Are You Using an Exfoliating Scrub? Here are 12 of the Best

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Even if you faithfully wear sunscreen, commit to investing in high-quality serums and creams, and mask regularly, you’re not going to see optimal results if you’re not using an exfoliating scrub. The best exfoliator for the face removes dead cells from the skin’s top layer (stratum corneum) to escalate cell turnover.

Not only does a face exfoliator help the skin become smoother, clearer, and brighter immediately and over time, but all of the other products in your regime will work more effectively. This is because they’ll be able to penetrate the skin — not harbor on the surface with dead cells. But make no mistake. Even the best exfoliating face wash can’t replace the best exfoliating face scrub because it doesn’t have the same mechanical action to sweep away dead skin cells. 

So, best face scrub, you ask? Look no further. Here at Deep Science, we’ve reviewed hundreds of products with a scientific lens to ensure you’re creating a skincare routine that’s safe and effective. 

Ahead, are 12 of the best exfoliating scrubs to reveal a fresher, more vibrant complexion while maximizing the results of your entire skincare regimen. 

Related: Best Skincare Routine

Best Exfoliator for the Face: The List

Formulyst Microdermabrasion Exfoliator, $75

Clinique 7 Day Scrub Cream Rinse-Off Formula, $24

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, $59

Skinceuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub, $31

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Polish, $18.75

Kiehl’s Facial Fuel Scrub, $28

Proactiv Skin Smoothing Exfoliator, $48

Acure Brightening Facial Scrub, $9.99

Fresh Umbrian Clay Mattifying Face Exfoliant, $33

Lancer The Method Polish, $75

Neutrogena Deep Clean Purifying Gel Scrub, $8.99

Tula So Polished Exfoliating Sugar Scrub, $32

The Science Behind Exfoliation 

Skin cell turnover — a repetitive process that happens approximately every 28 days —  occurs when the living cells from the lowest epidermis layer gradually move up to the skin’s top layer. A healthy renewal cycle is essential for an even, spotless glowing complexion, yet the renewal process slows down with age.

There are two types of exfoliants: physical and chemical. While the former is the gritty, scrub-like formula you may be more familiar with (and that we’re focusing on in this piece), chemical exfoliators dissolve dead skin cells versus sweeping them away.

Related: Best Retinol Serums

How to Choose the Best Exfoliator for the Face 

An exfoliating face scrub can be an adequate product to add to your skincare routine, providing you’re choosing a safe formula for your skin type and tone.

It’s interesting to note that scrub reviews have increased an impressive 121% since 2018, and the market itself has grown significantly between 2016 and 2020. This growth is due to a rise in demand for lightening, anti-aging, male, and chemical-free exfoliators and scrubs. With that said, scrubs are getting the attention of influencers, consumers, and pros alike.

 

Skin Type

While there are face scrubs on the market that cater to each skin type, the reality is, scrubs aren’t as good of an option as chemical exfoliants (which can be used by every skin type) for those with acneic, ultra-dry/mature, or sensitive skin. This is not to say you can’t give a scrub a go. Just be sure to choose a formula that hydrates, nourishes, and protects as well as exfoliates.

 

Skin Tone

Avoid an intense mechanical exfoliator if you have a darker skin tone because it can result in hyperpigmentation — especially after acne breakouts, burns, surgeries, injuries, or bug bites.

 

Exfoliating Elements

Do you remember the St. Ives lawsuit of 2017? While the case was thrown out of court in 2018, the company was under fire for its cult Apricot Scrub, which was believed to create micro-tears in the skin. Though the product still has a loyal following today, many other companies have opted to develop face scrubs with less abrasive ingredients such as jojoba beads, poppy seeds, oatmeal, bamboo powder, silica, fruit powders, and rice bran. 

Exfoliating elements to avoid are fruit pits, ground-up shells, volcanic rock, chunky salt, etc. Also, avoid plastic microbeads. They can’t be dissolved in water, so they’re not doing Mother Earth any favors.

How to Properly Use a Face Scrub

When it comes to how often to use a face scrub, one to two times a week if you have dry or sensitive skin is typically sufficient, while those with oily skin can increase the frequency to around three times. While some scrubs are marketed for daily use, keep an eye on how your skin is reacting as not all skin types can handle that much exfoliation — nor is it necessary.

While scrubs themselves may not all be dangerous, over-exfoliating of any kind (physical or chemical) is. Signs you’re overdoing it include redness, itchiness, irritation, micro-tears or abrasions, flakiness, and dryness. You may even experience breakouts even if you’re not regularly acneic.

 

Cleanse

Start with a clean canvas by washing your face and removing all traces of makeup. While some scrubs advertise that they’ll take care of these steps for you, it’s never a bad idea to use a traditional cleanser to get the job done and then consider your scrub a second cleanse.

