Exfoliators work in one of two ways: mechanically, which means they rub away dead skin with granules or grains; or chemically, which means they use ingredients that dissolve flakes so you can rinse them away.
Sensitive souls, including those with acne-prone or extremely dry skin, should opt for enzyme-based cleansers over scrubs. If you simply must scrub, pick a cleanser with round-edged beads and dilute it with a little water before applying. Normal or combination skin can use either type of exfoliator or a combination of the two.
Forget the ouchy St. Ives Apricot Scrub of your teenage years. Natural ingredients like sugar, finely ground bamboo, oatmeal, and jojoba beads softly sluff off old cells without giving you angry tomato face.
Alpha-hydroxy acids have a tendency to irritate skin. Instead, look for pineapple, papaya, or pear enzymes, which gently dissolve dead cells. Peels are less aggressive than they sound: apply a thin layer over your entire face, let it work for a few minutes, and then gently rinse off.