13 Best Exfoliators For Sensitive Skin – Our Top Picks

by Shreya Vishwanathan
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Exfoliation is an important part of the skincare regimen and we can go on about the countless benefits it offers. Though our skin sheds off dead skin cells on its own, some of the stubborn ones can clog the pores, making our skin look dull, and may cause sensitive skin to break out. Exfoliating regularly helps wash off the dead cells so that there’s no dirt or debri stealing away the natural glow of your skin. If you haven’t already, we recommend you add the best exfoliator for sensitive skin to your cart right away.

There’s a popular myth that exfoliators might irritate sensitive skin. While that could be true for some exfoliators, we’re here to bust that myth with our list of the 13 best exfoliators for sensitive skin. We’re sure this extensive list will provide you with enough options so you can reclaim a clean, gleaming, and happy face.

TOP 10 PRODUCTS
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Paula's Choice Exfoliate Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
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Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Daily Scrub
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Palmer's Coconut Oil Formula Coconut Sugar Facial Scrub
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Botanic Tree Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser
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e.raorganics Revive + Microdermabrasion Manuka Honey Walnut Scrub & Mask
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Neutrogena Bright Boost Resurfacing Micro Polish
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First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub
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Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub
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Ebanel Ultimate Brightening Peeling Gel Gentle Exfoliator
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Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment
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13 Best Exfoliators For Sensitive Skin That Buff Away Dead Cells

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

This non-abrasive 2% BHA exfoliator gently unclogs pores and reduces their size by flushing out dead skin cells and clearing clogged pores. One of the best exfoliators for sensitive skin, it offers added benefits such as reducing blackheads and improved appearance of sun damage — giving you a radiant, youthful, and even-toned skin. This fragrance-free exfoliator for sensitive skin has skin-loving ingredients such as salicylic acid, butylene glycol, and green tea leaf extracts that moisturize the skin and help fight acne. It is clinically proven to smoothen fine lines and fight other signs of aging.

Pros

  • Unclogs pores
  • Improves skin texture
  • Anti-aging properties
  • Paraben-free
  • Fragrance-free

Cons

  • May dry out skin

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2. Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Daily Scrub

Sometimes, all it takes to get rid of dullness and blackheads is a thoughtfully formulated face scrub. This daily face exfoliator for sensitive skin from a brand that many dermatologists recommend clarifies your skin and improves its tone and texture. The moisture-rich soy extract, jojoba oil, castor oil, and naturally derived granules make for gentle components that exfoliate while giving you visibly brighter and smoother skin. We call this an ideal scrub for daily use for sensitive skin because it is non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic, and soap-free.

Pros

  • Adds glow
  • Improves skin tone
  • Oil-free formula
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Non-comedogenic 

Cons

  • Contains sulfate

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3. Palmer’s Coconut Oil Formula Coconut Sugar Facial Scrub

Tested by dermatologists, this non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic facial scrub is a dream for sensitive skin. This light exfoliator for sensitive skin gently clears off the dead skin cells to reveal a clear and balanced skin tone. It is a raw coconut sugar-based formula that is enriched with extra virgin coconut oil and chamomile extract that removes layers of dirt, impurities, pollutants, and makeup. It is rich in botanical phyto-nutrients that nourish the skin. It easily dissolves and washes away with water, leaving you with plump skin.

Pros

  • Moisturizes skin
  • Dermatologist tested
  • Gluten-free
  • Cruelty-free
  • Free of parabens and sulfates

Cons

  • Contains alcohol

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4. Botanic Tree Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser

Nothing cares for the skin like organic ingredients, and this exfoliator has a wealth of such ingredients. It is formulated with organic bamboo, shea butter, glycolic acid, lavender, seaweed willow bark, and tea tree extract. This organic exfoliator removes dirt, oil, and makeup off the face leaving you feeling fresh. The AHA exfoliant with 10% glycolic acid penetrates deep into the skin to cleanse the pores, thereby significantly lowering the chances of breakouts and redness. It rejuvenates and enhances the texture of the skin with its cruelty-free and sulfate-free formula. Give this exfoliant a try if you’re looking for one that doesn’t trigger breakouts.

Pros

  • Combats dark spots
  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Ideal for oily skin
  • Improves skin texture
  • Reduces breakouts

Cons

  • May not be suitable for extremely dry skin

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5. e.raorganics Revive + Microdermabrasion Manuka Honey Walnut Scrub & Mask

Bid goodbye to aging signs with the added goodness of exfoliation with this face scrub that removes dead skin cells by cleansing pores. This exfoliator doubles as an exfoliating mask for sensitive skin and reduces fine lines, wrinkles, stretch marks, and acts as an effective acne scar treatment. With organic aloe vera, manuka honey, walnut, and vitamin C and B5, it nourishes your skin and protects it from premature aging. It is a gentle, non-toxic formula that contains no parabens or alcohol, making it a safe choice for sensitive skin.

