Exfoliating Treatments

The Best Exfoliator for Face and Skin Types

Beautiful, healthy skin takes work.

And exfoliation is the cornerstone of good skincare.

But it’s not the most straightforward part of your routine.

Many in the skincare industry voice different opinions on it.

Here at NC, we will do our best to reconcile that.

So here’s our esthetician’s guide to exfoliating products broken down by skin type.

Best exfoliator for face

Exfoliating your skin means slouching off dead skin cells to reveal beautiful, newly generated skin underneath.

You can do this physically with a scrub, a washcloth, or a microdermabrasion machine or chemically with acids like beta or alpha hydroxy acids.

There are several different exfoliating products available:

  • facial scrubs
  • enzymatic masks
  • cleansing beads
  • exfoliating products
  • abrasive Sponges
  • alpha hydroxy acids
  • beta hydroxy acids
  • roll-off masks, known in the beauty industry as gommage products

So, without further ado, let’s break down the best exfoliator for face by skin type.

Exfoliator for Sensitive skin

We have seen several cases in our clinic where clients have been overzealous with their exfoliating products, impairing their barrier function and causing terrible inflammation in their skin.

This is usually due to using exfoliating products that contain irregular grains or crushed walnut pieces that are not spherical, which can cause tiny micro-tears on the skin’s surface.

In our professional opinion, these are the facial equivalent of a pan scourer and can potentially do more harm than good.

However, whilst you must be careful if you have sensitive skin, it doesn’t mean you should skip this part of your routine altogether; instead, opt for gentle products, such as gommages, powders, or exfoliating gels.

Because sensitive skin types can be tricky to treat, we dedicated an entire article to exfoliation and gentle peels for sensitive skin, which you can read here.

Exfoliator for dry skin

Dry skin is similar to sensitive skin because the surface cells tend to be very dehydrated, scaly and fragile,

As this study (1) demonstrates, we recommend using hydrating gel exfoliators that contain fruit enzymes or alpha hydroxy acids like lactic and glycolic acid,

Mechanical exfoliants containing moisturising ingredients such as coconut oil or shea butter are also an excellent addition, provided they don’t include those irregular grains.

Another great option is a gommage peel, which helps remove stubborn skin cells that have adhered to the skin’s surface without causing inflammation.

Exfoliator for oily skin

Oily skin tends to be thicker, and unless you suffer from inflamed breakouts, your skin will have a higher tolerance to exfoliating products.

Exfoliating products with beta-hydroxy acids that contain salicylic acid might be beneficial for curbing that daily shine and pulling debris from the pores.

A word of caution here: be sure not to overdo it.

Drying out your skin too much may cause redness and irritation, and you may even stimulate increased oil production, which is your skin’s response to being over-dried.

It is also important not to use reusable devices such as brushes and clothes, as these can harbour bacteria from prior treatment and exacerbate oily skin and breakouts.

This study (2) found that diamond microdermabrasion had beneficial effects when used on a participant with oily skin.

Exfoliator for combination skin 

If you have combination skin, your T-zone will be oily, and your cheeks may fall on the drier side.

So, we recommend customising your routine and keeping most of your exfoliation to the T-zone area.

Opt for using exfoliating products like clay masks on oily areas, which will gently detoxify your skin or a light salicylic acid that will help to break down excessive surface debris and oils.

Use an exfoliating gel with lactic or fruit enzymes or a gentle powder on dry skin areas to boost hydration levels.

Best exfoliator for normal skin 

Predictably, there will be more options here if you have normal skin.

Exfoliating gels such as those containing fruit enzymes through to-face masks with glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid—or a combination of these are a great option if you have normal skin.

They will gently help to slough away dead skin cells, debris, and excess dirt without causing irritation or inflammation.

If you have more questions about how to exfoliate your skin, follow the link to read our complete guide.

To conclude. The naked truth

So, as we can see, how you approach your exfoliating routine depends on your skin type.

No matter your skin type, we recommend avoiding abrasive scrubs or strong exfoliating liquids that strip your skin.

Our philosophy here at NC is about healing the skin’s barrier function and preserving the delicate microflora that make up the acid mantle, keeping out inflammation, which we believe is at the root of all premature ageing.

This is why the best exfoliator for face are products like gel exfoliators, gommages, and powder-based options.

These products won’t cause micro-tears in your skin, which can potentially undermine your skin’s protective barrier.

These gentle exfoliating options work like tiny Pac men on your skin, munching and dissolving the protein bonds between dead cells, gently penetrating the pores to remove the build-up of follicular debris in the cell wall.

Exfoliation is truly a step in your routine that should not be overlooked.

When performed correctly, it can help you achieve that youthful, coveted glow.


  1. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin.

  2. Effect of diamond microdermabrasion on oily skin: a case report.

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