Gross But Awesome: My #1 Product for Shedding Dead, Dull Skin Cells

When you don't treat dry, dead skin, it can lead to some annoying problems. I'm talking clogged pores, breakouts, dull skin, and a flaky or rough texture. Doesn't sound great, right? The thing is, this can be easily avoidable and fixed.

Enter exfoliation. It can refresh dull skin, leaving your face looking smooth and glowy. It's especially important as you get older because it will help stimulate new cell growth. The good news and bad news about all of this is that there are so many different types of exfoliators out there. So you've got variety, but deciding on one might take some time.

There are mechanical exfoliants, like scrubs, that will slough off dead skin when you gently massage them into your skin. And then there are chemical exfoliants, which usually contain acids like alpha hydroxy (glycolic and lactic), beta hydroxy (salicylic), and polyhydroxy.

18 Best Chemical Exfoliators for the Glowiest Skin



I used to be strictly a mechanical exfoliant gal, reaching for the physical scrubs to deal with dry and dull skin. But I found that some of the products I was using were a bit too rough on my skin, leading to irritation, redness, and even more dryness. And that would turn me off exfoliating on a regular basis, which would lead to dull skin. It was quite the cycle.

I was intimidated by chemical exfoliants at first because the word "chemical" sounded a bit too intense for me, especially since my skin tends to be dry and sensitive. But that all changed when I spoke to dermatologists who said that some chemical exfoliators can be gentler than their mechanical counterparts. I tried a couple of chemical exfoliators to see which one would work best for my skin and I haven't looked back since. They left my skin smoother, glowier, and healthier-looking.

The key to using a chemical exfoliant is choosing one that works best for your specific skin type. That way you won't experience any irritation or dryness, and it's most effective for your skin. Sensitive and dry skin types would do best with PHAs, lactic acid, and glycolic acid. Acne-prone skin can benefit from salicylic or glycolic acids.

Want to give it a try? Take a look at some options below.

This exfoliant from Paula's Choice is probably the highest-rated one out there. It contains beta hydroxy acid (aka salicylic acid) to unclog and clear pores and promote cell regeneration. And you don't have to worry about irritation too much here because it has green tea to soothe inflammation.

I've used this overnight treatment before and it is super powerful in the best way possible. It's formulated with 10% glycolic acid to stimulate the skin's natural exfoliation process; 2% phytic acid to exfoliate and brighten skin; and a 1% soothing complex to calm and hydrate. It's recommended to precondition the skin by using the product once every other evening at first then building up the frequency.

Versed's Weekend Glow is one of my favorite go-to toners because it's gentle and doesn't irritate my skin with daily use. Ingredients include lactic acid, glycolic acid, azelaic acid, kojic acid, bearberry extract, and vitamin C. Whenever I use this, I notice my face looking much brighter.

There are a lot of cleansers that also have exfoliating properties, too, like this one from Tata Harper. It contains natural salicylic acid and AHA to balance oil; encourage cell renewal; and clear buildup.

Glossier's exfoliating solution has three different acid groups: alpha hydroxy acid, beta hydroxy acid, and polyhydroxy acid. You can use it daily to shrink pores; improve the appearance of blemishes; and reduce redness.

In addition to glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids, this exfoliator also contains niacinamide and adaptogenic reishi to hydrate and soothe. Use this one at night.

Who What Wear editors swear by these peel packettes. Beauty editor Courtney Higgs says, "I used these acid-soaked daily chemical peel pads religiously as part of my targeted plan to help refine my skin after a bout of hormonal acne left my face covered in hyperpigmented marks."

There are two phases in this one peel. In phase one, AHA, BHA, and TXA remove dead skin cells and pore-clogging debris, brightening dull skin. And for phase two, adaptogenic holy basil and omega-rich oils strengthen and protect the skin's surface.

This cleanser does so much. not only will it brighten and even skin tone, but it will also firm the skin. Ingredients include alpha-hydroxy acids for resurfacing; rosemary to balance the skin's microbiome; and papaya enzymes to soothe and firm.

Sweet cherry puree is the star ingredient in this face mask, as it helps reduce the signs of aging. There are also lactic acids and a complex of alpha-hydroxy fruit acids to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and rejuvenate the skin. It's recommended to use it two to three times a week.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you'll benefit from this peel since the glycolic acid removes dead skin and dirt to stop breakouts and control oil. It's also formulated with nourishing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, sunflower seed oil, and vitamin C to smooth and brighten.

This toner works well on many skin types: normal, dry, combination, and oily. The AHA in this formula exfoliates, while BHA minimizes the appearance of pores and azelaic acid is a glow-booster.

We love a multitasking product, and this is a three-in-one. It's a chemical exfoliant, a toner, and an essence. Your skin will be smoother, moisturized, brighter, and clearer.

Summer Fridays' exfoliating solution contains lactic acid to reduce the appearance of fine lines and redness. There's also niacinamide to clarify and refine the texture, plus glycolic acid to exfoliate and unclog pores.

These peel pads are infused with alpha hydroxy acid, BHAs, and vitamin C to slough off dead skin cells and control excess oil. It's a gentle formula, and it will leave the skin calm and hydrated.

For a super-strong formula, this is a good (and affordable!) option with 10% lactic acid to deal with dull and uneven skin tone and texture. The potent solution is paired with Tasmanian pepper berry to calm any inflammation or sensitivity.

CeraVe's salicylic acid cleanser is a dermatologist favorite, especially for oily and/or acne-prone skin. The formula is gel but turns into a foaming face wash when you're lathering up. And even though it has exfoliating powers, it's still a gentle formula with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin D.

A cult-favorite, Drunk Elephant's Babyfacial is an effective resurfacing treatment. It has an AHA blend, salicylic acid, and chickpea flour to exfoliate, promote cell turnover, and balance and brighten. I love doing this treatment because it feels very much like a ritual. You apply it, wait 20 minutes, rinse off, and then apply the Virgin Marula Facial Oil.

Next, I Finally Cured My Dull, Dry Skin—These Are the 15 Products I'd Recommend

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