close up smear of exfoliating gels

The Best Physical Exfoliators for Smooth, Glowing Skin

If your complexion can handle scrubs and powders, put these formulas on your radar.
By Sophie Moore
April 02, 2021
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

When we think of products that are essential to a well-rounded skin care routine, an exfoliator is certainly one of them. These resurfacing formulas instantly slough off dry skin, unclog pores, and leave your complexion silky smooth. What's more, a freshly exfoliated visage is a blank canvas for the products that follow, and this process can even maximize their effects.

Physical exfoliators come in the form of scrubs, powders, and even tools, and use particles to manually resurface your complexion. Due to their abrasive nature, they aren't for everyone. "If you are going to opt for a physical exfoliant, the best one for you will depend on the thickness and sensitivity of your skin," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Maiman of Marmur Medical. "In general, people with oilier complexions tend to have thicker skin and can tolerate larger, more abrasive particles while those with drier, sensitive skin; they should use products with smaller granules," she continues. Regardless of your skin type, overuse of physical exfoliators can actually cause irritation, so it's best to use these powerful formulas just once or twice a week.

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There's nothing better than discovering a drugstore product that's effective and budget-friendly. We love this dermatologist-approved cleanser for its exfoliating, brightening formula that leaves skin soft and, well, positively radiant.

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SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub

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If you're looking for a mechanical exfoliator that's gentle enough for daily use, opt for this scrub from SkinCeuticals. Hydrated silica—a naturally occurring mineral—works to lift and remove dead cells while aloe leaf extract hydrates and soothes.

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Révive Le Polish Micro-Surfacing Treatment

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It's a facial in a bottle: This micro-surfacing treatment uses ultra-fine aluminum oxide crystals to instantly refine and polish the skin's surface. This transformative formula also contains nourishing ingredients like green tea and shea butter to protect and bolster your moisture barrier.

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This powder cleanser is a smart and safe pick for those who suffer from sensitive skin. When mixed with water, the rice-based formula turns into a creamy paste that provides gentle exfoliation without the use of harsh grit or irritating micro-beads.

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Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub

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Since overuse of physical exfoliators can cause irritation, Dr. Rachel Maiman of Marmur Medical always recommends choosing a scrub that's not too abrasive or overly drying. "I really like the Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub, which is safe for everyday use," she says. "It cleanses and exfoliates simultaneously and contains skin-nourishing compounds like vitamin B5 and vitamin E."

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In just two minutes, this dual-action treatment unclogs pores, evens skin tone, and brightens your complexion. Plus, its powerful blend of physical and plant-based exfoliators have anti-aging properties that help to soften fine lines and wrinkles.

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Clarins Fresh Scrub

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A plant-based product that leaves skin fresh, smooth, and hydrated? Sign us up. This scrub contains natural exfoliating micro-beads made from wood cellulose; they gently buff away dead skin and encourage cell turnover. The cream-gel formula soothes skin and locks in moisture.

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L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Facial Cleanser

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This scrub from L'Oreal contains micro-pearls and glycolic acid that exfoliate and reverse the signs of aging, too.

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Lancer Skincare The Method: Polish

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By harnessing the power of both plant-based and physical exfoliators, this scrub boasts serious results. Its formula is packed with ingredients like quartz particles and pomegranate enzymes that resurface the skin and promote cellular turnover. Since this scrub is stronger than most, it's best reserved for combination or mature skin types.

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Treat yourself to this ultra-luxe and radiance-revealing scrub formulated with vanilla and jojoba seeds. These two purifying and exfoliating ingredients will leave your skin softer, smoother, and more luminous after every use. To get the most of this scrub, apply it two to three times per week to your face and neck.

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