Every Skincare Routine Needs A Chemical Exfoliator, And These 10 Are The Best
A skincare routine isn’t complete without an exfoliant. Exfoliating is an essential step that aids in brightening, smoothing, and toning the skin. And when it’s done on a regular basis, the products in your skincare routine absorb better and work more effectively.
There are two ways you can exfoliate your skin: physical exfoliants buff away dead skin cells with grains or gritty materials, while chemical exfoliants use acids to dissolve the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. Both types of exfoliants soften skin, fade acne scars, and improve the skin’s texture, but chemical ones provide a deeper, more intense exfoliation without the risk of micro tears or scratches along the surface of the skin.
How To Choose The Best Chemical Exfoliant For Your Skin Type
When looking for a chemical exfoliant to add to your skincare routine, it’s important to know which face acids suit your needs and skin type. The most common acids used in chemical exfoliants are AHAs and BHAs. AHAs are water-soluble acids derived from fruit and work best for anyone with dry, oily, or normal skin. These gentle acids work to brighten your skin tone, smooth rough, bumpy texture, and soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. In addition to dissolving dead skin cells, some AHAs like lactic acid and glycolic acid also help the skin maintain moisture levels by pulling water into the skin to keep it hydrated. On the other hand, BHAs are oil-soluble, which makes them easier to work inside of your pores to clear out excess oil, dirt, and other build-up that leads to congested, dull skin. BHAs work best for those with oily, combination, or acne-prone skin types.
There are lots of different chemical exfoliants on the market, and we’re here to help you find the one that’s right for your skin type. Below we’ve pulled together 10 algorithm-approved exfoliators for every skin type, from acne-prone to sensitive. With this list of exfoliators to choose from, smooth, even-toned, and bright skin is certainly in your near future.
How We Found The Best Chemical Exfoliants
Ahead, we’ve rounded up the internet’s most recommended chemical exfoliants. From at-home peels to cult-favorite serums like Sunday Riley’s Good Genes, these are the best chemical exfoliants for improving skin’s texture and tone. To make sure you get your hands on the right chemical exfoliant for your skin type, we used our data-driven algorithm. Unique to Rank & Style, this tool uses a range of data like editor recommendations, best-seller lists, social media buzz, reviews, and more to find and rank the most loved products on the internet. Keep scrolling to shop the 10 best chemical exfoliants that are sure to help you achieve that next-level glow.
Next up, check out the 10 Best At-Home Facial Peels.
July 26, 2022
Top 10 Lists serve as unbiased shopping guides to the most trusted product recommendations on the internet. Products are scored and ranked using an algorithm backed by data consumers find most valuable when making a purchase. We are reader-supported and may earn a commission when you shop through our links.
Summer Fridays Soft Reset AHA Exfoliating Solution
WHAT IT DOES: Infused with both glycolic and lactic acids—two alpha hydroxy acids known to exfoliate dead skin, unclog pores, visibly brighten skin, and minimize the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots—this exfoliating serum packs a powerful punch with 16% AHAs. It also contains niacinamide, a multitasking ingredient that minimizes pores, targets acne and hyperpigmentation, and controls oil production.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: This three-in-one exfoliating solution is vegan and cruelty-free and comes in recyclable packaging.
M-61 PowerGlow Peel
WHAT IT DOES: In just one minute, this one-step exfoliating peel resurfaces, clarifies, and firms the skin for an all-around radiant glow. The key ingredients—glycolic and salicylic acid—help to improve the skin's texture, visibly brighten the complexion, and reduce pore size and fine lines, while other ingredients like chamomile and lavender bring calming and soothing benefits to the skin.
FROM THE EXPERTS: In a clinical trial, 97% of users showed immediate improvement in the appearance of pore size.
First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads
WHAT IT DOES: The two AHAs in these daily treatment pads work together to remove dead skin cells while improving texture and minimizing the appearance of dark spots. Both lactic acid and glycolic acid stimulate cell renewal to aid in the process of removing the build up of dead skin, revealing smoother, bouncier, glowier skin.
HELPFUL TIP: Use a radiance pad before applying makeup to ensure your skin is a smooth canvas for flawless makeup application.
SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
WHAT IT DOES: This cleanser thoroughly cleanses and gently exfoliates the skin thanks to a blend of alpha and beta hydroxy acids that work together to mildly exfoliate the skin, which in turn reduces the size of pores and minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The results? A smooth and bright complexion.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: Chemical exfoliators have harsh active ingredients that often leave your skin dry and flaky. This cleanser has lavender extract to help combat and soothe any inflammation that may arise when exfoliating the skin.
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA
WHO IT’S FOR: Powered by hyaluronic acid and a high concentration of lactic acid, this lightweight, water-based serum can tackle even the worst dark spots while it fights signs of aging and texture irregularities. According to one reviewer with keratosis pilaris, this serum is the sole reason her skin is smooth and bump-free.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: Since this serum is formulated with high-strength lactic acid, those with sensitive skin should start slowly and build up to more frequent use.
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator
WHAT IT DOES: Activated by water, this rice-based powder exfoliator transforms into a foaming, creamy paste, releasing papain and salicylic acid to draw out excess oil, clear clogged pores, brighten dark spots, and smooth uneven texture. It also contains colloidal oatmeal, which helps to soothe redness and irritated skin.
HELPFUL TIP: Dispense about a half teaspoon of the powder into wet hands, then add a little water and lather until the powder completely dissolves into a smooth, foamy paste.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
WHAT IT DOES: This cult-favorite AHA treatment combines 30% AHA and 2% BHA to diminish the look of blemishes and smooth textured skin in 10 minutes. The alpha hydroxy acids exfoliate the skin’s outer layers, while the beta hydroxy acids exfoliate inside the pores to clear out dead skin, dirt, and oil.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: This highly potent exfoliating solution is best for nighttime use, followed by hydrating products and sun protection during the day.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Dr. Dennis Gross’s signature peel pads deliver professional-level results at home. Powered by seven acids, they're are formulated to combat the common signs of aging and reduce pores, acne scars, and shine. Plus, the pads are conveniently packaged to carry when you’re on the go and safe to use in the morning or at night (unlike other harsh chemical exfoliators).
WHO IT’S FOR: This powerful two-step formula contains glycolic acid, salicylic acid, antioxidants, and retinol—all powerhouse ingredients that support the collagen production in aging skin, help reduce pore blockage, and balance moisture levels.
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
WHAT IT DOES: Sunday Riley’s Good Genes is another cult-favorite AHA treatment known for going beneath the surface to deeply exfoliate dull skin and instantly plump the look of fine lines and wrinkles. The result? A brighter, smoother complexion in three minutes.
USER REVIEW: “This product is eye-wateringly expensive, but every time I purchase it, I am blown away by how good it is. I have very sensitive, acne-prone skin with scarring and cannot use normal AHA products. I have tried everything, and nothing has ever worked like this. This product is incredible. Within a few days of use, pimples have disappeared and scars are already fading. My pores are smaller, and my skin has a dewy glow. I recommend that anyone suffering from hormonal acne and scarring give this product a go.”
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
WHAT IT DOES: Gentle enough to use daily, this powerful exfoliant tackles multiple steps in one. On top of shedding extra layers of dead skin thanks to salicylic acid, it also unclogs pores and reduces the appearance of enlarged pores and wrinkles. It also visibly brightens the skin, resulting in a youthful, even-toned complexion.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: A BHA leave-on exfoliator, like Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, delivers hydration and can exfoliate directly inside the pore and improve how the pore works, leading to regulated oil production and fewer breakouts.
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