5 Gentle Exfoliators That Are Safe To Use On Sensitive Skin

by Deanna McCormack

While proper exfoliation is the key to a smooth, clear complexion, if you're not careful, it's very easy to overdo it and cause irritation — especially if you have sensitive skin. The good news is, you don’t have to avoid at-home exfoliation altogether. With the best exfoliators for sensitive skin, you can reap all of their benefits without having to worry about additional dryness, redness, or breakouts.

Treating sensitive skin isn't a one-size-fits-all situation. Some people, like those with rosacea, might experience dry skin with redness and flaking. Others, like those with acne-prone skin, are more at risk for breakouts, clogged pores, and lasting discoloration when their skin is irritated. There are also certain ingredients you should avoid if you have sensitive skin. Alcohol and strong concentrations of acids, fragrances, and other heavy, pore-clogging substances will most likely do more harm then good if you have a delicate complexion. Also, with whichever exfoliator you do choose, be sure to abide by the recommended usage instructions, as over-exfoliation is the fastest way to irritate your skin.

In the end, there are plenty of great at-home exfoliators that are gentle enough for sensitive skin and are still effective at smoothing, toning, and clearing your skin. Below, you'll find five great options, each in a different formula, that will leave you with a healthy, glowing, baby-soft face.


Best For Acne-Prone Skin: A Gentle, Budget-Friendly Exfoliating Toner With Salicylic Acid And Glycolic Acid

La Roche-Posay's Salicylic Acid Facial Toner is the best exfoliator for acne-prone skin because it uses both salicylic and glycolic acid to thoroughly remove bacteria, excess dirt, and dead skin cells after cleansing. It's gentle and oil-free and was dermatologist-tested to be safe on sensitive skin. A French pharmacy favorite, this product can be used up to twice daily (no rinsing required) — just apply onto a cotton pad and gently press into the skin. When used daily, this medicated toner helps clear existing breakouts, blackheads, and clogged pores for smoother, less oily skin.


Best For Very Dry Skin: A Coconut Oil-Based Exfoliating Scrub Infused With Coconut Shells And Brown Sugar

If your sensitive skin is prone to drying, or if you simply prefer an all-natural traditional scrub exfoliator, try Kopari's Coconut Crush Scrub (which, by the way, smells delicious). It's infused with exfoliating bits of brown sugar and coconut shells, as well as its signature ingredient: one hundred percent pure coconut oil, which is full of fatty acids, vitamin E, antioxidants, and restorative proteins that leave your skin soft and hydrated. It's also non-GMO and free of parabens and sulfates. Plus, it's gentle enough to be used anywhere on your body — even your scalp!


Best For Travel: Alcohol-Free Exfoliating Pads Pre-Soaked With Glycolic And Lactic Acid

First Aid Beauty's Facial Radiance Pads are an easy, on-the-go exfoliating option for sensitive skin. With lactic and glycolic acids, these pads effectively tone and brighten while still being gentle enough for daily use. The pre-soaked pads also contain ​hard-working natural ingredients like cucumber, Indian gooseberry, lemon peel, and licorice root — natural, antioxidant-rich exfoliators that smooth and cleanse the skin. These pads are perfect for for sensitive complexions that are prone to drying in some areas, and oily in others.


Best For Clogged Pores: A Once-A-Week Exfoliating Mask With Kaolin Clay And Volcanic Minerals

A cult-favorite in Hollywood and the beauty community alike, Glamglow's Youthmud Tinglexfoliate Treatment is a leave-on mud mask that, after ten minutes on your face, reveals softer, more glowing skin that's camera-ready. The formula contains ancient volcanic pumice rock and kaolin clay to draw out impurities and oil without causing irritation. Additionally, the mask uses antioxidants, minerals, and a moisturizing 'collagen synthesis' to strengthen, illuminate, and hydrate the skin. With regular use, it can also help correct discoloration.


Best All-Natural Option: A Daily Exfoliating Cleanser With Clarifying Enzymes And Skin-Polishing Apricot Seed Powder

For a high-end option made with truly all-natural ingredients, try Tata Harper's Regenerating Cleanser. Like everything else from the brand, this product is 100 percent free of GMOs, toxins, fillers, synthetic colors, and artificial colors and fragrances. The formula, which is gentle enough for everyday use on all skin types, clarifies the skin with fresh enzymes, clays, and essential oils and buffs away impurities and dead skin cells with apricot seed powder. Since most of the ingredients used are grown on the brand's farm in Vermont (and the rest — which are flown in from all over the world — are always organic and non-toxic), you know that what you're putting on your face is safe and fresh — no funky, possibly-irritating chemicals here. With this cleanser, your skin will feel softer, hydrated, and more radiant, and the appearance of pores will also be reduced. Skin is left feeling balanced, hydrated, and glowing. Plus, it has a lovely, subtle scent. It's definitely worth the splurge!

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