The 5 Best Drugstore Exfoliating Face Washes

By Jenny White
Torwaiphoto / Fotolia

Exfoliation is an important part of your skin-care routine that removes dead skin cells to prevent clogged pores, breakouts, and dull skin. When it comes to selecting the best drugstore exfoliating face washes, you first need to consider the best type of exfoliation for your unique needs.

Chemical exfoliation: This type of exfoliation removes dead skin cells with acids, most commonly AHAs and BHAs. Both are effective exfoliating options; however, there are a couple of big differences between the two. AHAs like glycolic and lactic acids are water-soluble and work mainly on the surface, resulting in smooth skin and a glow. BHAs tend to go much deeper into the skin and can clean out excess sebum (a natural oil) from your pores, which helps to reduce overall oiliness. This is why if you have acne (especially blackheads), you might prefer an exfoliator that contains BHAs, namely, salicylic acid. Many exfoliating face washes contain both AHAs and BHAs, so they work on both levels.

Physical exfoliation: This type of exfoliator physically removes dead skin by scrubbing or rubbing with ingredients like sugar, beads, and other particles. Some say that their skin feels much cleaner after using a physical exfoliator, but it can cause redness, irritation, or — even worse — little tears in the skin. If you choose to use a physical exfoliator, look for products that contain small, gentle exfoliants which tend to be less irritating. Avoid microbeads (which are banned because they may pose a threat to aquatic life) and products that contain large or sharp exfoliants, including walnut face scrubs, which can be too harsh.

With all of this in mind, below you will find the five best drugstore exfoliating face washes.

1. The Best Overall Drugstore Exfoliating Face Wash

Containing both AHAs and BHAs, this dermatologist-tested face wash by Neutrogena does double duty when it comes to exfoliation. This cleanser removes dead skin on the surface, creating a smooth appearance, and also works deep within the skin, making pores less visible.

This cleanser is a great option for all skin types — it contains glycolic acid (an AHA), so it is gentle on the skin; and it is also noncomedogenic, which is a must for those who are acne-prone. This product is also available in a pack of one from Prime Pantry for Prime members.

One Amazon reviewer wrote, "I tried so many expensive products and none of them give me the most satisfactory feeling. Since the first time you can feel it [...] Your skin looks different after one week. I really like it. This is the fourth one and I planing to keep buying more."

2. The Best For Acne-Prone Skin

Developed with dermatologists, this cleanser from CeraVe combines salicylic acid (which goes deep into the skin to clean out excess oil and get rid of dead skin cells) with hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin D to hydrate and brighten. The noncomedogenic, non-irritating, and fragrance-free formula aims to be very gentle on your skin and won’t likely make acne worse. Plus, it contains no microbeads or other physical exfoliators, so those with sensitive skin can use this too.

One Amazon reviewer said: “The SA wash clears up oil and minimizes blackheads. The best part is my skin doesn't feel dry, flaky, or tight after I wash, unlike many other acne control cleansers. All of the benefits of salicylic acid with the skin hydration of CeraVe. It's the best.”

3. The Best Exfoliating Wash For Dry Skin

If you have dry skin, it's important to use an exfoliator that removes dead skin cells without over-drying, and this dermatologist-tested face wash from Cetaphil does just that. Infused with glycerin and vitamins B5 and E (all known for providing moisture), this face wash will gently buff away dry, dull skin, leaving your skin feeling radiant. Amazon reviewers have agreed, with one commenting, "I've been a reluctant user of 'scrubs' because of the drying aspect, but was very pleasantly surprised by how gentle this scrub is.”

Since this product is a physical exfoliator, it is also a good option for those who find that they are sensitive to acids. Plus, the noncomedogenic formula is acne-friendly.

4. The Best For Sensitive Skin

This gentle, sulfate-free exfoliating cleanser from Derma E is ideal for those with sensitive skin. The formula contains glycolic acid (an AHA), which gently washes away dirt and oil, leaving skin feeling smooth. It's also loaded with other ingredients that are good for your skin including vitamin A, which renews skin, and papaya fruit extract, which further exfoliates, brightens, and smooths. Amazon reviewers love how gentle this product is, with one commenting, "other stronger products can leave your skin red and irritated; not this one. Very gentle exfoliation."

5. The Best For Oily Skin

Salicylic acid (a BHA) is the key ingredient in this Bioré face wash that helps clear out acne-causing dirt and oil, leaving you with super-smooth skin. This face wash is completely oil-free, so it won't add extra oiliness to your skin. It also contains gentle spherical beads that get rid of any flaky skin that is sitting on the surface physically. With more than 400 reviews and a 4.3-star rating, Amazon buyers love this product, and one even commented, "I have oily prone skin with big pores, and I feel like the bead size in this scrub really gets in there and gets rid of all the dirt and oil."

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