These Gentle Exfoliants Will Bring Your Freshest Face Forward

Photo: Milles Studio

Exfoliants are a tricky bunch. They're lauded as the product that's key to clear, beautiful skin, but it's way too easy to overindulge. What starts as an innocent quest for even skin tone and texture can take a hasty turn for the worse with ingredients that are abrasive, using them too frequently, or both. Peely, red, and sensitive is not a good look, nor a good feeling. Holistic dermatologist Cybele Fishman, M.D., recommends limiting your exfoliation ritual to once a week, even if your product instructions say otherwise.

All exfoliants can be categorized into one of two camps: physical exfoliants, characterized by a grainy consistency and the ability to physically slough off dead, flaky skin, and chemical exfoliants, which contain a combination of acids and enzymes that gently break down dead skin, excess oil, and product buildup at the skin's surface.

If you're using a retinol, have sensitive skin, mature skin, or even are simply enduring cold or drying weather, a physical exfoliator may be too much for your face. If you must, Dr. Fishman recommends using sugar, rice powder, or seed powder, and avoid nutshells and salt, as they are too harsh for the thin skin around your complexion and décolletage. Below are the best, all-natural, "chemical" exfoliants on the market right now:

1. Marie Veronique Probiotic + Exfoliation Mask.

This is a great mask for anyone who's new to exfoliating, because shea butter and sodium salicylate hydrate calm inflammation and hydrate the skin—two important steps to counterbalance the effects of sensitivity that arises from exfoliation.

"Additionally, there's a growing body of evidence demonstrating cosmetic benefits, like decreased acne and improved hydration, from restoring the skin's natural microbial balance with topical probiotics," said Credo Beauty's in-house esthetician, Hannah Brady.

Marie Veronique Probiotic + Exfoliation Mask, $50

2. Goldfaden M.D. Fresh A Peel.

At first glance, it's easy to be skeptical of this product—the tie to a dermatologist is reminiscent of the surge of clinical, doctor-created brands from the early 2000s, but don't be fooled. Goldfaden M.D. is surprisingly natural, and the Fresh A Peel in particular contains only eight ingredients even sensitive skin can tolerate. You've heard them all before—lactic acid, sugar extracts, and citrus fruit acids work to exfoliate and brighten skin.

Goldfaden M.D. Fresh A Peel, $85

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3. Laurel Honey Berry Enzyme Facial Mask.

Hydrating royal jelly makes this five-ingredient mask a game-changer. Enzymes from strawberries and blueberries work in tandem with vitamin C, reversing hyperpigmentation and light scarring, while honey acts as an adaptogen of sorts, balancing out bacteria on the skin. "My clients swoon over the mouthwatering aroma of the honey and berries when I apply this in their sessions," said Britta Plug, natural aesthetician, herbalist, and holistic health coach.

Laurel Honey Berry Enzyme Facial Mask, $54

Want to kick your skin-brightening game up a notch? Try this muslin cloth trick tonight.

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