Beauty News

The Ultimate Guide To Face Exfoliators

A close up of a woman with dark skin and coily hair, scrubing her face with a exfoliator and smiling, in a studio setting.

While our skin typically goes through a 28-day cycle – starting with new cells born at the deepest level of the epidermis and resulting in shedding on the skin’s surface – as we get older and are exposed to more environmental aggressors this process begins to slow down and may require a little helping hand. Cue: face exfoliators 

Eliminating dead cells, these complexion champions target a wide range of skin care concerns from diminishing dryness and dullness to helping to prevent blemishes by unclogging pores… simply put, there’s not much face exfoliators can’t do! 

Paying homage to these skin care saviours, here at Cult Beauty we’ve uncovered everything you need to know – including exactly how to exfoliate your face and how often you should be doing it. Plus, we’ll go through our picks of the best face exfoliators depending on your skin type. 


Unclogging pores: when you exfoliate, you’re brushing away dead skin cells and effectively unclogging pores. Not only does this step help to eliminate excess oil; in turn it helps to reduce blemishes and blackheads for a smooth sign off.  

Allows for better product absorption: by opening your pores, exfoliation also allows your skin to absorb all your beauty products more easily and efficiently (we’re talking cleansers, toners, serums and more). With nothing getting in their way, these everyday essentials can work harder to penetrate the skin’s surface and ensure better and brighter results.   

Evens skin tone: as well as clearing up your complexion, exfoliating can even out your skin tone too. By banishing build-up caused by make up, pollution or other external aggressors, the formulas ensure your skin appears more uniform over time. 

Brightens complexions: it’s no secret build-up is a common cause of a lacklustre complexion. But, as you exfoliate, you’re removing this tough outer layer to reveal a healthier and more radiant visage. What’s more, with the exfoliants breaking up pigmented cells and removing dryness, they also help to retain and prolong your skin’s natural glow. 

Tones skin: and last, but by no means least, exfoliating also stimulates collagen synthesis to improve the look of your complexion’s texture, and keep the skin feeling plump, tight and toned. 


Before we dive how to exfoliate your face, it’s important to understand which formula is right for you and your skin type. Exfoliators come in many (well, three) different guises, so it’s key to understand how decipher them to know which is best for your specific concern… 


Taking a top-down approach, physical exfoliators lift dead skin cells directly from the outer layer of the dermis. Containing tiny grains (usually finely ground ‘organic matter’ such as nuts, seeds, sugar, silica or even coffee), they’re typically made into an oily balm or gel texture. Alternatively, they can be specialised beauty tools such as exfoliating brushes, gloves and face masks. Sloughing away the top layer of the skin, they reveal fresh cells that boost brightness and luminosity. A great starting point for those new to exfoliators, physical exfoliators are gentle and help your skin avoid irritation.  

Best for: dry and blemish-prone skin


Trust us, chemical exfoliators aren’t as scary as they sound. These acid-based formulas are actually often remarkably gentle. Powered by AHAs and BHAs, they star ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic or lactic acids to target the bonds that bind dulling dead flakes  the skin’s surface. By dissolving this glue, they shed the super-thin stratum corneum – the oldest, uppermost layer of cells that contributes to dullness. One rule to always remember when using chemical exfoliants? They need to be used SPF in order to shield the skin from the premature ageing of UV rays. 

Best for: best for dull and pigmented skin


Ideal for those with sensitive skin, prone to blocked pores or congestion, enzymatic exfoliants contain fruit enzymes. Featuring papaya, pineapple and pomegranate, they collaborate with the enzymes found naturally on the skin’s surface to accelerate cellular turnover and eliminate dead surface tissue. By refining texture in this way, cells are compelled to regenerate faster – meaning signs of damage (scars, blemishes, dark spots) are diminished, and skin soon looks brighter and plumped. Enzymes are also gentler than their chemical counterparts making them better for those with an easily upset complexion. 

Best for: Sensitive skin



Deciding which exfoliant to use when is all down to personal preference. While there are no set rules, we recommend if you’re switching between a physical, chemical or enzymatic exfoliant to do sparingly. Unlike skin cycling where you rotate your actives daily, interchanging exfoliants can lead to using too many active products and stripping your skin of its natural oils. Swapping between these formulas on a weekly or even monthly basis will allow time for the formula to slough away dead cells and soothe your skin before you use a new treatment. Another thing to look out for is the strength of the product – as you don’t want to be overloading your complexion. With that in mind, if you’re using a high percentage solution one day, opt for a gentler exfoliator the next time and vice versa.  


