The most important thing you can do for your face is not to wash it every night, or invest in a pricey face cream: It’s to exfoliate regularly.
“A first-quality exfoliant is critically important,” Dr. Harold Lancer, Kim Kardashian's dermatologist, told me last week. The board-certified dermatologist to the stars and founder of the eponymous skincare line says, “The biology of the complexion, from head to toe, is that it needs to be chronically exercised and stimulated. Exfoliation—done properly, with high-quality products—is a must-have.”
Why? Exfoliation sweeps away the dead skin cells that make your complexion feel rough and dry and look dull. Regular exfoliation also prevents excess oil and dirt from clogging pores and causing breakouts. The process encourages new cell production to keep skin looking fresh and healthy, and (lazy girls unite!) it only has to be done once or twice weekly.
There is a place for exfoliation in everyone’s skincare regimen, no matter your skin type (yes, even you sensitive-skinned out there should be exfoliating). Lancer recommends one that is both chemically and mechanically based—that means it should have some grittiness to physically slough off dead skin, but also contain an acid or enzyme to melt away dead skin cells on a molecular level. Here are the five we love most.
1. To quickly brighten normal to dry skin: A Hollywood-favorite by Kate Somerville
This dual-action exfoliant is known as The Hollywood two-minute facial and smells like pumpkin pie in a tube. Made by facialist to the stars, this slightly grainy formula is loaded with lactic acid and fruit enzymes— papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin—for smoother, brighter skin. Two thousand reviewers on Sephora give it 4.4 stars for its immediate, visible difference on their skin. Heads up for those sensitive-skinned out there: This exfoliant can be a little harsh.
2. To gently treat sensitive skin: A calming powder with Japanese indigo
This water-activated powder exfoliant is so calming on sensitive skin. It’s made with ultra-fine Japanese rice bran that transforms to a creamy foam when met with water. Rice and papaya enzymes soften to gently release buildup, and its purple hue comes from Japanese indigo to calm and soothe easily-irritated skin—it’s what Samurais used to heal wounds. It feels almost suspiciously gentle on application, but the results prove it works.
3. To combat signs of aging: A dermatologist-created product
Lancer’s skin polish is gentle enough for daily use and smells like a spa, since it’s loaded with lavender. It warms as you rub it into your skin and includes slightly grainy pure minerals, and both pumpkin and pomegranate enzymes to remove surface debris and dull, dry surface cells. Reviews on Sephora (it has an average 4.6 stars) rave that the fine-grained, sand-like exfoliant actually works without being too harsh.
4. For plump, hydrated skin: The internet’s top-rated skincare product
This is Reddit’s favorite serum with a near-perfect rating on Sephora, too, loaded with lactic acid to clear skin and produce natural collagen. Its star ingredient is potent yet non-irritating that’s derived from milk for amazing moisturization properties. While it lacks the graininess of a traditional exfoliant, its effectiveness in evening skin tone, smoothing complexion, and reducing fine lines is lauded in equal measure across the internet.
5. For gentle and effective results: A travel-friendly, cruelty-free exfoliant
Like Tatcha, this Dermalogica exfoliant is a rice-based enzyme powder that activates upon contact with water. However, this finely-ground powder features a stronger salicylic acid to kill acne bacteria and accelerate cell renewal, as well as grapefruit and licorice to even skin tone, and green tea and colloidal oatmeal to calm inflammation. The brand is cruelty free and the powder means it’s TSA-friendly, so feel free to toss it into your carry-on.
Prices are accurate at the time of publication, but may change over time.