If cleansers and moisturisers are the bookends of your skincare routine, then exfoliators are the life-changing novel in between titled ‘Get Your Shit Together, Mate.’ Sure, sounds dramatic, but if you want a more handsome face, you need to scrub up.
Capable of smoothing texture, refining pores, clarifying spots, lessening pigmentation and brightening a generally lacklustre complexion, a good exfoliator will yield the most impactful, instant and incredible results when it comes to your skin.
What Are Exfoliators?
“There are two different types of exfoliators – physical and chemical,” explains Dr Howard Murad, founder of the eponymous skincare brand. “Physical exfoliators buff away dead skin through a fine grit or exfoliating beads. Chemical exfoliators (like acids) break the bonds that hold dead cells and debris to the skin’s surface so that they can be rinsed away.”
How To Pick The Best Exfoliator For You
Men’s skin is up to 30 per cent thicker than women’s, and also produces more oil (thanks, genetics), so subsequently needs something a bit tougher. But that doesn’t mean you should take a belt sander to your face.
If your skin is in pretty good knick but just needs the occasional touch-up, avoid overly abrasive scrubs containing ingredients like crushed walnut shell or coffee in favour of more gentle grains, such as rice, quartz or jojoba beads. These help slough away unsavoury aggressors like pollution without causing micro-tears in the skin or disrupting the skin’s barrier function (essentially a security guard for your face) and allowing irritants in.
Despite the efficacy of physical scrubs, they are still best served blended with a mix of acids, which can (thanks to their low molecular weight) penetrate deep into the skin and dissolve the glue that binds dead skin cells together. The most common are alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic (for texture), mandelic (for pigmentation) and lactic (for sensitivity and hydration). The other form, beta hydroxy acids, generally only includes salicylic acid. This acid is oil-soluble, so make it your best friend if excess oil or spots are your plight.
Still not sure what to pick? Check out our exfoliation index below.
The Best Exfoliator For Men
Best Exfoliator For Everyday
Grown Alchemist Enzyme Exfoliant
If you’re going to exfoliate more than twice a week, you need to opt for something gentle, well-rounded and easy-to-use. Capable of sloughing away dead skin cells without stripping away natural oils, Grown Alchemist’s Enzyme Exfoliant uses (you guessed it) natural enzymes to spur cell renewal, smooth the complexion and hydrate the skin.
Best Body Exfoliator
Molton Brown Infusing Eucalyptus Stimulating Body Polisher
You know those back alley spas where they lie you down and buff you within an inch of your life? Where you see dead skin flying off you like ants fleeing a drowning nest? Yeah, stop going there. Instead, look to Molton Brown’s collection of sugar scrubs, which are gentle enough to not cause irritation but strong enough to do the job. Opt for the eucalyptus version for smoothing, soothing, scented heaven.
Best Affordable Exfoliator
Bulldog Skincare Original Face Scrub
If budget is on the brain (and even if its not) then Bulldog does an excellent exfoliator for men. The eco-friendly firm’s Original formula is a calming blend of aloe vera, camelina oil and green tea, which all have soothing, softening and anti-ageing benefits. If you love to scrub everyday, this is another great option.
Best Exfoliator For Ingrown Hairs
Lab Series Invigorating Face Scrub
All scrubs help in the battle against ingrown hairs, helping to get into the hair follicle to dislodge the irritating bastards. But Lab Series’ cooling gel scrub is particularly good, using menthol to calm skin and reduce redness, unclog pores (read: get ingrown hairs out) for a smooth, blemish-free neck, jaw and cheeks.
Best Foot Exfoliator
Patchology PoshPeel Pedi Cure Foot Treatment
Arguably the grossest and most satisfying of the lot, Patchology’s PoshPeel Pedi Cure Foot Treatment is designed as two paper socks you put on your feet. The exfoliating mask is loaded with acids to slough away seriously built-up dead skin, so much so that calluses are removed over the next few days and your hobbit feet are turned into things fit for public display. It’s not pretty, but the results are insanely good.
Best Exfoliator For Oily Skin
Clinique For Men Oil Control Exfoliating Tonic
For skin that’s not acne-ridden but just a tad oily, a tonic (the butch version of toner, thank you) is the ticket. The Clinique’s tried and trusted formula contains salicylic acid to get rid of the greasy stuff, witch hazel to disinfect, glycerine to moisturise and trehalose to hydrate. The latter two are important, as excess oil is produced when the skin is too dry.
