Face scrubs are easily one of the most satisfying products in your medicine cabinet. They offer instant results — increased luminosity, brightness, and smoothness, for instance — and an unmatched clean, silky-soft feeling that’s slightly addicting. If you’re unfamiliar, the way they work is by physically exfoliating dead skin with tiny granules (much like sandpaper would polish a piece of wood), or, in more scientific terms, “through physical debridement,” explains San Diego–based dermatologist, cosmetic surgeon, and assistant clinical professor at UCSD Dr. Melanie Palm. “They mechanically remove dead cells by rolling particles to lift them off.”
Exfoliation is important if you want your skin to look great, as dead skin cells tend to gather on the surface as we get older, leading to dullness, flakes, breakouts, and uneven texture. “Exfoliating speeds up the process of shedding dead cells and loosens keratin plugs so that new, healthy skin cells can replace them,” explains Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a dermatologist in Westport, Connecticut, and co-founder of Modern Dermatology. “It also helps prevent clogged pores, milia, blackheads, and whiteheads.” More good things: The act of scrubbing boosts circulation for a post-run-esque glow, makes your makeup go on better (since your skin is more even after), and — in addition to getting rid of dead skin cells — buffs away any remaining gunk or sunscreen that your cleanser leaves behind.
What to look for in a quality scrub? Perfectly spherical beads (ideal because they’re less likely to micro-tear and scratch skin) as well as soothing ingredients like oatmeal and jojoba, says Joanna Czech, a celebrity facialist in New York and Dallas. Robinson and Palm also like the addition of chemical exfoliants like lactic acid and fruit enzymes for a two-pronged approach. A good place to start: our expert-approved picks, below.
The Best Overall Scrub
Two dermatologists we interviewed recommended Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, a rice-based powder that you mix with water to form a paste and blends both physical and chemical exfoliation, as the best scrub in the biz. “Rice powder is among the most gentle manual exfoliators used in skincare products, while enzymes like papain dissolve connections between dead cells on the surface of the skin,” explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai in New York City. “The formula also brightens with phytic acid, white tea, and licorice extract, while protecting and maintaining healthy skin-barrier function with colloidal oatmeal and allantoin.” Robinson especially loves the formula for irritable skin types, which are typically asked to avoid scrubs. “It’s important to not be too rough on skin that is already inflamed with acne, rosacea, or eczema, so I love that because you activate it with water you can customize the concentration you’re using based on how your skin is doing.” She also notes that because it’s so easy on skin it’s a safe one to use on a daily basis.
The Best Splurge-Worthy Scrub
In a business where your job is to know the best skin-care products, product loyalty can be rare, but Danuta Mieloch, an esthetician and owner of New York and Philadelphia’s Rescue Spa, has been using Valmont’s Face Exfoliant for years. “The ultra-creamy texture and micro quartz particles make it the perfect scrub for everyone,” she says, adding that you can mix it with your cleanser or a drop of micellar water to create a polish (and perhaps make it last longer since it’s whopping $95 per 1.7-ounce jar). The high-end scrub also got facialist and founder of La Suite Skincare (which has locations in Greenwich, Connecticut and New York City) Rhea Souhleris’s vote, who calls the texture “elegant” and appreciates the rose-infused “distinct Valmont aroma.”
The Best Scrub for Oily and Acne-Prone Skin
Palm isn’t a fan of harsh scrubs, so likes SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser because it blends light physical exfoliation, via super gentle jojoba beads, with chemical exfoliation (a process that breaks down the bonds between dead skin cells so they slough away). “It contains several forms of alpha hydroxy acids, including glycolic, lactic, and malic,” she says, as well as breakout-busting salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid “that is attracted to the hair follicle-oil gland unit, where acne starts” and helps keep pores clear. What’s more, the inclusion of chemical exfoliants allows products to “interact with more metabolically active layers of skin, increasing their effectiveness,” she says. In other words, you’re more likely to get your money’s worth out of your fancy serums and creams after using it.