Pros

  • Prevents premature aging of the skin
  • Offers intense hydration
  • Balances skin tone
  • Removes blackheads
  • Fades acne scars

Cons

  • May not be suitable for oily skin

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6. Neutrogena Bright Boost Resurfacing Micro Polish

This affordable dermatologist-tested exfoliator for a clear skin is cult-favorite. It packs a powerful blend of glycolic and mandelic acids that buff away dirt from the skin and get rid of dullness. It is also an option worth considering when you look for an exfoliator that brightens the complexion and improves the skin tone and texture. Among other impressive benefits are its ability to minimize the appearance of pores and dark spots with its oil-free, alcohol-free, and non-comedogenic formula.

Pros

  • Reduces pores and black spots
  • Improves skin tone and texture
  • Adds Radiance
  • Non-comedogenic
  • Oil-free
  • Alcohol-free

Cons

  • Contains EDTA

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7. First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub

Those with sensitive skin dread not only facial scrubs but also body scrubs for the not-so-pleasing after-effects such as redness and irritation. However, this scrub that doubles as a body exfoliator is worth the try. It is a potent combination of chemical and physical exfoliators that removes bumps, dullness-causing dead skin cells and helps remediate strawberry or chicken skin. The glycolic and lactic acids in a combined concentration of 10% help decongest pores while pumice buffing beads cleanse them. Bisobolol and vitamin E add a soothing finishing touch by hydrating the skin. If you’re a minimalist, it can as well help you avoid the clutter in your bathroom shelf.

Pros

  • Fights environmental aggressors
  • Improves skin texture
  • Nourishing
  • Vegan
  • Gluten-free
  • Alcohol and paraben-free

Cons

  • Contains EDTA

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8. Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub

If you’ve decided to add a daily scrub to your skincare regimen for your sensitive skin, you need an exfoliator that covers that extra mile in being gentle. This non-irritating and non-comedogenic formula saves you the hassle of unending research and confusion. It is concocted with micro fine granules, vitamin B5, citric acid, and bamboo stem extract that pamper your skin while exfoliating. A bunch of ingredients like vitamin E and glycerin keep your skin from drying and deliver a smooth, radiant, and healthy-looking skin. You can pick this daily scrub with your eyes closed as it is dermatologist-tested for being suitable for sensitive skin.

Pros

  • Gentle formula
  • Supports natural surface cell turnover
  • Sensitive skin-approved
  • Non-irritating and non-comedogenic
  • Suitable for all skin types

Cons

  • Contains artificial fragrance

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9. Ebanel Ultimate Brightening Peeling Gel Gentle Exfoliator

One of the more convenient ways to exfoliate is using a peeling gel. This daily face exfoliator for sensitive skin in the form of peeling gel contains physical exfoliating agents that gently cleanse the face off dead skin cells and dirt. It has a range of active ingredients such as vitamins C and E along with aloe, honey, and allantoin that nourish the skin, offer deep moisturization, and anti-inflammatory properties to help acne-prone skin. The antioxidants and peptides in this scrub restore the natural glow of your skin without causing any irritation. Formulated with micro-fine granules, it is soap-free, non-comedogenic, and hypoallergenic.

Pros

  • Has antioxidants
  • Hydrates
  • Alcohol-free
  • Paraben-free

Cons

  • Some may find the consistency watery.

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10. Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

This AHA-infused chemical exfoliator from Kate Somerville takes you closer to your skin goals. It is a rich blend of papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin enzymes that nourish the skin while aloe vera, honey, and vitamin E smoothen and soften skin. It also contains other natural ingredients such as rosewood and cinnamon extracts that minimize fine lines, wrinkles, and fight other signs of aging. For optimal results for sensitive skin, wash it away within 1 minute after gently massaging your face in circular motion.

Pros

  • Reduces fine lines
  • Adds glow
  • Keeps the skin moisturized
  • Cruelty-free

Cons

  • Some may find it little harsh on their skin

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11. Care me Tea Tree Gentle Peeling Exfoliant Gel

If your skin is sensitive to harsh beads, you can give this gentle chemical peel gel a try. Ingredients like activated hydrogen aqua, tea tree leaf, glycolic acid, castor oil, and vitamin E in this miraculous peel exfoliator can thoroughly cleanse and remove the dead skin cells. These natural ingredients promote skin regeneration and lock in moisture.  It offers anti-inflammatory properties to ensure that you don’t encounter irritation. It fights bacterial infections, blemishes, blackheads, and on acne-prone skin. As a plus, it is free of artificial colorants, alcohol, and preservatives.

Pros

  • Removes excess oil
  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Suitable for all skin types
  • 98% vegan
  • Free of preservatives

Cons

  • Some may find the consistency watery.

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12. La Roche-Posay Gommage Surfin Peaux Sensibles

Recommended by over 90,000 dermatologists across the globe (which is big), the ultra-fine pumice particles add a dash of magic to this facial exfoliator and offer gentle exfoliation by removing excess dead cells. Formulated specifically for sensitive skin with antioxidant thermal spring water, it is soothing to the skin and maintains a healthy pH balance of the skin. You may use this exfoliating facial scrub 2 to 3 times a week by applying a small amount of it and massaging gently onto your wet skin before washing it away.

