8 Best Exfoliator For Dry Sensitive Skin In 2020

Exfoliation is one of the important steps in the right skincare routine, simply because it addresses multiple concerns at once. Without exfoliating, dead skin cells will build-up, resulting in one (or worse more) skin problems such as dull, dry, clogged pores, breakouts, and uneven skin tone.

Through regular exfoliation, you can remove dead skin and excess oil, giving you instant skin smoothing and brightening effects. What’s more, it helps control oil production, not to mention acne breakouts. Oh, and it even enhances the absorption of the rest of your skincare treatments. 

Okay, now that we have that cleared up, shall we move to the best exfoliators for your dry sensitive skin? But wait, are you sure you’re not confusing facial scrubs with liquid exfoliants? After all, both are exfoliating products.


Understanding The Two Types of Exfoliators

Physical Exfoliators 

Physical exfoliants are your quintessential face scrubs, or just about anything that’s infused with small granules to physically scrub off the debris on your skin. Perhaps, the best thing about using scrubs is that you’d usually get an immediate satisfying result – a smooth and glowing skin. 

Caution with physical exfoliants:

However, you have to be careful not to overdo the massage and usage. Otherwise, it could backfire and lead to micro-tears and skin irritation. A micro-tear is a little tear in the skin typically caused by physical face exfoliators. 

Chemical Exfoliators

On the other hand, chemical exfoliants are made primarily with acids. Yes, you read it right – we’re talking about acids being put on your face. Sounds like a nightmare? Nah, it’s actually the opposite.

These formulas use low-percentages of gentle acids to slough off those dead cells on your face, aiding in your cell turnover. As a result, your skin becomes smoother and brighter. That said, compared to facial scrubs, liquid exfoliants do not produce immediate results. 

Caution with chemical exfoliants:

When using chemical exfoliating products, specifically the strong ones, be careful mixing them with already harsh ingredients like retinol or retinoid. Additionally, it may also lead to skin purging, a temporary acne flare-up due to the active ingredient – direct acids like AHA, BHA, etc – that’s speeding up the skin cell turnover rate. 

8 Best Exfoliator For Dry and Sensitive Skin

1. Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub

Dry skin makes your face look dull and one way to combat that dullness is to exfoliate. This extra-gentle daily scrub from the cult-fave drugstore brand, Cetaphil, works by buffing away your dry patches, all the while, cleaning your skin to provide a natural surface cell turnover. Simply put, it’s an exfoliator that removes oil, dirt, and impurities without over-drying, making it perfect for your dry skin.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting micro-tears with this one since it uses micro-fine granules that are ideal for daily use, even on sensitive skin. And as expected from Cetaphil, this scrub is non-irritating and non-comedogenic.

In other words, it won’t irritate your skin nor clog your pores. Apart from the ultra-gentle granules, this cleanser also includes skin conditioners and a vitamin complex to ensure that your skin feels soft and smooth and looks radiant after each use. 

Favorite feature: It’s a brightening facial scrub exfoliator AND a cleanser that’s extra gentle to specifically cater to sensitive skin types. 

2. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial

A bit on the pricier end of the exfoliant spectrum, Drunk Elephant, thankfully, isn’t a let down despite its price tag. It’s an at-home mask that you can do in just 15 to 20 minutes.

With the help of AHA and BHA ingredients, it works to remove dead skin cells. But that’s now where the good things end – it contains antioxidants and oils that will hydrate the new cells for a cleaner, clearer, softer, and brighter skin. Its pH level is 3.5, which is important as it ensures that all active ingredients present on the mask (and the rest of your skin care regime) are at efficacious levels.

This facial mask also has a mixture of apple, matcha tea, and milk thistle – all of which boost your skin’s elasticity. And the result? A baby-faced complexion!

Favorite feature: It’s like drinking a smoothie, but all nutrition goes directly to your skin. Oh, and it’s free from silicone, alcohol, fragrances, and essential oils. 

3. e.l.f. Gentle Peeling Exfoliant Enriched Face Cleanser

For sensitive skin types, the rule of the thumb is to look for gentle formulas, especially for exfoliants and cleansers. A good example of this is e.l.f. Gentle Peeling Exfoliant Enriched Face Cleanser that cleanses and peels away dead skin cells and other pore-clogging impurities in a non-abrasive way.

Although it’s labeled as a Peeling Exfoliant, it’s not truly a peel, but rather, a very mild physical scrub. It contains microcrystalline cellulose, a refined wood pulp that when rubbed onto the face forms into balled-up fibers.

Another key ingredient is propylene glycol, which is used to treat or prevent dry. Ironically, despite being a gentle cleanser, it produces a remarkable amount of pilled-up material when used on your skin, a testament to its efficacy.

With regular use, it won’t just leave your skin feeling softer and smoother, but may also reduce the signs of aging. 

Favorite feature: It has added benefits of papaya, tangerine, and licorice extracts and is formulated to not strip your skin of moisture. 

4. The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + Ha 2%

With 5% lactic acid, this gentle formula provides very mild exfoliation. So, if you’re new to acids and exfoliants and have sensitive skin, The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + Ha 2% is perfect for you. Lactic acid is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid that gently exfoliates the skin. It’s recommended to use once a day, ideally on the PM, and you can use it as a toner if you wish to.

The HA stands for hyaluronic acid that will plump and hydrate the skin, giving it a glowy look. In addition to retaining moisture in your skin, HA prevents all that moisture from evaporating. Together, those primary ingredients are designed to improve your skin texture and appearance, revealing a brighter, smoother, and even skin tone.

