The 14 Best Natural Exfoliators To Smooth Skin & Boost Your Glow Factor
If your to-do list is a mile long, exfoliation is one of those skin care rituals that's likely taken the back burner. You cleanse, you moisturize, and once in a while you even do a face mask—isn't that enough? If your goal is optimally hydrated, naturally glowing skin, maybe not.
In its most basic definition, exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin, which can help immediately even out rough texture, boost circulation, and brighten your complexion. This is especially beneficial as we get older, since skin cell turnover rate slows dramatically, and exfoliation can help speed up that process.
But in addition to smoothing and brightening skin, exfoliation helps your other topical skin care products work more effectively, too. If we have a buildup of dead skin, "our beautiful hydrators and oils can't actually penetrate to get where they need to be," Britta Plug, holistic esthetician and mbg Collective member, recently told mbg. Because of this, "exfoliation is very important to improving the moisture levels in our skin."
Long-term benefits of exfoliation can also include increased collagen production and reduced appearance of fine lines. To reap these benefits, Plug recommends exfoliating a minimum of once per week, possibly more depending on the product (when in doubt, default to the directions on the label, she says). But before we dive into our product picks for the best exfoliators, you need to understand the two main types of exfoliation.
Physical vs. chemical exfoliators: What's the difference?
There are two main methods of at-home exfoliation: Physical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation. Physical exfoliating products contain small abrasive particles to physically remove dead skin cells such as rice powder, walnut shell powder, or jojoba beads (which are biodegradable and not to be confused with plastic micro-beads). If the skin on your face feels rough and thick, a physical exfoliant or scrub can be very softening and balancing, says Plug—but you don't need an ultra-coarse, gritty texture to achieve these results.
Chemical exfoliants, on the other hand, use naturally exfoliating acids such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) to gently dissolve dead skin cells. The AHAs lactic acid and glycolic acid are often considered some of the most beneficial, as they've both been shown to increase skin cell turnover, improve moisture content of skin, and reduce the appearance of fine lines. Salicylic acid is a BHA, which is particularly beneficial for acne-prone skin due to its ability to unclog pores. Exfoliating acids are also great at smoothing out the rough, bumpy skin associated with keratosis pilaris.
While the term "chemical exfoliant" may sound irritating (and honestly, a little bit scary), mild chemical exfoliants can be surprisingly gentle and good for dry and sensitive skin types, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
The 14 best natural exfoliators on the market.
To help you avoid choice paralysis, we've rounded up the best physical and chemical exfoliators on the market for face and body. All feature clean and effective ingredients and rave reviews from existing customers and skin care experts.
Best facial exfoliators.
1. Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys
Exfoliating pads, sometimes called peel pads, are an effective and convenient mode of chemical exfoliation. These cotton pads come pre-soaked in a solution of lactic acid and soothing aloe vera, which contains vitamins C and E, along with beta-carotene to improve skin hydration.
Buy online at Sephora ($35)
2. Beauty Shroom Exfoliating Acid Potion
Another chemical exfoliant, this five-acid complex contains glycolic acid, phytic acid, salicylic acid, beta-hydroxy acid, and lactic acid, which work in tandem with the skin-soothing adaptogens like reishi. Pour a little onto a cotton pad (or directly into your hands) and sweep over your face.
Buy online at Sephora ($39)
3. LATHER 10-Minute Brightening Mask
This exfoliating mask featuring glycolic and lactic acids, skin-brightening niacinamide, and vitamin C is an ideal antidote for rough, dull skin. It's potent enough that you only need to use it once or twice a week. However, if you have sensitive or irritated skin, pass on this in favor of something gentler.
Buy online at Amazon ($28.50)
5. Acure Brightening Facial Scrub
Also one of our favorite natural beauty products under $20, this scrub is a favorite among mbg editors. With potent brightening plant extracts like pomegranate, sea kelp, and lemon peel, along with detoxifying walnut-shell flour and French green clay, it's gentle but effective.
Available on Amazon ($8)
6. Origins GinZing Refreshing Scrub Cleanser
In addition to a delightful citrus aroma, courtesy of grapefruit and lemon peel essential oils, this scrub helps revitalize a dull complexion with gentle jojoba and carnauba wax exfoliators and skin-brightening ginseng and coffee.
Buy online at Sephora ($20)
7. LEHALANI Kalima Cleansing Powder
One of Plug's personal favorites, this cleanser contains ultra-fine brown rice powder for gentle exfoliation, plus softening clays, hydrating coconut milk, soothing oatmeal, and antioxidant-rich tropical fruits like guava. Bonus: It smells absolutely divine and is gentle enough for daily use.
Buy online at LEHALANI ($52)
Best body exfoliators and scrubs.
1. True Botanicals Resurfacing Body Mask
Featuring lactic acid and anti-inflammatory green tea and sandalwood oil, this full-body exfoliating mask works wonders smoothing skin from head to toe when applied before bed. Green tea also has potent antioxidant properties to help counteract free radical damage and stop the enzymes that attack collagen.
Buy online at True Botanicals ($48)
2. Skinceuticals Body Retexturing Treatment
This fragrance-free, full-body rough-skin fix was formulated specifically for dry and bumpy arms, legs, elbows, and knees. It contains hydroxyethyl urea, which helps promote skin cell turnover for gentle exfoliation, along with skin-brightening niacinamide and hydrating hyaluronic acid.
Buy online at Amazon ($55)
3. Herbivore Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish
Sugar, a gentle abrasive, buffs bumpy arms and legs while coconut oil offers intense hydration for ultra-smooth, supple skin. Additional ingredients like Moroccan rose oil and rose clay help reduce inflammation and soften skin. Bonus: After using this scrub, you'll smell good enough to eat.
Buy online at Sephora ($36)
4. Astura Scrub The Day Away Cooling Cucumber
This scrub features finely ground salt hailing all the way from the Dead Sea—and, as a result, it's packed with over 20 healing minerals like magnesium. Combined with soothing aloe vera, cooling cucumber and peppermint oil, and nourishing jojoba and sweet almond oils, it's equal parts nourishing and relaxing.
Buy online at Amazon ($22)
5. Shea Moisture Bamboo Charcoal Body Scrub
This popular drugstore pick is one of the best full-body exfoliators for acne-prone skin, thanks to detoxifying charcoal, which helps draw out excess oil and dirt, and antimicrobial tea tree oil. Small, bead-like jojoba esters offer gentle natural exfoliation while jojoba oil and shea butter keep skin hydrated.
Buy online at Amazon ($10)
6. The Seaweed Bath Co. Exfoliating Detox Scrub
The exfoliating action of this scrub comes courtesy of finely ground walnut shell, while antioxidant-rich coffee and green tea extract, and vitamin- and mineral-rich bladderwrack seaweed from Maine deliver potent protection from free radical damage and inflammation.
Buy online at Amazon ($12)
7. Aveeno Positively Radiant Exfoliating Body Wash
Aveeno's exfoliating body wash is soap-free, dye-free, and hypoallergenic, making it a smart pick for nearly anyone who uses your shower. It contains finely ground walnut shell, along with antioxidant-rich soybean seed extract, making it gentle enough for everyday use. Even better? It's less than 10 bucks.
Buy online at Target ($7)
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