Now we know the difference between each type of face exfoliator, it’s time for the main event. To ensure you get the best results out of your peels or face scrubs we’ve gathered the best tips on how to exfoliate your face the most effective way… 

1) Exfoliate daily/weekly depending on your skin type: the number of times you should exfoliate per week depends on your skin type and tolerance. If you exfoliate too much you can risk irritating your skin. With that in mind we recommend the below usage. 

Dry skin: 1-2 times a week 

Combination skin: 2-3 times a week 

Oily skin: 3-4 times a week 

Sensitive skin: Once a week 

2) Exfoliate in the morning: although any time of day will work, exfoliating in the morning is ideal as the skin repairs itself at night, leaving a layer of dead skin cells begging to be washed away come sunrise.  

3) Exfoliate in the shower: to successfully exfoliate your face (or any body part) it’s best to do so in a warm, steamy shower or bath. Why? Because the warmth of a shower softens skin and releases the body’s natural oils, all while opening your pores. This aids in the exfoliation process and the removal of dead skin cells. 

4) Follow up with a moisturiser: after exfoliating, thoroughly rinse away any leftover product and dead skin cells before patting your skin dry with a clean towel. Then, apply your daily moisturiser or day cream to retain your skin’s moisture and deliver dreamy dewiness.  

5) Don’t forget your lips: It’s not just your complexion that needs some exfoliating TLC, the delicate skin on your lips should be treated to this too. Luckily restoring your pout is a relatively quick fix (phew). All you need to do is exfoliate them with a lip treatment or mask 


Blending 30% glycolic, lactic, salicylic, phytic and tranexamic acids with fermented pomegranate enzymes, Dermalogica’s Liquid Peelfoliant works thoroughly to unclog pores and soften the appearance of fine lines. Flooded with cranberry extract, it also provides long-lasting hydration for radiant results. 


Gentle yet effective, Paula’s Choice’s Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant reduces the appearance of blemishes and blackheads in one fell swoop. Enriched with BHA salicylic acid, the treatment offers a toner-like consistency which sinks seamlessly into the skin to alleviate dryness while enhancing moisture levels.  


Supercharged with the brand’s signature Tri-Enzyme Technology, ELEMIS’ Dynamic Resurfacing Pads strip away dead cells without compromising your protective barrier. Utilising its Probiotic Ferment complex, itsupports your complexion’s renewal process by encouraging your skin to shed its dead weight. The result? A visible reduction in pigmentation, pores and uneven skin tone.  


While Alpha-H’s Liquid Gold Exfoliating Treatment with Glycolic Acid may look like a typical toner, it has the potent powers of an overnight peel. Melding 5% nature-derived glycolic acid with the harnessing the properties of AHAs, this treatment not only reduces the look of post-blemish scars, darks spots and dullness, but it brings back equilibrium to oily skin types for a healthy, balanced finish. 


Fortifying skin’s fabric with free radical-fighting antioxidants, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare’s Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel Pack acts as a quick and convenient way to revive and refresh your complexion. Combining five alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids with antioxidants (including retinol, ubiquinone and resveratrol), these patented two-step pads simultaneously smooth, refine and protect your dermis. Plus, repairing signs of superficial skin damage, they’re suitable for all skin types – especially those who suffer from regular irritations.   


So, there you have it; now you know the ins and outs of the best face exfoliators, it’s time to slough away dead cells and reveal radiance on a weekly basis…   


Trifonia Asmar

Trifonia Asmar

Senior SEO Copywriter

Cult Beauty’s Senior SEO Copywriter, Trifonia started out in the industry when bold brows were just becoming a ‘thing’, and shares a passion for all things fashion and beauty. Currently embracing her curly girl journey (after endless years of straightening her strands), she is finally reverting to her natural ways! When Triffy isn’t busy testing out the latest curl-saving solutions, you’ll find her binging the latest reality TV show or on a long walk listening to her ever-evolving country music playlist.