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The 6 Best Physical and Chemical Exfoliators for Sensitive Skin

Our list of the best exfoliators for sensitive skin will ensure that exfoliating becomes something you look forward to and not something you dread.

When you have sensitive skin, it can seem almost impossible to use any product, let alone an exfoliator that doesn’t irritate your skin. As someone who has extremely sensitive and reactive skin, exfoliators have been the hardest to find.

This isn’t because my sensitive skin can’t handle exfoliators; it just means that I need to be extremely picky with the different types of exfoliators I choose and how often I use them. To take the guesswork out of looking for your next purchase, I broke down the six best exfoliators for sensitive skin.

First, what should you look for in an exfoliator for sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin is all about choosing gentle exfoliators that won’t irritate your skin. This means avoiding traditional exfoliators that contain sugar or other rough granules as they can end up being too harsh on the skin and cause it to become red and inflamed.

Instead, look for ones that contain soft granules like those in My Skin Mentor Dr. G Brightening Peeling Gel. This exfoliator is what people consider a “gommage,” which in French translates to “to scrub,” because as you gently rub it into the skin, it starts to pill and provide a soothing and effective form of exfoliation. This is thanks to natural cellulose that gently removes dead skin cells and impurities so you can see smoother skin right away.

Another tip: Look for exfoliators that feature anti-inflammatory ingredients that exfoliate and soothe at the same time, like the honey, black willow, and hollyhock flower extracts found in this peeling gel.

Another incredibly gentle physical exfoliator is RE:P Bio Fresh Mask With Real Calming Herb. This product is actually a mask but it works double time to exfoliate the skin. Crushed calendula and chamomile are present in the formula and they actually help to reduce inflammation while also providing a gentle exfoliation. This isn’t like your traditional clay mask; this one helps to soothe and draw out impurities while leaving your skin soft and hydrated.

The COSRX One Step Moisture Up Pad is yet another soothing form of exfoliation. These pads are actually soaked with propolis extract, a powerful antiseptic ingredient that helps treat blemishes and calm redness. The formula also contains hyaluronic acid to deeply nourish, making it perfect for those with sensitive skin.

The texture of these pads are actually slightly embossed, making them easy to use for a light form of daily exfoliation that won’t irritate the skin. Just simply cleanse your face and then swipe these over it afterwards for softer, smoother skin.

What about chemical exfoliators?

As someone with extremely sensitive skin that gets irritated by regular skin care products, when I first heard about chemical exfoliators, I avoided them at all costs. This is because I assumed all chemical exfoliators were extremely harsh and would cause my skin to become red and irritated. But if you’re choosing gentle chemical formulations, then you can use these without the irritation.

Just remember to start out slow and use them less often than you think you need. I’ve made the mistake of becoming a little too chemical exfoliator happy, which led to over-exfoliating my skin. Trust me, it wasn’t fun. So to save you the trouble, stick to once or twice a week when you first start using them.

Chemical exfoliators can come in many different forms—from toners to moisturizers—and it’s all about choosing the one that best fits your skin care routine style. If you prefer toners, the Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner is packed with soothing ingredients like aloe barbadensis leaf extract, beta glucan, and snail mucin, which both calm and moisturize the skin while salicylic acid gets to work exfoliating and de-clogging pores. This toner is extremely gentle—so gentle that you can actually use it on an everyday basis.

The Dr. Oracle A-Thera Tea Tree Peeling Sticks are yet another form of gentle chemical exfoliation. These come packed as pre-soaked cotton swabs that make them super easy-to-use. You can either use them as spot treatments or gently swipe them across your face for an all over exfoliation. The swabs are soaked with lactic and glycolic acid which dive deep below the skin’s surface to slough off dead skin cells and resurface the skin so you can say goodbye to rough skin texture. The formula also contains tea tree, lemon, and bamboo extract which help to further exfoliate without irritating your skin.

If you suffer from dry, sensitive skin, then the COSRX PHA Moisture Renewal Power Cream is the one you should choose. This moisturizer actually contains 3 percent PHA, which is a newer type of chemical exfoliator that is just as effective but less irritating than AHAs and BHAs. PHA acids actually have larger molecules than AHAs and BHAs and this helps to make them gentler.

If the more popular chemical exfoliators cause your skin to become red and irritated, you should try out PHAs. They’re mild enough for the most sensitive of skin. The COSRX PHA Moisture Renewal Power Cream contains PHAs along with 50 percent coconut fruit extract to hydrate and exfoliate.

The Bottom Line:

Yes, it is possible to exfoliate without irritating your sensitive skin…just remember to look for gentle formulations that also contain anti-inflammatory ingredients so you can soothe and exfoliate all at the same time.

+What do you think are the best exfoliators for sensitive skin? Let us know in the comments below!

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