13 Best Chemical Exfoliators For Radiant And Younger-Looking Skin

by Shreya Vishwanathan
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Regular acne breakouts and inflamed pores can be really frustrating and stressful. These bad guys are caused by accumulation of dead skin cells, dirt, sweat, oils or bacteria on your skin surface and it is important to exfoliate so that you can get rid of the buildup. Though the skin renews itself every now and then, there could be some stubborn dead cells that refuse to leave. That is why it’s better to opt for the best chemical exfoliant. It is less harsh and uses acids and enzymes to loosen the bonds of the dead cells and slough them away. They usually have active ingredients like alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that work down into the layers of skin to reveal a healthier and natural glow of the skin.

With a recent boom in the skincare sector, many brands have come up with chemical exfoliators which can leave you confused. Let us help you here with the best chemical exfoliator that you can pick for your skin.

TOP 10 PRODUCTS
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Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
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The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
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Botanic Tree Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser
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First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub
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COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
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Perfect Image Lactic 50% Gel Peel
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Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic
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Bliss That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads
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Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
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Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
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Top 13 Chemical Exfoliators To Buff Away Dead Skin Cells

1. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Slough away dull and dead skin cells with this BHA chemical exfoliant that is gentle but effective for every skin type. The gentle leave-on formula contains 2% BHA, green tea extract, and pH balancer that gives you moisturized, bright, and youthful skin. The cruelty and paraben-free exfoliator follows the natural exfoliation process, and removes dirt, oils, and debris from pores to impart your skin good health. It targets redness, signs of aging, enlarged pores, and blackheads, and promotes even toned skin. It also helps visibly reduce the appearance of sun damage.

Pros

  • Gentle leave-on formula
  • Clears breakouts
  • Calms redness of skin
  • Paraben and fragrance-free
  • Cruelty-free
  • Moisturizes skin
  • Smooths fine lines

Cons

  • Some may find the scent unpleasant.

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2. The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

Get a beautiful and radiant skin in just 10 minutes with this drugstore chemical exfoliant. The exfoliator harvests the power of AHAs and BHAs, aloe vera leaf juice, salicylic acid, lactic acid, vitamin B5, and Tasmanian pepperberry to exfoliate dead skin cells and give you a brighter and radiant look and feel. It clears pore congestion and helps fight blemishes to improve the texture of your skin. The peeling solution reduces the appearances of fine lines and other signs of aging. It also reduces inflammation and promotes healing. So, if you dream of a flawless skin, you need this chemical exfoliator in your skincare regimen.

Pros

  • Clears pores
  • Fights blemishes
  • Improves skin texture
  • Reduces appearance of fine lines
  • Promotes healing of skin

Cons

  • May take some time to get used to
  • May increase your skin’s sensitivity to sun

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3. Botanic Tree Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser

Not everyone can have the luxury of taking bath in milk and honey like Cleopatra did for beautiful skin. But do not worry. This chemical exfoliator for oily skin infused with 10% glycolic acid, bamboo, shea butter, willow bark, tea tree, and seaweed, can almost do the same trick. It deeply cleanses your skin by pulling out excess oil, dirt, and other impurities from the pores. It also gives a radiant and bright skin tone. The facial wash reduces acne scars and sun spots, fights signs of aging, and rejuvenates your dull and tired skin in addition to exfoliating.

Pros

  • Ideal for oily skin
  • Sulphate and paraben-free
  • Fights dark spots and hyperpigmentation
  • Treats acne scars
  • Prevents fine lines and wrinkles
  • Nourishes your skin

Cons

  • May not be suitable for sensitive skin

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4. First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub

Give your skin a fresh glow with this fast-acting First Aid Beauty KP body scrub. Tested by dermatologists, this body scrub with chemical exfoliators offers the benefits of microdermabrasion treatment. The drugstore chemical exfoliant features 10% of glycolic and lactic acids, oatmeal, willow bark extract, feverfew extract, vitamin E and Camellia sinensis that exfoliate dead skin cells to promote a healthier skin. It removes pore congestion to give you an exceptionally smooth skin. The cruelty-free and soy-free scrub fights free radicals, soothes your skin, and nourishes it.

Pros

  • Dermatologist-tested
  • Cruelty-free and vegan
  • Gluten and soy-free
  • Paraben and sulphate-free
  • Instant relief from skin bumps

Cons

  • Contains xanthan

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5. COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

Get that clear and bright skin that you have always been dreaming of. This BHA chemical exfoliant is made with natural ingredients like 4% BHA and 64% white willow bark water. This cruelty-free and vegan product deeply cleanses the pores to gently remove dead skin cells without causing any irritation. It fights excess sebum and removes blackheads. All you need to do is apply it with a cotton pad every day for a hydrated and healthy skin with a natural glow. It is best to use during the night but for daytime use, you should apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to prevent any damage to the skin due to UV exposure.

