The baseline skincare regimen has three steps: cleanse, exfoliate, moisturize. Most guys—those with any regimen at all—do the first and last steps, no problem. That’s because they’re twice-daily applications, and your regimen wouldn’t exist without their framework. But the third step, the middle one, is often discarded altogether. Trust us, you need facial exfoliators.
Exfoliation is integral to achieving smooth skin, providing an even texture, and keeping a clear complexion. It helps slough off dead surface cells, which otherwise clog pores or prevent healthier, softer cells from getting their time in the sun. By lifting dry cells, facial exfoliators help clear discoloration and, in some cases, can even seep into your pores to flush away excess grime, oil, and trapped cells. That’s because some exfoliating agents aren’t physical scrubs; instead they’re dead-cell-dissolving alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic, citric, and lactic acid, or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), like salicylic acid.
And while exfoliation is often prescribed as a once- or twice-weekly step (done post-cleanse, pre-hydration, ideally before bed), there are so many ways you can get exfoliation benefits, and each comes with its own script. Our favorites are the dual cleansing-exfoliating kind, whether they’re gritty physical exfoliators, or surreptitious chemical ones (though all gentle enough to make the list).
Below are our picks for the best facial exfoliators, many of them multi-taskers, some of them standalone treatments, and others someplace in between. Pick your favorites from the pack in order to give your foundational skincare regimen the three-pronged approach it needs.
1. Peace Out Skincare Blemish Balm Cleanser
Our top pick of the bunch should be a mainstay on your sink ledge. It’s a dissolving solid that first melts in your hands, then on your face to smooth away excess oil, dead skin cells, and grime (from deep inside your pores). It’s a gentle way to get a daily hit of skin-clearing salicylic acid without overwhelming your mug. Add to that, complexion-toning niacinamide, surface-buffing lactic acid, and a complex of eight moisturizing amino acids…and you’ve got yourself a frontrunner in this category.
[$22; peaceoutskincare.com]Get it
2. GinZing Refreshing Scrub Cleanser
Origin’s cleansing scrub is more than a two-in-one. It wakes up skin with caffeine, soothes with aloe and spearmint, and buffs away dead surface cells with jojoba beads and wax granules.
[$23; origins.com]Get it
3. Youth to the People Yerba Mate Resurfacing + Exfoliating Energy Facial
Part peel, part cleanser, this product is as close to a spa facial as you’ll get from home, and is a terrific wake-up call for those hungover or under-rested mornings. It has physical grit, from bamboo and diatomaceous earth, to smooth skin’s texture as you apply. Leave it on for two minutes and let the papaya and pineapple enzymes break down additional dead cells. Caffeine from Yerba mate wakes up the skin, giving you a brighter, invigorated complexion.
[$54; youthtothepeople.com]Get it
4. Brickell Men’s Renewing Face Scrub
The grittiest pick on the list, this is for the guy who wants a real scrub down (without damaging his face, that is). The pumice and jojoba beads packed into Brickell’s scrub deliver a thorough polishing. It invigorates skin with coffee extract, while soothing and nourishing with aloe, avocado butter, and vitamin E.
[$22; brickellmensproducts.com]Get it
5. SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
This cleanser has triple exfoliation powers: It has fine jojoba beads for a light physical scrub, as well as citric acid and salicylic acid, which dissolve dead skin cells, including those trapped inside pores. It rinses away grime, in turn preventing blemishes and agitated skin.
6. Oars + Alps Exfoliating Charcoal Cleansing Stick
Oars + Alps’ charcoal cleanser stick is a spill-proof, TSA-friendly product, since you apply it to your face the same way you apply deodorant under your pits. It harnesses the deep-cleansing abilities of charcoal, which helps extract dead skin cells from pores, in addition to grime and excess oil. This is an oil-free recipe, which makes it ideal for guys who tend to get a bit greasy midday.
[$20; oarsandalps.com]Get it
7. VERSED Day Maker Microcrystal Exfoliator
Here’s a weekly physical exfoliator that incorporates easily into your shower regimen. It uses micro-crystals to give skin a smooth tingle post-scrub. It calls on nourishing oils (like sunflower and jojoba seed), as well as leaf extracts (from raspberry and black currant) to soothe and nourish skin while it takes a gentle ‘beading.’
[$17; versedskin.com]Get it
8. Payot Chrono-Renewing Peel Mask
Don’t be alarmed by the word “peel.” In this case, it refers to the surface-smoothing and brightening powers of glycolic acid, which seeps into your skin for the 15 minutes of wear. This is a more intense exfoliation than a simple once-over cleansing. You might find your skin benefits big time from a weekly exfoliation treatment, which can prevent or combat dullness, rough texture, hyper-pigmentation, breakouts, and more.
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