Best Chemical Exfoliator
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
When it comes to synthetic chemical blends, The Ordinary often takes the cake thanks to its simplified, BS-free formulas. The brand’s legendary peeling mask is no different, with 32 per cent of it being entirely acid-based. That’s hardcore, which is why (despite how intoxicating the instant results might be) this should only be used once a week. Tackling everything from blackheads to pigmentation and rough texture, it’s the heavyweight all-rounder of the lot.
Best Exfoliator For Dry Skin
The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum
Ever woken up after a four day bender feeling like you weren’t able to move your face? The reality is, dry skin comes from dead skin; it blocks water reaching the surface and blocks moisture reaching the skin. Thankfully there is one acid — lactic acid — that simultaneously helps to rid you of built-up cells while acting as a natural humectant (ingredients that help bind water to your parched mug). Multi-tasking at its finest.
Best Exfoliator For Acne
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Acne comes in many forms, from mild to severe. It’s a brutal business, and one that requires some seriously savvy skincare to fix. If pimples are your plight, look out for salicylic acid – the only ingredient capable of dissolving excess oil (the reason for most blemishes). Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant is an icon in the field, and with consistent use is bound to sort out your spots.
Best Scalp Exfoliation Product
Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub
Even the best shampoo, won’t cover all bases. Sometimes you need a product with some physical strength behind it. Enter the scalp scrub, notably: Christophe Robin’s Cleansing Purifying Scrub. Capable of dislodging stubborn product residue and removing any dead skin on the scalp (AKA what leads to dandruff), use it twice a week to work wonders without stripping natural oils away.
Best Exfoliating Pads
Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
Having practically invented the category, these exfoliating pads from Dr Dennis Gross are really the only ones to preach about. Essentially tissue, paper or some kind of bio-cellulose, the pads are soaked in exfoliating formulas (in this case, a mix of six acids and three antioxidants) to ensure even application and pretty instant results.
Best Exfoliating Mask
Murad Hydro-Glow Aqua Peel
Sheet masks often use the time they sit on the face to force hydrating humectants, hyaluronic acid and vitamins deep into the skin. That extended, uninterrupted period might be why Dr Murad thought to pop in some acids to get to work on texture and tone. If you have a big event coming up, this is a godsend the night before to wake up with a fresh face.
Best Exfoliator For Sensitive Skin
Aesop Purifying Facial Exfoliant Paste
The most handsome bottle on the block, Aesop’s cream-based formula mixes the abrasive qualities of quartz with the chemical abilities of lactic acid, doubling up on its exfoliating abilities in the most gentle of manners. Don’t worry – if your skin is sensitive, the cooling blend of fruit oils, rosemary and lavender will immediately help to calm it for soft, supple and soothed appearance.
Best Natural Exfoliator
Goop Exfoliating Instant Facial
You don’t need to be a member of the fairer sex to know that Gwyneth Paltrow is the queen of green. So it’s no surprise that her company’s natural exfoliant works wonders. A considered mix of abrasive and chemical exfoliants, this light scrub is made up of no fewer than six acids, offset by soothing fruit extracts, oils and aloe vera to keep men’s complexions clear and content.
Best Lip Exfoliator
Fresh Sugar Lip Polish
Fresh Sugar Lip Polish is a classic in the world of grooming, using small brown sugar granules to take off any dry, dehydrated or built-up skin. The formula is also packed with moisture-laden shea butter and nourishing oils like jojoba, meadowfoam and grapeseed, all helping to quickly revive dull smackers. Follow up with a lip balm, which helps to seal in the moisture and soften the new skin.
Best Exfoliating Cleanser
CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser
Exfoliating cleansers are tricky business; how can something work if you are just going to wash it off in few seconds? To get real results, you have to almost leave it on your face for a minute or two (never a bad thing, just do a deep facial massage for 100 other benefits). CeraVe’s cleanser is so good you’ll want to leave it on forever, capable of stripping away stubborn oil while strengthening the skin. It is a real game changer.
Best Exfoliating Soap
Anthony Exfoliating & Cleansing Bar
Just the action of applying soap can be a decent exfoliator, but throw in some jojoba spheres and you’ve got a great on-the-go scrub. What is unique about an exfoliating soap is that it can, and should, be used everywhere. Your face, your body, even under your pits, to dislodge sweat, dirt and debris in a way water just can’t.