The One Facial Exfoliant My Sensitive Skin Loves


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I first realized I had sensitive skin in high school, when I tried to tweeze my dark upper lip hair and wound up with angry red marks. A flare of rosacea around my eyes in college forced me to lay off most facial products that weren’t gentle and short on ingredients, and I later discovered that I am allergic to anything that contains beeswax (read: most makeup). I struggled through my teens and 20s to find a skin-care routine that wasn’t irritating, experimenting with all manner of drugstore and luxury products recommended by magazines and dermatologists alike. One product that eluded me in particular was an exfoliating face wash that didn’t leave my finicky skin flaky and raw.

The exfoliating cleansers I bought back then consisted of creams and gels thick with microbeads. I hated my hormonal skin with its acne and oil and reasoned that, surely, if I attacked it with powerful potions and hot water, my flaws would wither like a dying weed to reveal perfectly even, glowing, Instagram-filter skin. Surprising no one, this strategy did not work. The sizable beads ripped my delicate skin, and the hot water dried it out, so that my face ended up even oilier.

It was only years later, when I was around 26, that I finally found my holy grail exfoliating cleanser that did what good exfoliators are supposed to—namely, turn over dead skin cells and dirt, leaving fresh, smooth skin and unclogged pores (without annoying the hell out of my face). Credit is due to the facialist (name long forgotten) who clucked over my sensitive skin and scrawled a post-appointment recommendation on an envelope: Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant.

I had never heard of Dermalogica, nor was I aware of the cult status of this exfoliating face wash. Its price freaked me out at first—$59 for a large bottle, and $15 for a travel-sized one—but what did I have to lose (other than money)? I started with the smaller bottle, using it two to three times per week, as experts recommend anyone with sensitive skin work their way up to more regular exfoliant use. The cleanser dispenses in a powder of teeny-tiny, rice-based grains that, mixed with a splash of water, froth into a light, fresh-smelling paste. I rub the paste in small circles across my cheeks, forehead, and chin for at least 30 seconds until the grains dissolve, then rinse off.

Unlike other big-bead exfoliators, this one is so, so gentle. The key word is micro; its exfoliating micro particles are superfine, managing to smooth my skin without leaving it all cut up. A blend of colloidal oatmeal and green tea calms inflamed skin, and salicylic acid breaks down dead skin and clears out pores. In other words, it’s the perfect combination of both a chemical exfoliant (thanks to the salicylic acid) and a physical exfoliant (thanks to the micro particles). It leaves my skin feeling clean and smooth—and looking clean, smooth, and noticeably brighter too, with fewer fine lines.

A little goes a long way. Since I first bought it, I’ve continued to purchase the small size of Dermalogica’s exfoliating face wash every season or so and find that using it a few times per week (offset by a simpler cleanser, like Cetaphil) is enough to keep my sensitive skin happy. I’ve even turned my mom on to it, which is how I know it’s really a great buy. Here’s hoping it helps you too.

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Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

This rice-based exfoliating enzyme powder activates with water and gently dissolves dead skin cells.


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