The first time I ever used an exfoliator (it was probably Renée Rouleau's Triple Berry Smoothing TBH), my entire life flashed before my eyes. Or at least, my entire skin regimen. I've always been someone plagued with stubborn breakouts and congestion (what estheticians call small textural issues like whiteheads, etc.) in addition to having persnickety, dry, and sensitive skin. Basically, I had lots of factors working against me, and my pre–beauty editor uneducated self attacked my aggravated complexion with all the wrong strategies, from over-abusing too harsh face masks to drenching my skin in bucket buckets of zit cream.
It wasn't until I had my first-ever consultation with an actual esthetician (again, celeb skin expert Renée Rouleau) that I realized I was carrying on with a bass-ackward strategy. Yes, regular masking and exfoliants are key for a bright, clear, and bouncy skin texture, but these types of products are active and potent and therefore shouldn't be used over-excessively. Not to mention, it's imperative to prioritize high-quality formulas balanced with other hydrating ingredients to keep the skin's overall well-being balanced and in check. Thus, I've become an exfoliator connoisseur of sorts and now swear by the product category for keeping my skin clear, bright, and glowy. (True story—I never received compliments on my makeup-free skin until discovering the below all-star formulas and began using them as needed in my skincare routine.)
Because this time of year, especially, can be hard on our complexions, I'm revealing the 14 best exfoliators (from cleansers to peel-pads to toners to masks) that play nicely with dry skin while gently and efficiently banishing debris and buildup. Keep scrolling!
My goddess-like facialist at Vanessa Hernandez Skincare, Dakota Katt, introduced me to these cult-loved magical exfoliating pads, and they're the easiest way to slough off dead skin and unwanted buildup fast and without a mess. I use them a couple of times a week as needed followed by a thin layer of moisturizer.
I've tried a bunch of products from True Botanicals, but it's this dreamy smelling exfoliating mask that has to be my favorite. After just five minutes of wear, my skin looks and feels significantly brighter, softer, and all-around more radiant. I also love that it doesn't strip my dry skin of essential moisture.
Renée's Triple Berry Smoothing Peel is an icon, celebrity favorite, and one of the only products I've used on repeat ever since I started my career as a beauty editor. I'm so obsessed with the baby-smooth, clear, and glowy results that I apply it twice a week and thus go through a jar every few months and panic until I get my hands on a replacement. It's professional facial–level gold and absolutely one of the best exfoliators for dry skin thanks to the strategic mix of skin-sloughing acids and natural soothing extracts.
Saturated with the most luxurious of natural ingredients, The Clean Dirt is beautiful through and through. It's a unique powder to mousse formula that's activated with water and features a mix of white halloysite clay, clove, rose, and ginger to exfoliate, hydrate, soothe, tone, and detoxify all in one go.
I have to admit that I'm rather addicted to this fresh-as-air exfoliator (but literally). Piping with active, tingly, and all-around very refreshing ingredients like acids (azelaic, lactic, and salicylic), natural exfoliating enzymes (pumpkin and pineapple), and hydrating agents (sodium PCA), this is one of the most beautiful and fun exfoliators those with dry skin should definitely seek out.
Even though there are a handful of exfoliating pads on the market, these best-selling ones from Goop (and the first ones I mentioned from M-61) are the only ones I'll use. Since fewer come in a package and they're pretty expensive, I reserve this formula for nights before a special occasion or event, but they're remarkably talented at completely transforming a dull, tired complexion. Borderline witchcraft!
7. Éminence Organic Skin Care Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant
Not only do I love this exfoliator from Éminence for its intoxicatingly yummy smell (like strawberry rhubarb pie!), it also feels gentle and soothing enough to use even in the dead of winter when my skin is at its most dry and vulnerable. It features a blend of strawberries, lactic acid, and rice powder to buff away impurities and suck up excess oil while simultaneously hydrating and minimizing the look of large pores. It's always in my cupboard.
8. Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
Sunday Riley is responsible for a coven of enchantingly effective skin saviors, but Good Genes is by far the cult icon of the group. The ultimate exfoliator for dry skin types, it boats a purified form of lactic acid to hydrate and resurface the top layers of the skin and is anchored with other ingredient MVPs like licorice, lemongrass, and prickly pear extract to correct dullness and pigmentation and soothe away lingering redness.
If you're looking for true wunderkind on the multi-tasking front, this well-loved cleanser from Tata Harper will be your greatest-ever skin find. A true treasure, it exfoliates, purifies, and polishes while still keeping skin supple, topped off with moisture, and insanely smooth and luminous.
I love this scrub from Goldfaden MD so much I actually use it as a body scrub too. Infused with resurfacing ruby crystals and high-quality hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and squalane, it's a weekly go-to when I want my skin to gleam with a smooth, velvety, and bright finish.
I hoard all of Dr. Barbara Sturm's products, but this enzymatic cleanser is a fast and easy way to exfoliate away dead skin without having to add another step to your skincare routine. It's well-loved by jet-setting models and actresses, and it even comes in a nifty travel size (it's a powder formula that emulsifies with the addition of water!) so your glow is never sacrificed.
12. Dr. Brandt Microdermabrasion Age Defying Exfoliator
In-office microdermabrasion treatments are expensive and definitely not something my bank account can keep up on a regular basis. However, this professional-inspired exfoliator from Dr. Brandt yields very similar results from the comforting, less expensive environment of your bathroom vanity. Plus, I've become addicted to the calming ritual of massaging into my skin for a few minutes at the end of a long day. Lactic acid and crystals exfoliate away the dead skin clogging your skin's chances at clarity while hydrating agents like jojoba oil, chamomile, and aloe keep everything moisturized, happy, and calm.
This magical exfoliating face mask is a godsend for anyone struggling with dullness, hyperpigmentation, dryness, and all-around lackluster skin. The formula includes lactic acid and fruit enzymes to banish the dead skin sitting on the surface layers of the skin while kaolin clay absorbs other impurities and excess oil. It even has a healthy hit of vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and galactoarabinan to boost your natural cell renewal, elastin production, and optimum hydration levels.
As far as exfoliating masks go, this aptly named, featherlight one from celeb esthetician Angela Caglia is one of the best. It's pink (so pretty) and boasts a naturally potent melding of rose, purple sweet potato, and glycolic acid. It's gentle and non-stripping, so your face will retain healthy hydration levels.