If you think the formula is too strong, feel free to dilute it with other treatments, say your moisturizer, to reduce strength until your skin develops tolerance. 

Favorite feature: It’s an incredibly mild formula with a purified Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to boot, which reduces signs of inflammation and sensitivity associated with acid use. 

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

We’ve talked enough about AHAs but not so much about BHAs. This is where Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant comes in, a toner exfoliant that’s designed to balance the skin, exfoliate, and alleviate signs of redness and irritation from your face.

It’s one of the best face exfoliators for all skin types, including sensitive as it has no fragrance and parabens. Just an effective, science-backed product that solves various issues like dryness to breakouts.

The main highlight of this exfoliator is the 2% BHA, an amount potent enough to penetrate deep into the pores to eliminate dirt, oil, and other impurities. Moreover, it calms any redness, ultimately, evening out your complexion.

Another notable ingredient is green tea, a skin-soothing antioxidant that also reduces the appearance of sun damage. You can use this exfoliant as a toner and leave it on overnight. 

Favorite feature: It’s a non-abrasive exfoliator that doesn’t just help remove old skin cells but also shrink enlarged pores. 

6. Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

This exfoliation scrub promises to evidently improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in just a week. While this certainly isn’t the most affordable product, it’s a dual-action exfoliator that smoothes and polishes your skin, thanks to the lactic acid and fruit enzymes that slough off debris and dead skin cells without over-drying.

Apart from its active acid ingredient, Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment is packed with super-fine granules for physical exfoliation. It’s a strong formula since it serves as both chemical and physical exfoliator, thus, the recommended frequency of use is 1-2 times a week.

But don’t fret too much – AHA is a very mild exfoliant, unlike Salicylic Acid. So, essentially, it’s safe for your dry sensitive face, provided that you leave it on for no more than 1 minute. 

Favorite feature: It’s a 3-in-in product – a scrub, a mask, and a peel and has a very natural scent that you can get a sniff on at an herbal remedy shop. 

7. Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Facial Scrub

Another brightening facial scrub on our list today is from the premium-quality, Aveeno brand. It’s very light so your face won’t feel tight nor won’t it dry out your skin. It’s formulated for daily use to help improve skin tone and texture.

One of the features that make this exfoliating scrub unique is its moisture-rich soy extract, which is ideal for those with dehydrated skin. And don’t worry, the Aveeno Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Scrub is gentle enough for your sensitive skin. It even helps keep whiteheads at bay.

While the product doesn’t contain jojoba beads, it does have jojoba and castor oils to promote a smoother and more even-toned skin. For its granules, they’re all naturally derived micro-beads for gentler removal of impurities from the skin’s surface.

Overall, it leaves your face looking and feeling smoother, cleaner, and more importantly, healthy. 

Favorite feature: It’s soap-free, hypoallergenic, and is non-comedogenic. 

8.philosophy microdelivery exfoliating facial wash

Daily exfoliating your skin without overdrying it is now made possible with philosophy microdelivery exfoliating facial wash. This mild, exfoliator is designed to effectively cleanse and exfoliate your skin. Oddly enough, you can’t see any exfoliating particles in it.

Even still, you can feel it working as you massage the formula across your face. This is probably why the manufacturer dubbed it as a “microdelivery” exfoliating facial wash.

It’s gentle enough to be used daily. Its key ingredients are vitamin C for brightening and moisturizing and light exfoliants for micro-exfoliation. This daily exfoliating cleanser also helps alleviate problems like skin feeling, flakiness, dryness, and rough texture. It can even help reduce fine lines, giving your skin a healthy glow.

As such, it’s perfect for all skin types, including mature and sensitive skin. 

Favorite feature: It’s fragrance-free, which is a must for people with sensitive skin. 


1. Who is physical exfoliation for?

In general, people with oily, dry, and combination skin types do well with facial scrubs. 

2. Who is chemical exfoliation for?

Chemical exfoliators are best for sensitive, combination, oily, and acne-prone skin types and those with skin concerns like pigmentation and acne scarring. 

3. What are the different forms of chemical exfoliants?

Unlike scrubs, chemical face exfoliators come in several forms including cleansers, toners, serums, and masks. And there are two types of chemical exfoliants: Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA). Lactic Acid and Glycolic Acid are the two most popular AHAs while Salicylic Acid is an example of a BHA. 

4. What’s the main difference between AHA and BHA?

AHAs are water-soluble that come from sugary fruits while BHAs are oil-soluble. Although both works to take away dead skin cells, AHAs are primarily used for hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, signs of aging, and uneven skin tone while BHAs primarily target acne, clogged pores, redness, and sun damage.

5.For dry, sensitive skin, what chemical exfoliant should you use?

Short answer-both. Products with Beta Hydroxy Acids can soothe and calm the skin, which is ideal if you have sensitive skin or some redness. Meanwhile, Alpha Hydroxy Acids are perfect for dry skin since it penetrates the skin’s surface to retain moisture. 

Final Verdict

Plenty of exfoliating products are available in the market today. Besides your skin type and skin concerns, it’s also important to consider which form and type of exfoliant you want to incorporate into your skincare routine.

If you’re looking for a scrub, pick between Cetaphil and Aveeno. For a wash-off mask, go with Drunk Elephant.

Want a daily cleanser, instead? There’s one from e.l.f. and another from philosophy. And if you’d rather use a chemical exfoliant, take your pick among Paula’s Choice, The Ordinary, and Kate Somerville.

Either way, you’re good to go. Just make sure to follow the instructions especially for those with acids.  Oh, and do massage in circular motions, too!

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