Everything You Need to Know About Liquid Exfoliators

Leah Faye Cooper
liquid exfoliators

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When we think of exfoliants, we think of sugar and salt and coffee scrubs; of granular products specked with ultra-fine bits of pumice or studded with crushed nut shells. We generally don’t think of liquid products, but perhaps we should.

“Liquid exfoliators dissolve or slough off dead skin chemically,” explains Dr. Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist at New York City’s Wexler Dermatology. The most common ingredients found in these products are acids, among them glycolic acid, alpha-hydroxy acid, lactic acid and salicylic acid.

One benefit to using liquid exfoliators is obvious: far less mess. While effective, granular exfoliants often creep up to the hairline, leaving behind debris, and removing every tiny grain from the face and the hands can be a chore. Another benefit, according to Dr. Fusco, is that liquid exfoliants are ideal for certain sensitive skin types. “If you have rosacea or acne, a granular exfoliant might be too harsh for you, especially if you’re on a medication like Accutane that dries out the skin,” she says. “Someone who blotches easily or is prone to hives or broken blood vessels should also steer away from granular products, as they can exacerbate those conditions.”

Skin tends to look its best post exfoliation—cleaner and noticeably brighter. But even with liquid exfoliators, there is such a thing as overdoing it. “In general it’s ok to exfoliate once a week,” Dr. Fusco says, “but follow the instructions on whatever you’re using.” Anything with a high concentration of acids can cause irritation if used too often. Additionally, Dr. Fusco advises that liquid exfoliators should be approached with caution after having a chemical peel or laser surgery, or if there are any cuts or open wounds on the face.

Dr. Fusco’s product recommendations include First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads ($30, dermstore.com), which are infused with lactic acid and skin-soothing cucumber extract, and her office’s go-to, the Wexler Exfoliating Glyco Peel System ($45, bathandbodyworks.com). Two others that have generated an industry buzz are the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peels ($88, sephora.com), formulated with redness-reducing mandelic acid and Clarins Gentle Exfoliating Brightening Toner ($39, clarinsusa.com), a lotion that eliminates dead skin with tamarind extract. A newcomer to the market is O.R.G. Skincare Mineral Peel Face ($44, orgskincare.com), an all-natural exfoliant made with fruit extracts and enriched with nourishing aloe vera and jojoba oil.

Liquid exfoliators: Yet another product category to add to your beauty arsenal, if you’re so inclined.

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