The Best Fragrance-Free Scrub
According to Czech, “the best scrubs are ones that aren’t too harsh and leave skin soft and clean without causing any micro-tears.” That means choosing options with round granules and avoiding unevenly-shaped particles like “ground-up shells, fruit pits, and volcanic rocks.” One of her go-to’s is the refreshingly unscented Dr. Barbara Sturm Facial Scrub. Its impressive ingredient list includes purslane, an ingredient that she says “stimulates the production of collagen and helps to calm inflammation,” along with vitamin A, “which promotes cell regrowth and keeps skin firm and healthy.” Got sensitive skin? Spot-treat with your scrub, she advises, focusing on dry, dehydrated patches instead of using it all over your face.
The Best Scrub for Congested Pores
Robinson’s top tips for using face scrubs: Scrub with gentle pressure and “wash your face first to remove makeup, oil, and dirt,” she says. “That way, as you open the pores and expose new skin, it’s clean.” One of her favorites is the extra-scrubby Dr. Brandt Skincare Microdermabrasion Skin Exfoliant, an at-home version of a microdermabrasion treatment. “It’s great for people who wear a lot of makeup and athletes that often have sweat on their skin,” she says. ‘The aluminum oxide crystals exfoliate, lactic acid softens, and a blend of chamomile, jojoba, and aloe-vera calm.”
The Best Scrub for Dry Skin
Tula So Polished Exfoliating Sugar Scrub is another one of Robinson’s picks and “uses sugar granule in tandem with fruit enzymes of papaya and pineapple to chemically exfoliate skin.” She adds that it won’t leave your face feeling stripped or tight and also has probiotics, which soothe and hydrate skin.
The Best Scrub for Polishing Skin
Swiss oxygen-based brand Karin Herzog’s Mild Scrub’s key exfoliating ingredient is one you won’t find anywhere else on this list: ground white marble (chic!). “The marble is crushed in perfectly spherical granules so it’s effective, gentle, and never abrasive,” Mieloch, who selected the product, says, adding it should applied in upward, circular movements. “It’s tried and true and gets the job done for all skin types, especially those with texture concerns. Nothing improves skin texture better than a scrub.”
The Best Scrub-Mask Hybrid
DefenAge 2-Minute Reveal Masque is both a warming face mask and scrub and combines sugar crystals with chemically exfoliating fruit enzymes (a blend of papaya, pumpkin, and pomegranate). It received a vote from Souhleris, who likes the fact that the sugar crystals “melt when you add water, making the exfoliation process friendly to sensitive skin.” Because it’s a fragrance-free option, she notes her male clients especially dig it.
The Best Vegan Scrub
Acure Brightening Facial Scrub, a Palm recommendation, is vegan and also free of controversial ingredients like sulfates, parabens, and mineral oil. She loves that it has sea kelp, an antioxidant that tones down inflammation, and green clay to help detoxify skin. And she isn’t the only one: There are over 1,800 five-star Amazon reviews for the exfoliator.
The Best Scrub for Brightening
Vitamin C is a proven antioxidant and skin brightener and Souhleris says the Obagi Professional-C Microdermabrasion Polish + Mask contains an “unparalleled” amount of it. “I love scrubs with multitasking technologies,” she says. “Obagi’s works by exfoliating while simultaneously enhancing vitamin C bioavailability, transforming skin from dull to smooth and radiant.”
The Best Scrub for Men
The creamy Malin + Goetz Jojoba Face Scrub sloughs off skin with a blend of jojoba meal and biodegradable polylactic acid, contains soothing cilantro and amino acids, and is a good option for men, Czech says. She recommends it to her clients as a gentle pick to use before shaving.
The Best Scrub for Sensitive Skin
Gommages are a little more time consuming and act differently than other scrubs. Instead of working them in to wet skin like a cleanser, you apply them to dry skin, let them set, then rub, so that “dead skin cells pill into little balls that can be washed off,” Palm explains. Her favorite is Sakura Silk Exfoliating Gel, a Japanese product that, according to the brand’s website, contains a “K-Link” complex to “adhere to and react with protein on the epidermis to remove dead cells on contact.” She says it’s ideal for all skin types, but especially those with sensitive skin or those recovering from laser treatments who wouldn’t want a true scrub. “I love using it at night to thoroughly yet gently remove dirt, dead skin, and environmental pollutants.”
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