 

Use the Right Amount

You only need about a nickel-sized amount of product (give or take depending on the size of your face), so don’t overdo it, or you’ll just be wasting product. Spread the product evenly on both of your hands to ensure an even exfoliation.

 

Be Gentle

There’s no need to use a heavy hand when exfoliating; this can lead to irritation. Use light, circular motions (avoiding the eye area) for 15-30 seconds. Don’t forget the corners of your nose, neck, and décolleté. Gentleman, don’t be afraid to work that scrub into your beard and mustache, too.

 

Rinse Thoroughly

Use tepid water to remove all of the product from your skin. Gently pat your face dry to avoid irritation, especially with acne or sensitive skin.

 

Restore

Apply a serum and moisturizer appropriate for your skin type.

 

Protect

Exfoliating makes your skin more sun-sensitive, so you must be wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 during the daytime — even if it’s cloudy outside.

Related: Best Medical Grade Skincare

Best Exfoliating Face Scrub

Formulyst Microdermabrasion Exfoliator, $75
A skin-refining superstar, Formulyst’s Retexturizing Microdermabrasion Exfoliator is formulated to gently exfoliate built-up layers of dead skin to expose the younger, more vibrant-looking skin beneath. Fine aluminum oxide crystals effectively remove dirt, excess oil, and dead cells.

At the same time, nutrient-rich jojoba oil, red tea extract, apricot kernel oil, squalane, and hyaluronic acid deeply nourish and soothe newly exposed skin. The result is smoother, perfect-looking skin with less visible lines and wrinkles.

Clinique 7 Day Scrub Cream Rinse-Off Formula, $24
This popular Clinique exfoliating scrub gently sweeps away rough patches and flakes, improving texture and radiance — it even helps minimize the appearance of fine, dry lines. Your serum and moisturizer will penetrate more effectively while providing the perfect canvas for makeup. Silica provides a gentle exfoliation that’s, as the name suggests, safe enough to use every day. The formula is void of parabens, phthalates, fragrance, colors, and denatured alcohol.

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, $59
One of Dermalogica’s most popular products is the Daily Microfoliant, an exfoliating rice-based powder for your face that promises to help you achieve brighter, smoother skin. It’s formulated with microcrystalline cellulose, a gentle abrasive to exfoliate the top layers of skin, removing makeup, excess oil, dirt, and other impurities that may have accumulated during the day. 

Additionally, this scrub chemical exfoliants, such as papain (an enzyme derived from papaya) and salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid), a skin brightening complex of phytic acid from rice bran, white tea, and licorice to help balance uneven skin tone, and a soothing blend of colloidal oatmeal and allantoin to help calm skin. Despite this scrub’s powerful formula, it’s gentle enough for daily use.

Skinceuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub, $31
Skinceuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub features a robust 2% concentration combining hydrated silica, glycerin, and aloe extract to purify pores and promote a healthy skin barrier. The formula is gentle enough for daily use and even softens and hydrates the skin. It’s paraben-, sulfate-, soap-, fragrance-, dye- and alcohol-free, making it suitable for normal, dry, oily, and combination skin. 

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Polish, $18.75
FAB is notorious for formulating products that cater to sensitive skin, and this mild scrub is no exception. Shea butter, oatmeal, and glycerin work synergistically to exfoliate, hydrate, soothe, and brighten gently. Unlike many other scrubs, this one is gentle enough to use every day.

Kiehl’s Facial Fuel Scrub, $28
Kiehl’s paraben- and sulfate-free energizing facial scrub for men effectively exfoliates while invigorating the skin, thanks to caffeine, menthol, citrus extracts, and vitamin E. Just be sure to conduct a patch test first because some of these ingredients, though beneficial, can cause sensitivity. Along with improving the skin’s texture, this face exfoliator also preps the skin for a close, comfortable shave.

Proactiv Skin Smoothing Exfoliator, $48
To be clear, it’s never a good idea to aggressively exfoliate acneic skin because you run the risk of spreading breakouts and causing further inflammation. However, mild acne can benefit from a scrub such as this formula from Proactiv, one of the leaders in acne skincare. It’s formulated with micro-crystal benzoyl peroxide to treat blemishes and keep new ones from forming.

Acure Brightening Facial Scrub, $9.99
Walnut shell powder (not chunky pieces) sweeps away dead cells and refines pores while lemon peel noticeably brightens, resulting in refreshed, smooth, and radiant skin. As a bonus, it deeply cleanses and can even effectively remove a full face of makeup.

