. And users comment that it leaves their skin feeling soft and not tight.
10. Simple Kind to Skin Facial Wipes, Exfoliating
Simple’s Kind to Skin Exfoliating Wipes are a convenient option when you’re traveling. They have two sides, one for exfoliating dead cells and the other to cleanse away dirt and oil. There are no dyes or perfumes that can irritate skin. Instead, the cloths are permeated with aloe vera and vitamins to rejuvenate your face.
11. CANE + AUSTIN Retexture Pad
CANE + AUSTIN’s Retexture Pads are saturated with 10% glycolic acid derived from sugar cane. They do not have parabens or a fragrance. Use them once a week at first, then build up to daily use to erase fine lines and reduce hyperpigmentation.
12. Exfoliators for sensitive bodies
Your face isn’t the only part of you that appreciates exfoliation treatments. Try one of these scrubs to refresh your body, too.
13. Pure Body Naturals Exfoliating Body Scrub with Coconut Milk and Dead Sea Salt
This exfoliator from Pure Body Naturals contains a simple list of ingredients like coconut milk, sea salt, and plant-based oils. There are no parabens, no preservatives, and no perfumes. Apply it in the shower, then massage in circular motions. Finish by rinsing with lukewarm water.
14. Majestic Pure Himalayan Salt Body Scrub with Lychee Essential Oil
With ingredients like purifying Himalayan Salt, sweet almond oil, aloe, and grape seed oil, this scrub nourishes your skin while it works. It is physically abrasive, so users with sensitive skin should test it on a small area first.
15. Brooklyn Botany Activated Charcoal Scrub
Activated charcoal is very good at cleansing clogged pores and removing excess oil. This scrub mixes the charcoal with aloe vera juice and coconut oil to soothe skin. Some people use this exfoliator on their faces as well as their bodies.
16. Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant
Dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant combines chemical and physical elements to clean your face and polish it to perfection. It contains grapefruit, aspergillus, bearberry, rice bran, and salicylic acid. And it comes in powder form. That way the user controls the grit in the texture based on how much water they add.
17. Paula’s Choice–SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant
Paula’s Choice offers the SKIN PERFECTING chemical exfoliant that contains BHA in the form of salicylic acid. (BHA is the acronym for beta hydroxy acid.) This gentle component unclogs and shrinks pores, removes dead skin, evens out skin tone, and reduces the appearance of wrinkles. It’s also the number one ingredient in many acne face washes because it clears up pimples, too.
This brand is generally a good choice for customers with sensitive skin. That’s because they are explicit in their explanation of the ingredients inside, and they leave out artificial fragrances.
What are the best exfoliators for sensitive skin?
If you have very sensitive skin, you might be limited in your choices as to which products are safe to use. There’s quite a lot of irritating components in even some of the most innocuous-looking bottles.
What to avoid when you buy an exfoliator
For example, here are some of the worst culprits to avoid:
- Artificial masking fragrances or perfumes like Benzyl Alcohol or Butylphenyl Methylpropional
- Synthetic dyes like FD&C Yellow #5
- Sulfates (SLS or SLES)
- Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives like MDM Hydantoin, Quaternium 15, and Diazolidinyl Urea
- Propylene glycol
- Other preservatives like Methylchloroisothiazolinone
- Harsh non-dissolvable abrasives like nut shells or ground fruit pits
Protect yourself against rashes and breakouts by taking the time to read the label. And test out new products on a patch of skin out of sight to see how you react.
Natural exfoliation without chemicals
With that said, you can still treat yourself to an exfoliation session. Dampen a clean washcloth with lukewarm water. Then gently massage your face with it. Use a clean cloth each day, and be sure to apply moisturizer when you’re done.
Non-abrasive exfoliation with chemicals
Of course, not all chemicals are bad for your skin. Try a glycolic acid peel, or use a face wash with salicylic acid. There’s also lactic acid, another AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that releases dead skin cells.
While lactic acid and glycolic acids are the gentlest, salicylic acid is good at clearing up pimples and keeping skin clear. You might only need to use it once or twice a week to see the results you want.
Did you know that apple cider vinegar contains AHA? You can exfoliate with a cotton pad soaked in vinegar. The same is true of lemon and other citrus juices.
We mentioned using a washcloth because it’s less likely to damage your skin if you don’t scrub with it. But there are a few other exfoliants you can try.
You might enjoy using oatmeal mixed with milk as a mask and a scrub. Use the fine-milled version, not the coarse oats. The same applies to rice flour or almond flour. And some people have success with baking soda, but it can upset the pH balance of your skin, so use it sparingly.
If you want to exfoliate other parts of your body, not just your face, try sugar or table salt mixed with coconut oil. Use gentle circular motions to massage away dead skin. Then rinse with warm water.
How often to exfoliate?
Pick a day, like Saturday night for example. Stick to exfoliating at that time then each week for a month and see how your skin looks and reacts. Perhaps that will be enough, or maybe you’ll decide that twice a week is better. But be sure to give your face time to recover from each session.
The most important step after exfoliating
Once you’ve cleared out clogged pores and sloughed off dead skin, it’s time to apply a high-quality moisturizer. Even though your skin might feel soft and clean initially, protect it from irritation by promptly slathering on your favorite lotion.
And one other step to remember is sunscreen. Since you’ve just removed some of your body’s protection against UV rays, apply sunblock when you go outdoors the next day.
When should you avoid exfoliating?
As tempting as it is to try to scrub away pimples, think twice. If you suffer from inflammatory acne, the kind that forms pustules and cysts, see a dermatologist first. Exfoliating skin that’s broken out like that can make the condition much worse.
The same is true for persons with rosacea. Instead of fading hyperpigmentation, you might end up with more redness from exfoliation.
Next, people who form dark scars or spots on their skin after bug bites or burns are also at risk of undesirable reactions to exfoliation.
Finally, any time you have an open wound, a cold sore (herpes simplex), a rash, or warts, talk to a doctor before trying any exfoliation treatment or wait until that condition has healed.
We hope you found the best exfoliator today for your sensitive skin. Exfoliating is beneficial in many ways. It can turn back time on signs of aging and make your skin feel renewed and soft. Enjoy your new exfoliator and take the time to care for your body because you deserve it.
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