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From Sunday Riley to Paula’s Choice, these chemical exfoliators will be the reason you say “I don’t want no scrubs.”

By Braelyn Wood
August 09, 2019
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There’s something undeniably scary about the term liquid exfoliator. The thought of using acids to remove dead skin cells feels more like a science experiment than a skincare routine. In fact, when I bought my first liquid exfoliator, The Ordinary Peeling Solution ($7; sephora.com), I actually hesitated before trying it. Even though I knew it was one of the best liquid exfoliators on the market, the idea of purposefully slathering my skin in acids just felt wrong.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded. New York dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, shared that liquid exfoliators actually tend to be gentler on skin than physical scrubs. While traditional exfoliators rely on friction to remove dead skin cells, chemical exfoliators encourage natural cell turnover by loosening the bonds between healthy and dead skin cells.

But while it’s great to know liquid exfoliators are safe to use, not all treatments are the same. Like most products, finding the right one to incorporate into your skincare routine depends on your skin type and concerns.

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“Liquid exfoliators containing beta hydroxy acids (BHA), such as salicylic acid, penetrate pores and go deeper than just the surface of the skin,” explained Dr. Jaliman. Meanwhile, products with AHAs, such as lactic and glycolic acid, are gentler. 

Both BHAs and AHAs slough away dead skin to reveal a younger-looking complexion. But BHAs have additional antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that make them an ideal treatment for anyone seeking both an anti-aging and anti-acne treatment.

Of course, if you’re still feeling a little overwhelmed by the prospect of picking the best liquid exfoliator, we get it. Chemicals, even when explained by a dermatologist, are scary. That’s why we went ahead and asked dermatologists to share their picks for the best liquid exfoliators. Read on to find their favorite cleansers, toners, and treatments that use chemicals exfoliation to reveal smoother, dewier skin.

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