Fresh Umbrian Clay Mattifying Face Exfoliant, $33
Mineral-rich Umbrian clay absorbs excess oil, giving the skin a clear, refined, matte-like appearance. Fine bamboo and olive particles effectively remove stubborn dead skin cells that tend to stick to oily skin, eventually leading to blackheads and breakouts. You can apply this formula like a mask and wait a few minutes before dampening your fingers and working the product into the skin like a traditional scrub.

Lancer The Method Polish, $75
This exfoliator blends physical and chemical properties and can be used daily to keep mature skin looking revitalized. Quartz crystals, pumpkin, and pomegranate enzymes effectively remove dead surface cells while leaving the skin noticeably softer and brighter after just one use. Between the relaxing lavender scent and the self-warming formula, it’s as though you’re giving yourself a mini spa treatment.

Neutrogena Deep Clean Purifying Gel Scrub, $8.99
This popular Neutrogena exfoliating scrub gently yet effectively exfoliates and removes impurities while salicylic acid targets breakouts. The formula features proprietary Barriercare cleansing technology to ensure the skin remains soft and balanced versus stripped of its natural oils. It works best on oily and acne-prone skin types.

Tula So Polished Exfoliating Sugar Scrub, $32
Tula harnesses the power of skin-friendly probiotics in its products, which work to strengthen the skin’s microbiome that can become disrupted from over-exfoliating, using the wrong skincare products, medication, allergies, and environmental stressors. This scrub is formulated with sugar that naturally dissolves during the exfoliating process, so it’s more gentle on the skin. The addition of fruit enzymes ensures that you’re getting a thorough yet pure exfoliation.

Face Exfoliator: The Bottom Line 

The best exfoliator for the face removes dead cells from the skin’s top layer (stratum corneum) to escalate cell turnover. 

Not only does a face exfoliator help the skin become smoother, clearer, and brighter immediately and over time, but all of the other products in your regime will work more effectively because they’ll be able to penetrate the skin — not harbor on the surface with dead cells.

When shopping for an exfoliating scrub, consider your skin type and tone. Look for formulas that contain less abrasive ingredients, such as jojoba beads, poppy seeds, oatmeal, bamboo powder, silica, fruit powders, and rice bran. Avoid fruit pits, ground-up shells, volcanic rock, chunky salt, etc. Also, avoid plastic microbeads. They can’t be dissolved in water, so they’re not doing Mother Earth any favors.

While scrubs themselves may not all be dangerous, over-exfoliating of any kind (physical or chemical) is. Signs you’re overdoing it include redness, itchiness, irritation, micro-tears or abrasions, flakiness, and dryness. You may even experience breakouts even if you’re not regularly acneic.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about an exfoliating scrub.

 

FAQs

A scrub is a cream-based skincare product that contains tiny exfoliating particles. At the same time, an exfoliator is a mechanical or chemical agent that removes dead cells from the skin’s surface.

While some experts say once a week is enough — especially if you’re new to exfoliating — most skincare professionals advise that you exfoliate two to three times per week, providing your skin can handle it. Of course, some scrubs, such as Clinique’s Seven Day Scrub, can be used daily, so always read the instructions on the ingredient label before starting a new product.

You should start using an exfoliating scrub at the beginning of your teen years to clean pores, protect against acne, and remove dead cells from the skin surface. Regardless of skin type, regular exfoliation is necessary as you age to promote smooth skin surface and minimize pores.

An exfoliating scrub promotes the natural skin renewal process. When you scrub your face, it removes the dead and damaged skin cells and allows the skin to regenerate. Some scrubs are formulated with natural brightening ingredients to help fade the appearance of dark patches and scars.

Along with cleansing, a face scrub removes dead skin cells, leaving the skin smooth and prepped to receive the benefits of the rest of your skincare routine. On the other hand, face washes cleanse the skin of dirt and oil, and have a creamy, gel, or foamy texture. A face scrub — or even the best exfoliating face wash — should never be used as a substitute for a face wash but should be an added step in your routine after cleansing.

Before exfoliating, you want to make sure you remove all traces of makeup and dirt. Otherwise, you’re just scrubbing all of this debris more profoundly into your pores.

You also have to be careful not to over-cleanse because you’ll be stripping the skin of its natural oils, which in turn causes the skin to produce even more oil as a self-defense mechanism. Instead of cleansing twice, swipe a gentle micellar water, toner, or essence across your face to restore its pH.

A scrub removes the top part of the blackhead, but that doesn’t solve the underlying cause. The blackhead will soon resurface. Instead, you need a product formulated with salicylic acid to break up the plug deep within the pore.

Sources:
How to Stay Ahead in the Booming Skincare Market,” Cosmetic Executive Women, January 2020.
Demand for Natural and Organic Products to Boost the Global Exfoliators and Scrubs Market Through 2020, Reports Technavio,” Business Wire, December 2016.





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