How to choose the best exfoliating cleanser for your skin

How to choose the best exfoliating cleanser for your skin

Written by: Mattigan King


Published on: November 17, 2022

Adding a little exfoliation to your daily cleanse offers serious benefits for almost all skin types, helping to soften, cleanse, brighten and smooth your complexion. More intense exfoliants definitely have their place, but the gentle daily cell turnover you get from an exfoliating cleanser helps all the other skin care in your routine sink in better, and it stealthily helps stimulate collagen, revive dull skin, and unclog 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 such as jojoba beads, ground minerals or grains that manually scrub away dirt, pollution , makeup, sweat, and any other build-up (skin brushes and even washcloths also fall into the category of physical exfoliation). The two types of exfoliation can work beautifully together, or they may work better separately, depending on whether your skin is prone to dry, oily, mature or sensitive skin.

Finding the right exfoliating cleanser for your skin—there are versions that exfoliate with enzymes, acids, microminerals, rice particles, bamboo fibers, and more—involves looking at the ingredients, along with some trial and error. With that in mind, we picked the below all-stars by skin type to help you find your ultimate daily cleanser.

Dry skin

The gradual, gentle work of daily exfoliation really helps dry skin absorb moisturizer better and perform better overall. These formulas deliver moisture-locking butters and oils along with both chemical and physical exfoliants to moisturize, and they also remove dead, dry skin.

  1. Antioxidant-rich Moringa seed and castor seed oils

    YINA Bioadaptive Cleanser

    Bioadaptive cleaner
    goop, $68


  2. Plumping cocoa butter and bakuchiol

    Alpyn Beauty Juneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cream Cleanser

    Alpine beauty
    Juneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cream Cleanser
    goop, $39


  3. Organic macadamia and coconut oil

    Makanai Cleansing Morning Zen

    Clean Cleansing Morning Zen
    goop, $35


Greasy skin

Cleansers made with a combination of both chemical and physical exfoliants can help control oil production and clarify and revitalize skin—we love the powerful plant enzymes here and the delicious formulas that soften and brighten.

  1. Fruit enzymes and bitter orange peel powder

    goop Beauty GOOPGLOW Cloudberry Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser

    goop beauty
    GOOPGLOW Cloudberry Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser
    goop, $35/$25 with subscription


  2. Ruby crystals and organic red tea

    Goldfaden MD Doctor's Scrub Advanced

    Goldfaden MD
    Doctor’s Scrub Advanced
    goop, $98


  3. Glycolic acid and rice particles

    Human Race Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator

    Human race
    Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator
    goop, $46


  4. Vitamin C and cellulose

    Dr.  Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser

    Dr. Barbara Sturm
    Enzyme cleaner
    goop, $75


Mature skin

As we age, cell turnover rates slow so our skin can handle more vigorous exfoliation—think grittier textures or more powerful ingredient concentrations—on a daily basis to brighten and smooth.

  1. Diamond powder and rose water

    The Organic Pharmacy Rose Diamond Exfoliating Cleanser

    The Organic Pharmacy
    Rose Diamond Exfoliating Cleanser
    goop, $73


  2. Apricot micro pearls and Neroli

    Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser

    Tata Harper
    Regenerating cleanser
    goop, $88


  3. Bamboo fiber and pomegranate enzymes

    FaTH The Resurfacing Botanical Cleanser

    The Resurfacing Botanical Cleanser
    goop, $82


Sensitive skin

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 take it slow when trying a new product, and for some, use an exfoliating cleanser less often (eg every other day) to help the skin adjust to the new regimen.

  1. Turmeric and willow bark

    Plantkos Phyto Exfoliating Cleanser

    Plant food
    Phyto Exfoliating Cleanser
    goop, $37


  2. Rice powder and cranberry enzymes

    Tata Harper Refining Cleanser

    Tata Harper
    Refining Cleanser
    goop, $88


  3. Miehei and Rhodiola

    Ursa Major Making Moves Milky Cleanser

    Ursa Major
    Making Moves Milky Cleanser
    goop, $34


Related reading

Why your skin needs both chemical and physical exfoliation

How to exfoliate even really sensitive skin

The Rentmeester twins on “dry and neglected” skin

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