While chemical exfoliants can be a skin savior, a gentle physical exfoliator is a necessary addition to any skin-care toolkit. Think of these micro-exfoliators as your secret weapon against those dry, flaky bits that are messing with your foundation, and they’re an effective way to instantly gain a smoother, brighter complexion.
While chemical exfoliators use skin-safe acids to resurface your complexion, “manual exfoliation is the use of a gentle scrubbing agent that sloughs off the top layer of skin,” explains Dr. Tahh Humes, Founder and Medical Director of Chicago’s Vitahl Medical Aesthetics. “These treatments gently ‘sand’ the skin and [can improve] the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as skin tone and texture issues.”
The best part? You’re able to see results as soon as you finish, according to Dr. Humes.
The key is to use an ultra-gentle polish that won’t damage your skin by creating small tears or irritation. Look for formulas that include exfoliating agents like finely milled powders and micro-fine, soft-edged granules that delicately buff away dead skin cells. Many products are also formulated with additional ingredients that can help with other skin concerns, including excess oiliness, dryness, or hyperpigmentation.
Don’t know where to start? Scroll below to see seven of the best physical micro-exfoliators, organized by skin type and starting at just $5.
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For All Skin Types
$5 for smoother skin? Yes, please. This affordable exfoliating scrub from e.l.f. Cosmetics uses ultra-fine walnut shell powder to buff away dead skin cells without creating micro-tears, resulting in a healthier-looking complexion. It's also infused with purified water and vitamin E to further nourish your delicate facial skin.
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For Oily Skin
Leave it to celebrity esthetician Joanna Vargas to concoct one of the most elegant physical exfoliators out there. It combines oil-zapping, detoxifying kaolin clay with powdered volcanic rock to physically polish skin, as well as plant-powered enzymes that help gently resurface it. The result is improved oil balance, clearer skin, and a brightened complexion that just glows.
For Dry Skin
To buff and hydrate at the same time, scoop a dollop of this luxurious micro-exfoliator and massage it onto your skin. It's loaded with an assortment of natural oils — including sunflower seed, coconut, rose, and jasmine — which serve as a moisturizing carrier for finely ground black rice powder and illuminating pearl powder. The mild scrub buffs away dead skin cells to boost radiance while reducing inflammation and nourishing skin.
For Sensitive Skin
Indulge in this facial exfoliator from D'Isolana, a skin care brand that puts thermal water at the front and center of its formulations. The Red Fruit Exfoliator is an ultra-gentle scrub that utilizes powdered hazelnut shells to physically buff away impurities. Also included in the formula are — as the name implies — pomegranate red fruits, blackberries, and red grape extract: These antioxidant-rich ingredients work together to calm inflammation in sensitive skin, while aloe leaf juice and nutrient-dense thermal water further soothe and moisturize.
Whether you have an uneven complexion from sun exposure or you’re dealing with lingering post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from blemishes, this micro-exfoliating scrub is a winner. It uses some of the most delicate physically exfoliating ingredients out there, including skin-calming oat flour, brown rice flour, and hibiscus powder — a natural source of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). Both brown rice flour and AHAs have been known to help improve skin tone, with published studies reporting the latter as particularly beneficial in cases of hyperpigmentation.
For Acne-Prone Skin
The key to treating acne-prone skin is a gentle touch, which makes this mild face polish a perfect option for those with active acne. It takes finely milled walnut shells and combines them with calming aloe vera juice and skin-soothing chamomile. It also contains white willow bark, a natural astringent that fosters skin clarity, and a blend of AHAs to reduce inflammation, minimize and unclog pores, and brighten skin.
For Mature Skin
This refining facial scrub from dermatologist Dr. Barbara Sturm polishes dry, flaky skin via gentle microcrystalline cellulose and olive husk powder. It also contains vitamin A, nutrient-rich purslane extract, and horse chestnut to promote skin regeneration, strengthen connective tissue in the blood vessels, and regulate the keratinization process. Over time, you’ll see improved fine lines and wrinkles and a smoother, more youthful complexion.