Exfoliating has to be one of the most satisfying steps in your beauty routine. It’s up there with massaging a cleansing oil over mascaraed lashes, examining a peeled-off pore strip, or taking a horrifying selfie (or five!) with a sheet mask on.
There's just something about rubbing a creamy, gritty scrub into stuffy skin, sloshing the granules down the drain, and revealing cheeks that are 10x smoother than they were one minute before. But can you honestly say that you’re using the right scrub for your skin type? Because you wouldn’t be the first to shop for your exfoliator based on a nice texture.
We asked two top skin gurus—celebrity facialist Nichola Joss and Bliss Spa technician Margaret Mensah—to decode the best exfoliators for your skin type. So tuck the apricot kernel-laden wash away, keep scrolling and find your match…
Congratulations! You’ve won the complexion lottery and landed well-behaved skin. However, "even if you're lucky enough to have normal, fuss-free skin, exfoliating is still a must," says Nichola Joss. "It improves your skin’s tone and texture, and encourages good cell regeneration, which will keep the upper layers youthful, bouncy and smooth."
Look for micro-fine grains that thoroughly polish your face without scratching it, so you can get away with scrubbing your cheeks two-three times a week sans irritation. Your pores have already struck gold with the perfect balance of oil production, so work on amping up your natural glow with buffing buys that promise "radiance."
Try: Sanctuary Spa Radiance Exfoliator (£10).
It's both a physical and chemical exfoliator that buffs surface dirt using apricot granules while extracts of pumpkin and pineapple gently dissolve dulling dead skin cells.
It’s easy to get stuck in the mindset that exfoliating will be too drying for a parched complexion, but Nichola insists a good scrub is actually very beneficial. "Exfoliating regularly will allow your moisturiser and hydrating mask to penetrate deeper and more effectively into the deeper layers of the epidermis," she explains.
The scrubbing motion itself will also help to stimulate circulation, which will rush blood to dehydrated cells and enable them to function better. So, be sure to plump for a grainy number with a creamy, moisturising base, and look out for ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, beeswax and skin-kind butters.
Try: Bioderma Hydrabio Crème Gommante (£11).
"Crème" is the key word here. Because the buffing granules are suspended in a creamy base of shea butter, the scrub plies pores with needed moisture as it polishes.
We know it probably feels like you're in a tricky spot right now—what with most blemish busters containing blends that are known to be drying on skin. However, Margaret says that you can tend to both skin woes if you swap the scrub for a chemical exfoliant, like a glycolic-infused face pad.
"Glycolic pads can remove the excess of dead skin cells that cause spots by dissolving them, but the lack of friction means dry skin won't be compromised," she explained. Plus, a face pad wipes out the need for splashing your face in hot water which, as we all know, is prone to sapping pores of further moisture. Yikes.
Try: Bliss That’s Incredi-Peel Pads (£39).
These lightly-textured cloths are drenched in a time-release dose of glycolic acid, meaning it dislodges pore-clogging dead cells in the gentlest of ways.
You'll need to go against your gut instinct, here. Resist the urge to blitz your oily T-zone with a strippingly harsh scrub, and rely on an acid that will unplug pores from the inside out.
"Salicylic acid exfoliates not only the surface of your skin but inside your pores, too," says Margaret. "It improves pore function and allows oil to flow to the surface easily without getting blocked.
"It will also work to fade dark marks left behind from previous breakouts, and its anti-inflammatory properties reduce irritation, which will help to calm oil production."
Don't indulge too often, though—"over-exfoliating will strip your skin, and prompt sebaceous glands to work overtime by churning out even more oil," warns Nichola.
Try: Murad Transforming Powder Dual-Action Cleanser & Exfoliator (£25).
Massage a pinch of this powder into wet skin to create a foamy lather, and the salicylic acid, exfoliating enzymes and gentle scrubbing motion will clear out clogged, oily pores.
The struggle to find an exfoliator that balances an oily T-zone and dry, chapped cheeks is real—but not impossible, according to Nichola.
"Combination skin requires attention for both dry and greasy patches, so I recommend you look for products that use fruit enzymes as the exfoliant. You can use these kinds of washes like a mask by letting one sit on your skin for a few moments, and it will naturally break down the protein bonds that are holding your dead skin cells together."
The result? A mattified T-zone and cheeks that are smooth, but never stripped.
Try: Zelens Z-Detox Foaming Cleanser (£48).
Packed with fruit enzymes that dissolve the gunk blocking up your pores to let oil flow, this grain-free lather mops up greasy T-zones without disturbing your drier cheeks.
You have two options for exfoliating sensitive skin. If you want to go down the face scrub route, try powder cleansers, which transform into a gritty paste when mixed with water. Because the grains are fine and watered-down, there's nothing abrasive about them—yet they still do a pretty good job of whisking away those pesky dead skin cells.
But, as Nichola notes, you might be put off by a scrub if your skin tends to turn red very quickly. "In that case, use a muslin cloth to remove a cosseting balm or cream cleanser, and add a little bit of pressure on days when your pores feel like they need a scrub."
Try: Liz Earle Pure Muslin Cloths (£5).
Textured enough to polish your skin, but soft enough not to aggravate, these cloths are perfect for removing cream cleansers and buffing in circular motions to exfoliate.