Clearing your face of dirt and dead skin shouldn’t take an hour-long treatment. Especially, when you come home after a long day and want your skin clean, fast. So, what do you use to quickly clean skin? An exfoliator of course.

There are many types of exfoliators on the market that can be broken down into two categories: chemical and physical. Chemical exfoliators include alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHA), and poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs). Physical exfoliants contain polishing particles that buff away dead skin. Common physical exfoliants may contain clays, sugars, or grains.

To learn more about how exfoliators work 21Ninety chatted with two dermatologists: Jodi LoGerfo DNP and Enrizza Factor MD.

How do exfoliators work

Chemical exfoliators loosen up the bonds between cells within the top layer of the skin to remove buildup.

“The acids work by breaking down the sugars in the skin, which then causes the cells of the epidermis to loosen and slough off,” Dr. Factor explained.

Dr. LoGerfo says physical exfoliators are abrasives. They are applied to the skin using gentle, small, circular motions. These exfoliators remove dead skin cells and exfoliate the skin.

What to look for in an exfoliator based on your skin

Dr. Factor explained what skin types should shop for physical exfoliators.

“I recommend physical exfoliators for dry or sensitive skin, to improve roughness and texture without [causing] inflammation. If you have oily skin, opt for a chemical exfoliant with BHAs or a combination exfoliant,” Dr. Factor said. 

Dr. LoGerfo weighed in on who should give chemical exfoliators a try.

“Individuals with oily skin would probably benefit more from a chemical exfoliant (my opinion).” Dr. LoGerfo told 21Ninety. “Chemical exfoliation can break down and remove dead skin cells and unclog pores. They can also increase cell turnover and help acne,” the dermatologist explains. 

More specifically, if you’re trying to clear out oil-based gunk, Dr. Factor says to look for salicylic acid (aka beta hydroxy acid) as a key ingredient in your exfoliator.

“Salicylic acid works to penetrate pores and remove debris and other impurities, making it the number-one choice for acne-prone skin and/or oily skin,” the dermatologist stated. 

If you’re looking for the most immediate results, Dr. LoGerfo says physical exfoliants are your best bet. 

Worried about sensitivity? Dr. Factor says that those with sensitive skin should try a product with lactic acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, a polyhydroxy acid, or lactic acid. She highlights that “lactic acid is best used on sensitive skin because it is a mild exfoliant. It will not disrupt the pH of the skin or cause redness and irritation.”

21Ninety sorted through all the exfoliators on the web and rounded up a variety of exfoliators. Learn how to use them for your fast exfoliation needs. 

1-Minute Mask

Yes, Alo makes more than leggings. From the athleisure brand’s beauty line comes the Hydrate & Glow 1-Minute Mask. The physical exfoliant uses green clay to remove the gunk from your pores. For this exfoliant you’ll need to wash your face prior to applying.

Once your face is clean rub this mask into your skin for 30 seconds, in circular motions of course. Then, let the product sit on your face for the remaining 30 seconds and follow that with a thorough rinse.

Deep Cleaning Exfoliator

The Pore-Balance™ Facial Sauna Scrub by Olehenriksen is meant for oily and combination skin. Combining volcanic sand with AHAs in the form of glycolic and lactic acids, this product draws out excess oil to improve skin texture.

After washing your face, apply the product in upward circular motions and rinse off. Super easy!

Travel-Sized Exfoliation

Dermalogica’s Mini Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator utilizes chemical and physical exfoliation to remove dead skin. Papain enzymes as well as Phytic and salicylic acids chemically exfoliate the face. Rice starch and colloidal oatmeal physically exfoliate.

To let this exfoliator work its magic, just wet your face and hands. Next, combine about half a teaspoon of powder with a few drops of water in your hands and rub. Apply to your skin for about a minute, working in the product using circular motions. Rinse with warm water to reveal your freshly exfoliated face.

Exfoliant With a Message

The Be Luminous Exfoliator by Keys Soulcare combines chemical and physical exfoliation. Hojicha powder, mung beans, and oats provide physical exfoliation. Lactic acid, Dr. Factor’s recommended ingredient, is incorporated into the product as the chemical exfoliant. Nestled in the product description is the affirmation, “I am layered, complex and divine.”

To use, wet your face and hands. Then, put some powder in one palm and add a few drops of water. Rub your hands together to get the foam going. Lastly, apply to your face in circular motions and follow that up with a thorough rinse.

Non-Abrasive Exfoliator

The Bliss Gentle Non-Abrasive Exfoliator With Fruit Enzymes is an effective way to exfoliate without worrying about the friction that can come from other physical exfoliators. Plant-based fibers along with pineapple and papaya enzymes power this vegan gel-based formula to clear the face of dead skin and dirt.

To use, just place a few drops on damp skin: cheeks, forehead, and chin.  Rub in circular motions and rinse.

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