Pros

  • Hypoallergenic
  • Paraben and sulphate-free
  • Cruelty-free and vegan
  • Dermatologist tested
  • Prevents blackheads
  • Nourishes and rejuvenates skin

Cons

  • Contains xanthan

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6. Perfect Image Lactic 50% Gel Peel

This drugstore chemical exfoliant is a cult favourite as it has a host of good-for-you ingredients. The kojic acid infused formula contains antioxidants, green tea extract, lactic acid, vitamins E and C, and licorice that helps with deep exfoliation to clear your skin off any dead skin cells and revitalize your skin. The chemical peel assists in fading the freckles, wrinkles, fine lines, age spots and other signs of aging. It boosts production of collagen and improves elasticity of skin. The facial peel helps even out your skin tone by controlling the production of melanin and effectively locks-in moisture in your skin. But since it’s a stronger peel, it is recommended that you use level 1 Lactic peel before using this product.

Pros

  • Promotes production of collagen
  • Evens out your skin tone
  • Offers deep moisturization
  • Fades wrinkles and fine lines
  • Minimizes freckles and age spots

Cons

  • It may increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

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7. Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic

The secret to perfect skin is now in your hands. Improve your skin tone and complexion with one of the best drugstore chemical exfoliators. This exfoliating toner targets several skin problems. Formulated with 5% glycolic acid and aloe vera, the cruelty and alcohol-free product gently exfoliates and washes off all impurities from the pores. Add this invigorating toner to your daily skincare routine to prevent acne and moisturize your skin. It can be used in the morning and evening on your face and neck. It balances your skin tone and preps it for makeup application, giving you a radiant and bright complexion.

Pros

  • Alcohol and cruelty-free
  • Soothes and hydrates skin
  • Clears pores of impurities
  • Makes skin even toned
  • Suitable for all skin types
  • Accelerates skin cell renewal

Cons

  • Some may find it slightly expensive.

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8. Bliss That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads

Whether it is that you call ‘strawberry skin’ or ‘chicken skin’, consider it gone. This chemical exfoliation for face is infused with glycolic acid and soothing botanicals like witch hazel, licorice, and calendula flower extract. It works alongside your skin’s natural repair cycle and slowly releases glycolic acid while you are asleep to correct your skin imperfections and give a natural glow to your skin. You need to rinse it off after its application. It fades fines lines and discolorations, and helps reduce inflammation. Help your skin wake up for the day with this PETA-certified and paraben-free gentle chemical exfoliant.

Pros

  • Paraben and SLS-free
  • PETA-certified
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Fades fine lines and discolorations
  • Offers radiant skin

Cons

  • May not be suitable for extremely sensitive skin

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9. Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

If your skin imperfections including acne have persisted beyond your troublesome teenage years, and it still concerns you, this gentle chemical exfoliant is what you may need. Developed by a board-certified dermatologist with more than 25 years of experience in skincare, this fast-acting peel sloughs away dead skin cells, excess oils, and impurities to give you an evenly toned skin. It minimizes the appearance of pores, fine lines, and prevents other signs of premature aging. Experience a more balanced and ageless skin with this universal formula that contains 5 acids— salicylic, lactic, glycolic, citric, and malic acid along with witch hazel water, matricaria flower extract, glycerin, and Camellia sinensis leaf extract. Suitable for all skin types, it is also ideal for those using peels for the first time.

Pros

  • Can be used daily
  • Gives faster results
  • Improves uneven tone and texture
  • Cruelty-free and vegan
  • Paraben-free
  • Refreshed and glowy skin
  • Ideal for first time peel users

Cons

  • Contains alcohol and fragrance

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10. Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment

Grab onto those ‘good genes’ bottled in this product for a flawless skin as this drugstore chemical exfoliant rapidly exfoliates dead skin cells and unclogs your pores from impurities, dirt and excess oil, to reveal a clearer and smoother skin. The multitasking product also fights hyperpigmentation, fades wrinkles and fine lines, and improves the appearance of dark spots and discolorations. The ingredients like lactic acid, licorice, lemongrass, prickly pear extract, aloe vera leaf extract, and arnica montana flower extract have been clinically proven to immediately aid in boosting skin radiance and give you younger-looking skin in 3 minutes.

Pros

  • Clinically-proven
  • Clarifies skin
  • Non-irritating formula
  • Brightens look of dark spots and discolorations
  • Fades wrinkles and fine lines
  • Cruelty-free

Cons

  • Contains xanthan and alcohol

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11. Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

Forget about booking appointments at spa as this drugstore chemical exfoliant gives a spa-quality facial treatment at home. This chemical exfoliant coming from the world-renowned skincare expert offers smoother and softer skin texture in just 2 minutes. The AHA lactic acid and BHA salicylic acid, silica, papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin enzymes, rosewood and cinnamon extracts, aloe vera, honey, and vitamin E present in the product promote glowing complexion. It removes surface dullness, chemically exfoliates and clears the pores, and softens the appearances of fine lines and wrinkles to provide smoother and softer skin. Just sit back and experience the unbelievable transformation of your skin.

