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: