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Best Exfoliators: The One Step Experts Never Skip for Glowing Skin

For wedding skin so glowy Harry Styles would write a song about it, exfoliators are the skincare essential you need to be using

Woman with a facial exfoliator applied to her skin, smiling and covering her eyes with her hands against a pink backdrop
pexels/polina kovaleva

Woman with a facial exfoliator applied to her skin, smiling and covering her eyes with her hands against a pink backdrop
pexels/polina kovaleva

Glowing wedding skin is high on the beauty wish list of many nearlyweds - there’s nothing more flattering than a lit-from-within, radiant and healthy-looking complexion. One of the key parts of getting glowy skin and making sure your skincare routine is the best it can be is finding the right face exfoliator for you. 

While glowing skin can be achieved with clever makeup, the first step in achieving that coveted golden glow is your skincare, namely face exfoliators, which are a sure-fire way to help your skincare goals. You can discover more about how to achieve glowing skin ahead of your wedding with our ultimate pre-wedding skincare routine

We've rounded up the very best face exfoliators out there now to suit all skin types and budgets, all approved by our beauty editor, and asked the experts to answer any questions you might have about finding the right face exfoliator for you. 

Shop Our Edit of the Best Face Exfoliators

Best Exfoliating Face Mask: Votary Radiance Reveal Mask, £55

Votary face exfoliator in a green jar with a white lid

This is an undeniably pricey face exfoliator to jump in at, but the glow it imparts is well worth the pennies - especially if you compare it to the price of a professional facial - and we believe this delivers comparable results to a salon treatment. 

This includes both lactic and mandelic acid to exfoliate the skin, but don’t let that scare you into thinking this will be harsh. It also houses a blend of calming plant extracts to soothe any irritation. The formula is vegan, and it applies to the face in a cooling butter texture that doesn’t sting. 

It’s a high performing exfoliating mask, improving texture, decongesting pores, preventing breakouts and evening out pigmentation - in a nutshell, it deals with all the skin bugbears that can stop you from glowing.

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READ MORE: The Best Acne Products to Try Now

Best Everyday Exfoliator: Pixi Glow Tonic, £18

Pixi glow tonic affordable face exfoliator in a pink coloured bottle

Consider this liquid exfoliator as your entry point into the world of face exfoliators. We don’t know any beauty editor who hasn’t had this in their skincare regime at some point in their career. It acts gently to rid the surface of the skin of dulling cells, as well as improving the appearance of scarring over time. 

It’s gentle enough to be used every day, it doesn't sting, but you can really see the glow it leaves behind. It works by dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells, making light work of wiping them away to reveal clear, radiant skin underneath.

Ingredients-wise, Pixi’s Glow Tonic gets its glow-giving powers from five percent glycolic acid, plus there’s aloe vera in the mix for calming your skin. Because it’s gentler than some of the other face exfoliators in our edit, it does take a little longer to see results, so start using this ASAP when you get engaged. 

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Best Gentle Liquid Exfoliator: REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic, £28

Ren face exfoliator in an orange bottle

REN is one of our favourite skincare brands out there right now. Not just because the brand creates incredibly effective products for everything from redness-prone skin to blemish busters that really work, but because it has serious eco-credentials, using recycled, refillable packaging. 

This facial exfoliator uses a combination of AHAs and BHAs to resurface and exfoliate, making skin smoother as well as glowier. Lactic acid works to break down the cells that can cause dullness, while salicin from willow bark helps to dissolve grime inside your pores to make them look smaller. 

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READ MORE: Wedding Makeup Ideas to Suit All Brides

Best Professional Exfoliating Face Wash: Murad Aha/Bha Exfoliating Cleanser, £39

Murad exfoliator in a white bottle with a purple label

Doctor-led skincare brand Murad creates seriously effective products in easy to use formulas. This might seem expensive for something you wash off your face rather than leave on to work, but trust us, it’s a seriously high-performer.

The creamy cleanser has tiny little jojoba beads inside that melt on contact with your skin to exfoliate dead cells. Ingredients-wise this reads like a ‘who’s who’ in skincare, with salicylic, lactic and glycolic acids to deliver clarity and brightness by dissolving skin cell build-up. Sodium PCA and jojoba seed oil are added into the mix to help counteract dryness and liquorice extract is a powerful anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory to soothe skin if it becomes upset by your new regime. 

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Best Physical Exfoliator: Kylie Skin Walnut Face Scrub, £24 

Kylie Jenner's cult face exfoliator in a pink tube

This physical face exfoliator caused a stir when it first launched, with people concerned walnut was too harsh to be used on the face, but beauty editors have since given it their seal of approval, buying multiple tubes, so you know it can be trusted. 

The crushed walnut shell is in ultra-fine powder form, so it’s gentle and it has super-hydrator squalane in the mix too, for a hit of moisture for dry skin. 

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READ MORE: How to Manage Stress Whilst Wedding Planning

Classic Face Exfoliator: Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish, £12.50

Liz Earle classic cleanse and polish cleanser in a green bottle

This cult classic needs no introduction. It’s one of the biggest names on the beauty block and has been loved for years for delivering an ultra-gentle exfoliation, while removing makeup at the same time. 

It includes cocoa butter for hydration purposes, and ultra-fine jojoba beads for the exfoliation. If you’re brand new to face exfoliating, give this a whirl for a baby step into the practice. 

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Best Budget Face Exfoliator: CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser, £9.38

Cerave daily cleanser in a pump bottle

This exfoliating face wash doesn’t look particularly glamorous, but what it lacks in fancy packaging it makes up for in exfoliating prowess. It uses a gentle 0.5% concentration of salicylic acid to gently exfoliate without stripping the skin. 

It’s gentle enough for you to use it every day and is an ideal one to use for a fuss-free morning cleanse. 

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What Is A Face Exfoliator?

Woman applying a face exfoliator with a brush in front of a green backdrop

The best face exfoliators work to rid your skin of anything preventing it from being its best self - think dead skin cells that sit on the surface, making your complexion look dull, as well as pigmentation which can prevent you from looking glowing. 

There are several different types of face exfoliators, but the two main ones are physical / manual exfoliators and chemical exfoliators.

Physical exfoliators are the ones you’ll remember from your teenage years, such as the infamous St Ives Apricot Scrub, which use a grainy texture to work away at dead skin cells, while chemical exfoliators tend to have a water texture and are used as toners, to dissolve dirt and debris to leave your skin glowy and fresh.

You can also get exfoliating face masks, which you leave on for longer for a more intense exfoliation, plus there are exfoliating face washes out there too, which wash off dirt, oil, and makeup and also exfoliate. These are a good option if you have sensitive skin which is irritated by stronger exfoliators.

How To Best Exfoliate Your Face

If you’re in a rush to get your glow on pre-wedding, you’d be forgiven for wanting to know which facial exfoliators work quickest. 

“If you want to see results quickly, then you should choose a physical exfoliant,” says skincare expert Dr Ahmed El Muntasar of The Aesthetics Doctor clinics in Mayfair, Cheshire and Leeds. “A physical exfoliant immediately takes off the top layer of skin that is dull and this reveals the fresh glowy skin that is underneath.”

Tread carefully when it comes to physical exfoliators though, as Dr Ahmed points out: “If you use a physical scrub too frequently it can cause micro-tears in the top layer of skin, particularly in people of colour, which can result in pigmentation in the long run. 

“This is why, even though chemical exfoliants are a bit slower at giving the desired results, it is my preferred choice. Slow and steady wins the race,” he continues. 

Dermatologist Dr. Malvina Cunningham, who works with bespoke skincare brand Skin + Me agrees. “I recommend chemical exfoliation over physical as a more targeted and safer way to exfoliate that also comes with additional skin benefits depending on what ingredients you use,” she says. 

How Quickly Do Facial Exfoliators Work?

Woman applying facial exfoliator to her skin
pexels/polina kovaleva

“With physical exfoliants you can see the results instantly,” says Dr Ahmed. “With chemical exfoliants it can take up to six weeks to start noticing a difference.”

This is because the dissolving of the dead skin cells takes a little longer than simply scrubbing them away, as you do with a physical exfoliant.

If you’re brand new to exfoliating your face but want to start ahead of your wedding, Dr Ahmed recommends starting to exfoliate six to eight weeks in advance of the big day to get the best results. This will also give your skin time to recover if it reacts to your chosen product. 

Which Skin Concerns Can Exfoliating Help With?

As well as delivering that desired big day glow, exfoliators can help with dull skin, acne, hyperpigmentation, sometimes rosacea and blocked pores, according to Dr Ahmed. 

How Often Should I Exfoliate My Face?

This is dependent on the exfoliator you’ve chosen, the other skincare you’re using and your skin type. Check the packaging of your chosen face exfoliator for guidance om how often to use it. 

Gentle chemical exfoliators are safe to use every day (make sure to follow with SPF!) while stronger ones will likely advise two or three uses a week. 

Who Should Avoid Face Exfoliators?

If you have particularly sensitive skin tread carefully, says nurse Dawn Attewell, medical director at Dawn Attewell Aesthetics at Therapy House.  “Dry or sensitive skin requires delicate hands and gentle exfoliants,” she says. “Physical exfoliants may be too harsh for dry skin so try chemical exfoliants. These prevent the harsh scrapes and tears physical methods can create on sensitive skin.” 

What is in Face Exfoliators?

If you’re studying facial exfoliator ingredients lists, you’ll notice the same names crop up time and time again. 

Chemical exfoliants include AHAs such as glycolic acid, lactic acid or citric acid, explains Dr. Malvina.

“These work by gently breaking away excess debris and dead skin cells on the top of your skin for a smoother, more radiant appearance,” she says.

Dr Malvina also name checks glycolic acid, which is good for treating signs of skin ageing by promoting collagen production and hydration of the skin giving more even skin texture and tone. It is also beneficial in fighting acne

BHAs such as salicylic acid can also be found in face exfoliators. ”These delve deeper into the pores, clearing out excess sebum and dead skin cells and are therefore great for anyone with oily skin and oily t-zones and for those prone to acne and blackheads,” Dr. Malvina explains. 

PHAs also crop up in facial exfoliators. “These include gluconolactone, galactose or lactobionic and are a gentler version of the other two that don’t penetrate as deep into the skin,” Dr. Malvina shares. “I really like using these for people with very sensitive skin as they usually cause minimal irritation.”

If you're still on a quest for glowing pre-wedding skin, make sure you check out our edit of the best facial cleansing brushes!