Which exfoliator is best for sensitive skin?
Exfoliation was once considered off-limits for sensitive skin. But now, there are plenty of exfoliators on the market that meet the unique needs of sensitive skin.
Exfoliators for sensitive skin feature gentle yet effective formulas that are less likely to strip or irritate the skin. Many of them forgo harsh chemicals and exfoliants and instead stick to simple or plant-based ingredients. However, no matter how gentle exfoliators for sensitive skin are, they are only effective when part of a complete skincare routine.
What you need to know about exfoliating sensitive skin
Benefits of skin exfoliation
Skin exfoliation does more than get rid of dead, dry skin. It helps unclog pores so skincare products, like moisturizers or anti-acne products, can penetrate deeper to maximize results. Clean, open pores also allow the skin to breathe and hydrate.
Another benefit of exfoliation is the stimulation of circulation, which in turn gives the skin a refreshed and healthy glow. It also stimulates collagen production and contributes to healthy cell turnover which leaves skin looking smooth and supple.
Face vs Body Scrubs
Although face and body scrubs share many of the same ingredients, they are completely different products. Simply put, because facial and body skin are so different, so are their exfoliating formulas.
Facial skin is more delicate, especially around the eyes, nose and cheeks. As a result, facial scrubs, including those formulated for sensitive skin, are made with milder ingredients. Many contain skin-soothing ingredients, such as aloe, chamomile, or shea butter.
The skin on your body is slightly tougher. It is common for body scrubs to contain more abrasive chemical and physical ingredients than facial scrubs. Take your elbows and knees, for example. These areas may have larger, thicker patches of dry skin that often require more intense exfoliation to smooth them out.
How often you should exfoliate
People with normal, oily, or even acne-prone skin are recommended to exfoliate up to three times a week. However, Healthline says people with sensitive skin should limit exfoliation to once a week. Exfoliating more often can lead to dryness, flaking, or redness.
Importance of moisturizer
When people with sensitive skin invite exfoliators into their skincare routines, it’s crucial to follow them up with the right moisturizer. Not only does it further soften the skin, but it can help control redness and irritation depending on the formula.
Cetaphil Oil-Free Daily Moisturizing Lotion, for example, is designed for sensitive skin because it’s non-comedogenic and fragrance-free. The lightweight formula provides long-lasting hydration and wears well under makeup.
Vanicream moisturizing lotion for sensitive skin is known for its non-irritating formula. It is free of dyes, fragrances, lanolin and parabens, and it is non-comedogenic. The lotion spreads easily and absorbs quickly.
Types of exfoliators
Chemical exfoliants include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and retinoids. These chemicals all exfoliate by peeling or resurfacing the skin; however, some are better suited to manage certain skin conditions.
- AHAs, like glycolic acid and citric acid, are often recommended to manage mild hyperpigmentation and fine lines.
- BHAs, like salicylic acid, penetrate deep into pores to remove buildup. They are considered ideal for those dealing with acne or redness.
- Retinoids, such as retinol and adapalene, are frequently used to minimize signs of aging and sun damage.
Physical exfoliators derive unique textures from mildly abrasive ingredients like salt, sugar, or crushed nuts. When you rub a physical exfoliator into the skin, ideally in circular motions, it gently removes dry, dead skin.
Dual exfoliants, such as Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, are formulated with both chemical and physical exfoliants.
Some people find that dual exfoliators are more effective at smoothing and refining because they target more than one layer of skin. However, others feel that these types of exfoliators are still a little too harsh for sensitive skin.
There are several types of exfoliating devices on the market, ranging from dry brushes to exfoliating washcloths. People with sensitive skin benefit from using some of these devices, but not all. Here are three options suitable for sensitive skin:
A silicone lip scrub, like this one from Daily Concepts, provides gentle exfoliation with dense, flexible nubs. It is considered one of the least abrasive ways to exfoliate lips.
The sonic cleansing brushes, which also have flexible silicone nubs, exfoliate the skin by vibrating across the surface of the face. They are considered a more gentle approach to full-face exfoliation.
When it comes to the body, silicone exfoliating loofahs are ideal. They are non-irritating and do not strip the skin as much as washcloths, body scrubbers and some bath poufs.
How much does an exfoliator for sensitive skin cost?
Drugstore scrubs and exfoliating devices cost between $6 and $20. Those made by high-end skincare brands, on the other hand, can cost between $30 and $300.
The best exfoliators for sensitive skin
Clinique 7 Day Scrub Cream Rinse Out Formula
In addition to a soft, creamy consistency, this gentle physical exfoliation is vegan and free of alcohol, gluten, synthetic dyes, SLS and sulfates. It rinses off easily and leaves the skin soft and clean.
Or buy: Ulta, Sephora and Macy’s
Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Daily Scrub
This Aveeno formula is textured with naturally-derived granules that lift away dry skin and draw out impurities. It is non-comedogenic and is infused with jojoba and castor oils to smooth the skin.
Or buy: Amazon and Ulta
CeraVe SA cream for rough and bumpy skin
CeraVe’s Salicylic Acid Exfoliator is effective in smoothing rough, bumpy areas, including knees, elbows, and heels. It attracts moisture with hyaluronic acid and soothes irritation and redness with niacinamide.
Or buy: Ultimate
Philosophy Nature In A Jar Gentle Warming Exfoliator
This heating exfoliator from Philosophy contains naturally derived ingredients that nourish and revitalize the skin after exfoliation. The self-heating formula is said to also minimize the appearance of pores.
Or buy: Ulta and Macy’s
The Body Shop Almond Milk & Honey Gentle Exfoliating Cream Scrub
Specially designed for sensitive skin, this luxurious exfoliating cream is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. It has moisturizing and calming properties that soothe and soften the skin longer after each use.
Or buy: Ultimate
First Aid Beauty Radial Face Pads
These handy AHA exfoliating and toning pads are gentle, even on sensitive or delicate skin. The pads are infused with cucumber, Indian gooseberry and lemon peel to enhance the skin’s natural glow.
Or buy: Ulta, Sephora and Macy’s
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Sian Babish writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their buying decisions, saving them time and money.
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