When you think of face exfoliators, what springs to mind? Probably something along the lines of a grit-like scrub or buffing sponge, right? Whilst physical exfoliators are great for sloughing away dead skin cells, sometimes they just don’t cut it when it comes to giving you that baby-soft feel (no matter how long and hard you scrub for).
Chemical exfoliators, however, do just the trick.
Whilst ‘chemical peel’ and ‘exfoliating acids’ sound like they belong in a science lab rather than your bathroom cabinet, they’re surprisingly a better – and gentler – option for your skin. Typically powered by AHAs and BHAs, they provide a much less abrasive exfoliation yet penetrate skin at a deeper level. That means they not only dissolve the impurities sitting on top of your skin, but they unclog pores, improve skin texture, boost radiance, fend off fine lines, clear acne and so much more. The result? That pillow-soft skin you've been longing for!
Not sure where to start? Don't fret, as we've rallied together the best chemical exfoliators that deliver on the soft, smooth skin promise.
It’s only right that we kickstart our line-up with The Ordinary’s Peeling Solution. It’s one of the most hyped beauty products of the year, as not only is it packed with skin-perfecting benefits, but its bright red, blood-like appearance makes great for a Tik Tok video.
The AHA and BHA combo delivers a gentle exfoliation that evens skin tone and texture, fades acne scars and boosts radiance in less than 10 minutes.
Another chemical exfoliant that’s making the headlines for all the right reasons is the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant from Paula’s Choice. Hailed for its ability to reduce the appearance of pores, blackheads, fine lines and uneven texture, it’s a must-have if you’re looking to polish up your complexion.
Dr Dennis Gross is a man you can trust. Bringing the clinic to your bathroom cabinet, the Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel is a pro-grade, two-step chemical exfoliator that resurfaces and rebalances skin for a healthier and more youthful appearance.
Another doctor-developed chemical peel worth investing in comes from Goldfaden MD. With no scrubbing or polishing required, this jelly-like exfoliator utilises lactic acid and multi-fruit enzymes to dissolve dead cells that are dulling the skin’s surface. A light tingling sensation results in skin that’s bursting with long-lasting radiance and luminosity.
The INKEY List is the skin care brand dedicated to giving you simple and effective formulas that are safe to use at home. This toner is supercharged with polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) for a gentle exfoliation that even the most sensitive skin can enjoy. Just a few sweeps with a saturated cotton pad helps to decongest pores and hydrate skin.
Ole Henriksen have found a way to bottle that post-facial glow so that you can flaunt a radiant, dewy complexion, 24/7. The PHAT Glow Facial is pumped with PHAs, pink clay, chia seed oil and Nordic birch sap in order to provide a chemical exfoliation that plumps, smooths and hydrates skin.
Murad fuses together AHAs, BHAs and tranexamic acid in order to create an innovative peel that accelerates cell turnover, all whilst keeping skin soft, supple and luminous. Suitable for daily use, the formula helps to purge pores, brighten dark spots and protect the skin barrier, so that your complexion is kept clean, clear and content.
The Sarah Chapman Overnight Exfoliating Booster does all of the groundwork for you by working overnight. As you catch those all-important eight hours of sleep, this formula works overtime to unclog pores, encourage skin cell renewal and smooth fine lines. By the time morning rolls around, you’ll have a brighter, smoother and more radiant visage.
The PIXI Glow Tonic boasts cult status in the U.K and across the globe. Powered by 5% glycolic acid, it gives an effective exfoliation without causing irritation. Other feel-good ingredients, including aloe vera and ginseng, ensure skin is left feeling soft, soothed and nourished, never tight or dry!
Kate Somerville is here to turn your night-time routine up a notch. The ExfoliKate (we love a pun) Triple Acid Resurfacing Treatment boasts a glycolic, malic and lactic acid blend in order to remove skin cell build-up, smooth texture and boost hydration.
Here to help you restore your ‘glow-jo’ is REN. The Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic is a brightening, clarifying and clearing solution formulated to tackle signs of dullness. Azelaic acid, AHAs and willow bark work together to gently exfoliate the skin and reignite that lit-from-within look.
Wave bye-bye to congested pores as the Sukari Babyfacial is packed with pro-quality ingredients that resurface and unclog skin. This multi-award-winning peel treatment is the perfect at-home facial and makes a great addition to any Sunday night pamper routine. Plus, the pretty pink packaging doesn’t look too shabby on your top bathroom shelf.
Discover a quick, easy and fuss-free exfoliation with First Aid Beauty’s Facial Radiance Pads. Each pad has been soaked in a blend of lactic and glycolic acid, as well as other good-for-you ingredients, and can be swiped over your face to remove dead skin cells, improve skin tone and reduce the appearance of pores. Arriving in a travel-friendly tub, you can pop this exfoliator in your bag and rest assured that your skin will look its best wherever, whenever.
They’re so good we had to include them twice. We end our epic roundup of the best chemical exfoliants with another shoutout to The Ordinary. Their Lactic Acid 10% + HA solution is small but mighty. Just a few drops of this stuff is enough to stimulate cell renewal and tackle skin issues such as texture, scarring and pigmentation. The best part? It has a super affordable price tag.
See, chemical exfoliators aren’t all that scary! And once you incorporate them into your routine and begin to see your skin transformation, you’ll wish you had never overlooked them. Better late than never, hey?! Plus, you're now equipped with the best of the best.
Looking to take soft, smooth skin that one step further? Check out The Niacinamide Serums That Are Worth the Hype.
Written by Carly Cochrane
Carly is a beauty editor at Cosmetify and has been a part of our family for three years. She has over five years of experience in health, beauty and wellness writing.