Best face exfoliator UK: The top-rated chemical face exfoliators for all skin types

Best face exfoliator UK: The top-rated chemical face exfoliators for all skin types

24th May 2024 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

We’ve tried, tested and handpicked the best face exfoliators for different skin types 


If you want a quick fix for dull-looking skin, a face scrub is a good place to start. Yet if you want to rid your skin of all the build-up and dead skin cells and create a long-lasting glow, you’ll need a chemical face exfoliator.

Although the term exfoliator technically refers to both physical scrubs and chemical exfoliators, there are some key differences (as you can read in our face scrub vs exfoliator guide).

The main one being that chemical exfoliators use acids and enzymes to get deep into the skin and clear it from the inside out.

They’re great for sensitive skin and less abrasive for people with acne or who suffer from redness and irritation.

We’ve taken a look at some of the best face exfoliators in the UK and rounded up our favourites below.

FURTHER READING: Face scrub vs exfoliator: What’s the difference?


Best face exfoliator UK


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Editor’s Pick: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Toner

£7.70 | BUY NOW

Why we love it: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution has developed a cult following for not only being great for exfoliating your face, but for helping improve the condition of your scalp and hair, reduce body odour when used on your armpits, and even helps soften the skin on your feet.

As the name suggests, it contains a 7% concentration of glycolic acid, a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that gently helps to exfoliate the skin, revealing a brighter and smoother complexion.

The formula also contains ginseng root and aloe vera, which help to boost radiance, hydrate the skin and soothe any potential irritation. This makes it a particularly great face exfoliator for sensitive skin.

By using this toner regularly, it helps get rid of texture, improves the appearance of fine lines, and gives your face a more youthful, firm look. 

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Budget Buy: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

£8.90 | BUY NOW 

 

Why we love it: This peeling solution moves away from the traditional facial scrub we’ve come to know and love, combining acids such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and inflammation reducers and antioxidants like Tasmanian pepperberry and black carrot to provide a radiant glow and banish blemishes.

These ingredients offer deep face exfoliation to clean the pores as well as reduce the look of fine lines.  

How to exfoliate: Used in the evening and no more than twice a week, this solution is not only great for those on a budget, but also those of us who don’t have time on our side. This product should not be left on for more than 10 minutes and should be applied to dry skin.  

FURTHER READING: The best The Ordinary Products

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Luxury Buy: Kate Somerville Exfolikate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

From £21 | BUY NOW

Why we love it: Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment is what’s classed as a dual-action exfoliator because it’s a physical scrub and chemical exfoliant in one. 

It uses enzymes from papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin to resurface the skin, clear the pores and buff away dead skin cells. The formulation also includes lactic acid, a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), which helps to refine texture and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Elsewhere, there’s aloe vera and honey to help counteract potential irritation. It is a powerful exfoliant so the brand recommends using it once a week, maybe twice at a maximum.

With regular use, this treatment promises to boost skin radiance and leave the complexion looking polished and refreshed. It is typically recommended for application in the evening, followed by a gentle moisturiser to nourish the newly exfoliated skin.

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Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Lotion Exfoliant: Best face exfoliator for dry skin

From £25 | BUY NOW 

Paulas Choice 8% ExfoliantPaula's Choice

Why we love it: The first of two Paula’s Choice exfoliants in this best face exfoliator list is its 8% AHA Lotion Exfoliant.

Its main ingredient is glycolic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid that gently exfoliates the surface of the skin to help reveal smoother, more radiant skin.

It’s then combined with super hydrating and soothing ingredients including Vitamin E and sunflower seed oil to help combat dryness.

Regular use can help you get rid of fine lines, improve your skin texture, brighten your skin tone and get rid of the stubborn dead skin cells that are common on dry skin.

It’s gentle enough to be used once or twice a day after cleansing but before moisturising. Make sure you apply sunscreen though to protect those newly exposed skin cells.

