#AskCharlotte: What’s the Best Exfoliator for Oily, Sensitive Skin?

Best Exfoliator for Oily/Sensitive Skin

Charlotte’s Book is a trusted place to find and share information on the best in skincare, anti-aging, aesthetics, and wellness. Ask Charlotte your beauty or wellness question, and we’ll call upon one of the experts in The Book to provide you with the most up-to-date information.

Detoxification, brightening, minimizing fine lines—these are the notorious, sought-after benefits of exfoliation. But can every exfoliation technique be used for every type of skin? This Charlotte’s Book reader asked us to clarify:

“What’s the best exfoliator for oily, sensitive skin? I also have large pores. I am 41 years old and looking for youthful, glowing skin.”

We reached out to a cadre of our top estheticians to get advice and recommendations for safe, useful products. Dr. Jordana Mattioli, practicing at the office of renowned cosmetic dermatologists Dr. Julie Karen and Dr. Elizabeth Hale, had this to say:

“In my opinion, the best exfoliants for oily, sensitive skin (with large pores) aren’t scrubs, but leave-on liquids. These liquid exfoliants dissolve and penetrate more deeply into the skin, as opposed to a scrub, which just sloughs. This gentle penetration is much more beneficial for sensitive skin. My holy grail for this type of product is from Paula’s Choice Skincare, the Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA. It’s a light liquid, and you apply just like a toner. In this case, the BHA (beta hydroxy acid) is salicylic acid, which will reduce pores, improve texture, minimize oil. It also contains a ton of cell-communicating peptides, antioxidants, skin-repairing ingredients, and anti-irritants to reduce redness and soothe sensitive skin. Salicylic acid is so user-friendly, even with vitamin A, but I always recommend using only one at a time. So if you do vitamin A at night, apply salicylic acid in the morning.”

Related Read: Instant Skin Transformers Part I: The Body

Two more of our Charlotte’s Book-approved board-certified dermatologists, Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, with a private practice on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and Dr. Gervaise Gerstner, also practicing privately on the Upper East Side, have more to say about salicylic acid: 

“It breaks up the cells, which stick together in the inner lining of the skin pore, thereby declogging blackheads and whiteheads,” says Dr. Nussbaum. This makes it a perfect exfoliant for oily, sensitive skin. Not only does it remove a layer of dead skin like a traditional sloughing scrub, it also decreases inflammation and prevents future breakouts. Dr. Gerstner applies a stronger salicylic acid in-office, which gives the effect of a peel. “The skin doesn’t always peel, but rather this helps to jump start the acne healing process,” Dr. Gerstner said. The procedure can be used both for acne-prone skin and for aging, sensitive skin.

Related Read: Skincare Devices Part 3: Cleansing Brushes

Charlotte Knows: 

Originally obtained from the bark of white willow trees, salicylic acid is an element of traditional aspirin—also anti-inflammatory, and an ingredient in many DIY scrubs and acne antidotes. For those of us who don’t have time to cook up our own potions, there’s the Paula’s Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA that Jordana Mattioli recommended, $28, or Laboratoire Remède’s Sweep, a gentle, clay-based exfoliant designed for sensitive skin, $48. Laboratoire Remède also created a sister Sweep for the body, $65, for all-over sensitive skin exfoliation. For more skincare advice, consult The Book to find a qualified cosmetic doctor in your neighborhood.

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