Pros

  • Immediate results
  • Improves skin texture
  • Reduces crow’s feet, fine lines, and wrinkles
  • Enhances appearance of pores
  • Smooths and softens skin

Cons

  • Contains alcohol

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12. I DEW CARE Peel Lit Exfoliating Vitamin C Treatment Pads

Be confident that you are using the best acid you and your skin will love. This best drugstore chemical exfoliator contains AHAs, PHAs, and pineapple extract that clear the pores to gently exfoliate and give you a brighter skin. This K-beauty product is also infused with vitamins C and B3 and bromelain extract that promote smoother and radiant skin. The ultra-soft and dual-sided pads fight blemishes, redness, and reduce the appearances of dark spots. This do-not-rinse formula can be used every day in the morning and evening for brighter complexion.

Pros

  • Cruelty-free and vegan
  • Paraben and gluten-free
  • Ultra-soft and dual-sided pads
  • Brightens and evens skin tone
  • Reduces appearance of wrinkles
  • Improves looks of blemishes

Cons

  • Contains fragrance

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13. CANE + AUSTIN Miracle Pad + Facial Treatment

Enjoy a clear, smooth skin with this at-home facial treatment. The drugstore chemical exfoliant revitalizes your skin by restoring its natural glow and vitality. It promotes healthier skin with its non-irritating formula that includes ingredients like glycolic and salicylic acid, and witch hazel. Suitable for all skin types, it is clinically proven to boost collagen production and improve elasticity of the skin. Apart from exfoliating dead skin cells, these pre-medicated pads also reduce the appearances of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots to provide hydrated, healthy, and younger-looking skin.

Pros

  • Clinically-proven
  • Paraben and fragrance-free
  • Minimizes fine lines and wrinkles
  • Evens out skin tone
  • Improves elasticity
  • Promotes production of collagen
  • Fights hyperpigmentation

Cons

  • It may increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

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You must have got an understanding of chemical exfoliators and their multiple benefits. Now, let’s find out how they work.

How Do Chemical Exfoliants Work?

Chemical exfoliants are basically acids — Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) or Beta Hydroxy Acids, (BHAs) that help get rid of your dead skin cells. When you apply it, the acid penetrates into your skin and dissolves the glue of these dead skin cells. It breaks the bonds, clears any buildups that can cause breakouts, wrinkles or dry patches, and removes the dead cells along with any trapped dirt and excess oils easily, giving you a refreshed and healthy skin.

The word ‘acids’ might have freaked you out but do not worry, they are safe to use. In fact, AHAs have arguably emerged as one of the safest acids to use to loosen the bonds between the dead cells while exfoliating. Now, let’s look at the factors you need to keep in mind while picking the best exfoliant.

How To Choose A Chemical Exfoliant?

  • Gentle formula

If you are especially new to using exfoliators, it is best to start with a mild formula so that you can check how your skin reacts. Also, many products with gentle formula can be used more frequently and hence, can give effective results faster.

  • Ingredients

Do read the label of ingredients on the product before you make the final decision. It is best to avoid exfoliators that contain some irritating ingredients like alcohol, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and formaldehydes, especially if you have sensitive skin. It is also safer to pick a hypoallergenic product.

  • Skin needs

When looking for the right product, you should consider your skin needs as it can help you zero down on the product quicker. Apart from exfoliation, if you are looking for something that can help treat fine lines, hyperpigmentation, or uneven skin tone, you can pick one with AHAs. But if sun damage and redness are your major concerns, BHAs would be a better bet.

  • Skin type

If you have dry or oily skin, you can choose chemical exfoliators with lactic acid or glycolic acid. And if you have sensitive skin, you may choose some PHAs and exfoliate less frequently, maybe once or twice a week.

After considering all these factors, you must have been able to pick a product that suits your needs, skin type, budget, and values. Sometimes, finding the best chemical exfoliant can involve trial and error, but it is recommended that you try only 1 product at a time to be able to best monitor the results. Chemical exfoliation is a much-needed addition to the skincare regimen for a radiant and younger-looking skin. Though scrubs can be good too, chemical exfoliators are a better choice as they delve deep into the skin to remove dead skin cells and reveal a healthier skin. However, if any skin irritation or issue persists after using the product for a while, do consult a physician.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Are chemical exfoliants bad for your skin?

Chemical exfoliants are gentler on the skin than physical exfoliants as they do not involve scrubbing. They unclog pores and remove dead skin cells gently.

How often should I use a chemical exfoliant?

As chemical exfoliants tend to cause irritation and dryness when used every day, you can use them 2 or 3 times a week.

How long does it take for a chemical exfoliant to work?

If you have found the right chemical exfoliant for your skin, you should see results with reduction in hyperpigmentation and supple skin in 2 to 3 weeks.

Do you wash off chemical exfoliants?

It depends on the type of product you are using. If you are using a peel that works like a mask, you have to rinse it off after a couple of minutes of application. Check the label of your product and follow the direction to use mentioned on it.

Is it bad to use chemical exfoliants every day?

Experts usually suggest to use chemical exfoliant twice or thrice a week but if you feel your skin can use some more without developing any allergic reactions, you can increase the number of times you use it. Many people find it okay to use every day too.

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Shreya is an SEO-content writer and has worked with various organizations to craft unique and creative content. Holding a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, she calls herself a lifelong learner driven by curiosity to tap into different fields and the will to push her boundaries. She combines her curiosity and love for writing to write about subjects that are valuable to fashion enthusiasts.
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