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Exfoliating is an important component to an effective skincare regimen. It just is, friends. Exfoliating scrubs away the dead skin, sweat, and bacteria that linger on your skin clogging your pores and creating blackheads and acne. As for method, we like exfoliating pads because they don’t aggravate the skin with aggressive scrubbing and they minimize the time and effort spent on an extra step.
Exfoliating pads use chemical exfoliants rather than abrasive agents like sea salt or microbeads you might find in an exfoliating scrub, and they don’t use a rough or motorized brush (which can often trap bacteria in its bristles). Perhaps counterintuitively, chemical exfoliants are often gentler on skin than physically exfoliating methods.
Dermatologists have long extolled the virtues of exfoliation, in both the short and long term. In the short term, exfoliating is just incredibly satisfying because you see the results immediately — like the morbid fascination with the gunk you extract from the surface of your nose with a pore strip. You’ll notice your skin appears brighter and clearer right away after exfoliating. Longer term, unclogging pores can help prevent future breakouts and improve the effectiveness of other products like moisturizer. It also improves collagen production, safeguarding your skin’s youthful bounce.
Exfoliating pads are mindless and convenient, adding nothing more onerous than a 30-second wipe to your daily routine, while producing effective results for acne reduction and general skin cleanliness.
What You Need to Know Before Buying Exfoliating Pads
If this is your first foray into the chemical exfoliant landscape, let us walk you through the basics.
Chemical vs. Physical: Physically clearing away dead skin with motorized brushes, gritty scrubs, or even just a rigorous rub with a facecloth are all methods of physical exfoliation. They can be effective, but used incorrectly, can also damage your skin.
Exfoliating pads are chemical exfoliants, which use alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) to clear the skin. Glycolic acid, an AHA, is a common ingredient in exfoliating products. BHAs, like salicylic acid, penetrate the skin more deeply, and are therefore most commonly used to correct acne or sun damage. Retinol, known for its anti-aging properties, is another chemical exfoliant. It may seem illogical to apply anything with “acid” in its name to your face, but chemical exfoliants are often gentler and produce more dramatic results.
Skin Type: Particularly when you’re applying an acid, it’s important to take your own skin type into account. People with oily or acne-prone skin might benefit from salicylic acid, while people with dry skin will see the most benefit from glycolic acid.
How Often to Exfoliate: This also comes down to the particulars of your skin and the strength of the product you use. Oilier skin can take frequent exfoliation while sensitive types need less. Some products are specifically designed for daily use, but we encourage you to use your own discretion. If you feel your skin becoming irritated, take a break.
1. Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads
For serious exfoliating and acne control needs, we are big fans of Neutralyze’s prescription-grade pads, which use concentrations of 2% salicylic acid and 1% mandelic acid in its formula for maximum strength. Even with its high potency, however, the product description says it is appropriate for all skin types and dermatologist-recommended for moderate to severe acne.
The pads are intended to be used one to three times per day, but as with any chemical exfoliant, it’s important to start slowly and monitor how your skin reacts, eventually working up to more frequent use. Start with once daily or even every other day, and go from there.
Pros: Dermatologist-approved and prescription-grade strength promises better long-term improvement to skin.
Cons: Some people are turned off by the strong alcohol smell.
2. RoC Daily Resurfacing Disks
Skin resurfacing is really just a fancy way of saying exfoliating, so don’t be thrown off. RoC is our pick for a gentle noncomedogenic (which means ingredients are specially formulated not to clog pores) exfoliant.
The pads are soft on one side to gently cleanse, and textured on the other to exfoliate. They effectively clear away dirt and oil without the sting of more potent acids. For this reason, these pads are also safe to use around the eye area — a win if crows feet or wrinkles around the eyes are a concern for you.
The broad authority of the RoC brand is another point in its favor. The label has inspired loyalists for decades.
Pros: Gentle on skin and comes from a respected brand.
Cons: Does not contain AHA or BHAs.
3. Ultra Pure Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Pads
Glycolic acid is perhaps the buzziest of skincare buzzwords because it is a powerful chemical exfoliant. Most over-the-counter glycolic acid products contain a 7 to 10 percent concentration of glycolic acid, which is why these 20 percent glycolic acid Ultra Pure pads are a good choice for maximum strength, but should also be approached with caution.
The percentage isn’t the whole story, however, and pads with high glycolic concentrations can be softened with other ingredients. The Ultra Pure pads include another buzzy skincare word, hyaluronic acid, which is hydrating, as well as other nourishing vitamins and botanicals like vitamin C and witch hazel.
The combination of exfoliating and moisturizing ingredients make the pads effective but still gentle enough for daily use, but you probably shouldn’t use them more than once in a day. We’d also advise following up with a strong moisturizer.
Pros: High concentration of glycolic acid with hydrating and nourishing ingredients.
Cons: Moisturizing ingredients neutralize the power of the glycolic acid, losing some of its effectiveness.
4. Replenix Exfoliating Acne Pads
Replenix’s exfoliating pads contain effective concentrations of two of the biggest acid names in the exfoliating game: glycolic and salicylic. But what we like about this product in particular is that it comes in multiple strengths: 2%, 5%, and 10% glycolic acid. This makes these pads ideal for newbies to chemical exfoliants, whose skin may not yet tolerate a high concentration of acid.
We also like that these pads are well-soaked so they apply product evenly on the skin and that they have a subtle, pleasant fragrance rather than the nostril-burning chemical smell of other highly potent exfoliants.
Pros: Multiple strengths appropriate for different skin types and needs.
Cons: The sensation the thin layer of product leaves on your face can be uncomfortable for first-time users.