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Clinique Clarifying Lotion 3: Best face exfoliator for combination skin

From £25 | BUY NOW 

Clinique Clarifying Lotion 3Clinique

Why we love it: Clinique sells a range of products categorised by skin type and needs. Its Clarifying Lotion is its toner and exfoliant and the Clarifying Lotion 3 is the dedicated exfoliator for combination skin.

This dermatologist-developed formula helps to control excess oil and shine on the face while effectively exfoliating to remove dead skin cells and refine pores.

This exfoliation comes from the use of salicylic acid, which helps to clear and prevent blemishes for people with combination to oily skin. The lotion also includes ingredients to soothe and comfort the skin, ensuring that it does not strip away necessary moisture.

It’s best used twice daily after cleansing and before applying a moisturiser, to maintain balanced, clear skin.

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Paula’s Choice BHA 2% Lotion Exfoliant: Best face exfoliator for oily skin

From £25 | BUY NOW

Paulas Choice Liquid ExfoliantPaula's Choice

Why we love it: The second of the two Paula’s Choice exfoliators, this BHA 2% Exfoliant is particularly good for oily and congested skin.

It has a lightweight liquid formula that contains 2% salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) known for its ability to penetrate deep into the pores to reduce sebum and help with breakouts.

It also helps to smooth skin texture – which is the main reason why we love this exfoliant – and help reduce redness. Additionally, it soothes sensitive or irritated skin, making it a good choice for those prone to acne or blackheads.

Regular use can lead to clearer, more refined skin and it’s gentle enough to use this exfoliant once or twice daily after cleansing.

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Drunk Elephant Sukari Babyfacial: Best vegan face exfoliator

From £25 | BUY NOW 

Drunk Elephant Sukari BabyfacialDrunk Elephant

Why we love it: The Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial is designed to offer a salon-quality facial from the comfort of your own home. It contains a blend of 25% alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and 2% beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), including glycolic, tartaric, lactic, citric, and salicylic acids. This is one of the highest potency on the market.

By combining these ingredients, the Babyfacial exfoliates deep into the skin to help reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone while improving overall skin texture.

The formula also includes antioxidants and soothing plant extracts to calm the skin and reduce redness, making it effective yet gentle enough for regular use.

Drunk Elephant recommends using this this treatment once a week and, in our experience, you need to use a hydrating moisturiser straight afterwards. Check out our best moisturiser for dry skin for recommendations.

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First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads: Best exfoliating pads

From £18 | BUY NOW

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads: Best exfoliating padsFirst Aid Beauty

Why we love it: If you’ve ever worn makeup and it’s clung to patches of your skin, chances are you need to exfoliate those skin cells away to create a smooth and clear canvas.

This is what the First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads are for. Sweep them over your face before applying your skin prep and your makeup will sit flawlessly.

Being able to sweep them across your face also makes them a good alternative to liquid exfoliants, which we also tend to overuse and waste when pouring it onto a cotton pad or similar.

Each pad is pre-soaked with a blend of lactic and glycolic acids, which offer a gentle yet effective exfoliation. The formula also contains cucumber and Indian gooseberry to tone the skin, while lemon peel and licorice root help brighten the skin.

Suitable for daily use, these pads improve skin clarity and reduce the visibility of pores and fine lines.

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Why bother with buying the best face exfoliator?

Before we list these products, we spoke to an expert to find out why exfoliation is so important.

“Our skin naturally exfoliates, but because we use products like moisturisers, sunscreen and makeup, we don’t allow that natural exfoliation of skin cells,” Kate Kerr, clinical facialist and founder of Kate Kerr London Advanced Skin Therapy told mamabella.

“We need to go in and mimic that process. When you’ve got an accumulation of dead cells on the skin, your barrier becomes impaired because the cells are very loosely glued together, with no moisture in them, so anything can get it.

“This means more irritants get into the skin, such as pollen, which can cause more reactions.

“A strong barrier also counteracts water loss from the skin, keeping moisture in, making the skin more acidic, protecting against acne.”

Kerr recommends exfoliating every day using products with ingredients such as lactic acid and salicylic acid.


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