Exfoliation—aka removing dead skin cells from our face and body—may not sound like the most glamorous of beauty rituals, but it’s an essential part of a healthy skincare routine. By scrubbing that outer layer away, you unclog pores, even out skin tone, and brighten your complexion. “The exfoliation process allows moisturizing products and sunscreen to penetrate and better protect our skin, leaving it fresh, vibrant, and healthy,” says Kelly Perkins, owner of Golden-based all-natural skincare company Spinster Sisters.
Sounds simple enough. But with so many exfoliation options available, how do you know which are the most effective? Per Perkins, there are two types of exfoliation: mechanical and chemical. The former uses some kind of abrasive (think crushed apricot kernels, sugar or salt crystals, pumice, and even microdermabrasion), while the latter loosens cells with acids (salicylic, glycolic, and alpha hydroxy) or fruit enzymes. Because some natural abrasives have rough or jagged edges, chemical exfoliation is considered less likely to tear the skin, but it can require some downtime when done by a professional. Whichever exfoliation method you choose, it should be gentle enough to not cause damage (redness, irritation, or stinging) to the skin.
Click to the next page to check out my recommendations for face and body exfoliants.
Daily: Korres is renowned for creating effective, homeopathic formulations, and the softly scented Wild Rose Daily Brightening & Refining Buff Cleanser shows why. This creamy cleanser uses tiny natural exfoliators (cherry stone and sugar-citrus extract) and vitamin C-rich wild rose oil to clean and brighten the face.
Find It: $28, sephora.com
Daily: Rice enzymes—imbued with antioxidant properties and the ability to rid skin of impurities—are a beauty ingredient traditionally found in Japanese skincare products. Dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant rice-based powder (you mix it with water in your palm to create a paste) is a non-gritty exfoliator that calms skin with its blend of green tea, ginkgo, and colloidal oatmeal. It’s also one of my favorites.
Find It: $52, dermalogica.com
Daily: A bit more abrasive than the other options, Goldfaden MD‘s Doctor’s Scrub Ruby Crystal Microderm Exfoliator yields amazing results. The scrub incorporates ruby crystals to buff away dead cells, reduce pore size, and leave behind smooth, glowing skin—similar to professional microdermabrasion. Tip: People with sensitive skins may want to test this product out on a small patch of skin first and/or limit use to once a week or every other week.
Find It: $75, goldfadenmd.com
Twice-a-Week: High-quality, food-grade ingredients form the basis of the Ultraluxe Skincare line. In particular, the Enzyme Peeling Cream is effective, yet gentle. Unlike most peels, which dry completely and then slough off, this cream firms up but stays moist, so it rubs off without pulling skin in 100 different directions. Plus no micro-beads means it’s totally non-abrasive—a perfect choice for sensitive skin.
Find It: $85, ultraluxeskincare.com
Special Care for Your Kisser: Spinster Sisters’ Sugar Lip Scrub (pictured, above) shows off Perkins formulation talents. (It smells as good as it works.) This all-natural buffer is loaded with fine sugar crystals to exfoliate, plus shea and cocoa butters to moisturize your pucker. It’s a must-have product for Colorado winters. Also try using it on cuticles when your nails start to look a little ragged.
Find It: $15, spinstersisters.com
Click on to the next page for my body exfoliation picks.
Daily: If you need a little boost to wake up in the morning, Origins‘ GinZing scrub cleanser will do the trick. This sunny, citrus-scented, two-in-one gel body wash gently exfoliates skin with jojoba and carnauba (a wax sourced from a palm tree native only to Brazil) beads and is mild enough to use every day.
Find It: $19.50, origins.com
Twice-a-Week: BioElixia’s BodyShaper Exfoliating Body Polish uses fine microcrystals to buff dead skin away. The creamy formula also soothes skin with key ingredients like aloe vera, vitamin E, and sweet almond oil.
Find It: $29.50, bioelixia.com
Twice-a-Week: In a slight change-up from traditional body polishes, the lightweight Mio Double Buff is first applied to dry skin. It exfoliates through a combination of tiny pumice and volcanic lava beads along with fruit enzymes, which help to brighten uneven tones.
Find It: $33, mioskincare.com
Twice-a-Week: Belli products were originally created for expectant mothers, as they contain no known phthalates, artificial fragrances, or dyes—which makes them perfect for anyone who wants safe and effective skincare. (In fact, Belli formulas may even help with hormone-related acne breakouts.) The company’s lactic acid–based Fresh Start Pre-Treatment Scrub is so gentle it can be used on the face or the body.
Find It: $24, belliskincare.com
Twice-a-Week: The deeply moisturizing cold-pressed botanical oils in Pure Fuji’s Coconut Sugar Rub are ideal for countering Colorado’s arid climate. Packed with raw sugar cane crystals to exfoliate and unclog pores, choose from one of 11 exotic scents (I tested out the delectable guava). Bonus: The scrub comes with its own scooper, so you know precisely how much to apply.
Find It: $43.95, store.purefiji.com/usa
Special Care for Rough Skin: Give a little more TLC to callused areas with Glytone’s Ultra Heal & Elbow Cream. Massage the cream on rough spots every evening, and watch how much they soften in just a few days. The soles of my feet look better now than they have all summer!