Pros

  • Offers gentle exfoliation
  • Soap-free
  • Alcohol-free
  • Paraben-free

Cons

  • Contains parfum

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13. Tatcha The Rice Polish Calming Exfoliator

Exfoliating regularly can help fight hyperpigmentation, and this light exfoliator for sensitive skin with non-abrasive Japanese ingredients can help you do just that. What we love about this calming exfoliator is its creamy consistency that exfoliates sensitive skin in the gentlest way. Its pH neutral amino acid base formula prepared with finely ground rice bran and papaya enzymes gives you smoother skin. It is also infused with the trio of anti-aging Japanese superfoods— green tea, rice, and algae. This dermatologist-tested, sulfate, paraben, and cruelty-free exfoliant is all you need to care for your sensitive skin the right way.

Pros

  • pH neutral formula
  • Non-abrasive
  • Delivers a youthful glow
  • Dermatologist-tested
  • Cruelty-free

Cons

  • Contains alcohol

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If you have given this list of the 13 best exfoliators for sensitive skin a read and are confused about which one to pick, let us help you out. Our buying guide will help you determine the factors worth considering before purchasing an exfoliator.

How To Choose Best Exfoliator For Sensitive Skin

  • Type of exfoliator

There are 2 types of exfoliators — chemical and physical exfoliants, and you can choose either for your sensitive skin. Chemical exfoliation breaks the bonds between the cells, which makes it easier to wash away the dead skin layer. Physical exfoliators can also be a gentle option that are safe to use for sensitive skin, especially if you are just starting to exfoliate as they usually do not cause any allergic reaction.

  • Ingredients

Since sensitive skin has higher chances of developing redness and irritation, it is recommended to choose products with a bunch of natural soothing ingredients such as aloe vera and vitamin E along with lower-strength acids to help with tolerability. Ingredients like rice, oatmeal, lactic acid, and salicylic acid are the safest options. Glycolic acid can also help with removal of dead skin cells to even out your skin tone and make it smoother.

  • Hypoallergenic

You may look for a ‘hypoallergenic’ label  when choosing products for your sensitive skin as these usually tend to have fewer allergens and are hence, less likely to cause any allergic reactions. They are gentler on your skin as compared to non-hypoallergenic products.

  • Free of chemicals

Though parabens are used in low amounts in skincare products as preservatives, it is generally advised to avoid it completely as it can cause skin irritation if you have sensitive skin. Sulfate may strip your skin of natural oils, making your skin feel dry and parched. Thus, it is recommended to opt for products that are free from parabens and sulfates.

Now that you know what are the factors you need to consider while purchasing exfoliators, let’s also look at what to avoid when you set out to buy the right exfoliator.

What To Avoid When You Buy An Exfoliator

  • Harsh exfoliators

Keep away from harsher exfoliants as they may cause sensitive skin to sting or burn. In worse case scenarios, they may even cause you to break out. However, if you want to give harsh exfoliators a try for other skin benefits, make it a point to use them less frequently.

  • Large exfoliating particles

You should look out for large particles like nut shells or walnuts in the exfoliator that you’re opting for. They can be too harsh to your sensitive skin and act as abrasives. They can also cause micro-tears which can ultimately lead to acne or skin irritation.

  • High concentration acids

Though AHAs such as glycolic acid and lactic acid are good for your skin, they can irritate your skin, and it all depends on their concentration levels. AHAs, if used in higher concentration as peeling agents, can cause skin irritation and increase sun sensitivity. It is safe to use exfoliants with 8 to 10% AHAs. 

Slough away the dull and dead skin with these 13 best exfoliators for sensitive skin that are formulated to be gentle and can yet be very effective in adding a natural and radiant glow to your face by fighting the aging signs. Though exfoliators can be super tempting as they provide multiple skin benefits, resist from overusing them as they can lead to skin irritation, microtears, redness, and breakouts in the long run. When you use the right exfoliator once or twice a week on your sensitive skin, you can have a good skin day every day. 

Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions

How often should you exfoliate for sensitive skin?

Experts suggest exfoliating 2 to 3 times a week if you have normal or combination skin. For sensitive skin, it is better to exfoliate just once in a week.

When should you avoid exfoliating?

You should avoid exfoliating if your skin is sunburned or has cuts or open wounds.

Does exfoliating help wrinkles?

Yes it does. As we grow older, the natural exfoliation process slows down and leads to a buildup of dead skin cells. Regular exfoliation is one of the ways to fight aging signs as it helps to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

What should be done after exfoliating?

You may use a hydrating moisturizer after exfoliating as it will lock in moisture so that your skin doesn’t feel dry and stretchy.

Does over-exfoliating darken skin?

Over-exfoliating can lead to skin darkening as it gives rise to patchy pigmentation as a result of damage or irritation to the skin.

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Shreya Vishwanathan

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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