How to Pick the Best Exfoliating Cleanser for Your Skin

Written by: Matigan King

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Published on: November 17, 2022

woman using cleanser

Adding a bit of exfoliation into your daily cleanse delivers serious benefits for almost every type of skin, helping to soften, clear, brighten, and smooth your complexion. More-intense exfoliants absolutely have their place, but the mild daily cell turnover you get from an exfoliating cleanser helps all the other skin care in your routine sink in better, as well as stealthily helping to stimulate collagen, enliven dull skin, and keep 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 like jojoba beads, ground minerals, or grains that manually scrub away dirt, pollution, makeup, sweat, and any other buildup (skin brushes and even washcloths also fall into the physical exfoliation category). The two types of exfoliants can work together beautifully, or they might function better on their own, depending on whether your skin skews dry, oily, mature, or sensitive.

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

Dry Skin

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

  1. Antioxidant-Rich Moringa Seed and Castor Seed Oils


    YINA Bioadaptive Cleanser

    YINA
    Bioadaptive Cleanser
    goop, $68

    SHOP NOW

  2. Plumping Cocoa Butter and Bakuchiol


    Alpyn Beauty Juneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cream Cleanser

    Alpyn Beauty
    Juneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cream Cleanser
    goop, $39

    SHOP NOW

  3. Organic Macadamia and Coconut Oils


    Makanai Clean Cleansing Morning Zen

    MAKANAI
    Clean Cleansing Morning Zen
    goop, $35

    SHOP NOW

Oily Skin

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

  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

    SHOP NOW

  2. Ruby Crystals and Organic Red Tea


    Goldfaden MD Doctor’s Scrub Advanced

    Goldfaden MD
    Doctor’s Scrub Advanced
    goop, $98

    SHOP NOW

  3. Glycolic Acid and Rice Particles


    Humanrace Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator

    Humanrace
    Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator
    goop, $46

    SHOP NOW

  4. Vitamin C and Cellulose


    Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser

    Dr. Barbara Sturm
    Enzyme Cleanser
    goop, $75

    SHOP NOW

Mature Skin

As we age, the rate of cell turnover slows, so our skin can handle more-powerful exfoliation—think grittier textures or more-potent 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

    SHOP NOW

  2. Apricot Microbeads and Neroli


    Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser

    Tata Harper
    Regenerating Cleanser
    goop, $88

    SHOP NOW

  3. Bamboo Fiber and Pomegranate Enzymes


    FaTH The Resurfacing Botanical Cleanser

    FāTH
    The Resurfacing Botanical Cleanser
    goop, $82

    SHOP NOW

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 go slowly when trying a new product and, for some, to use an exfoliating cleanser less frequently (say, every other day) to help skin adjust to the new regimen.

  1. Turmeric and Willow Bark


    Plantkos Phyto Exfoliating Cleanser

    Plantkos
    Phyto Exfoliating Cleanser
    goop, $37

    SHOP NOW

  2. Rice Powder and Cranberry Enzymes


    Tata Harper Refining Cleanser

    Tata Harper
    Refining Cleanser
    goop, $88

    SHOP NOW

  3. Miehei and Rhodiola


    Ursa Major Making Moves Milky Cleanser

    Ursa Major
    Making Moves Milky Cleanser
    goop, $34

    SHOP NOW

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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