13 of the Best Exfoliating Pads

Brighter, clearer, more even-toned skin—right this way!
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Michelle Villett
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Brighter, clearer, more even-toned skin—right this way!

Last week, we talked about the benefits of daily (and even twice-daily) acid exfoliation—for which my products of choice are exfoliating pads. 

Toners are great and all, but I find these pre-soaked pads easier and more convenient. 

They're already infused with the perfect amount of acid, and often other soothing/hydrating ingredients that will benefit your skin. You don't have to worry about buying your own cotton pads (although I'm partial to Shiseido Facial Cotton), nor will you unintentionally scrimp on the "dosage" and hinder your results (something I tended to do with Lotion P50). And with the pads, you never have to worry about lugging around or spilling a big bottle of liquid when you travel. 

Now that we're all up to speed on WHY to use exfoliating pads, I want to talk more in-depth about the best ones out there on the market. Below, I'm sharing ingredients lists and my testing feedback to help you decide which ones are right for you. 

1. First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads

I think the First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads are the mildest on the market. These have more aloe, glycerin and cucumber water than acid in them, and the acids are lactic followed by glycolic (I'm guessing the concentration is low-ish). If you're new to acids or have super-sensitive skin, this is where I'd start. Anyone who has been exfoliating a while or who has tougher, oilier skin will probably find them too weak. 

Note: First Aid Beauty also sells the Skin Rescue Blemish Patrol Pads, but reviews seem mixed. While salicylic acid is a good ingredient for acne, I'd probably go for a salicylic-glycolic combo, such as Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads, for better results (unless you have sensitive skin).

Ingredients: Water/Eau, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycerin, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Water, Lactic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Camellia Sinensis (White Tea) Leaf Extract, Chrysanthemum Parthenium (Feverfew) Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Extract, Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Fruit Extract, Hyaluronic Acid, Phyllanthus Emblica (Indian Gooseberry) Fruit Extract, Polysorbate 20.

Where to buy: Sephora, Ulta Beauty, Beauty.comSelfridges, Amazon.ca

2. Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Nightly Brightening Pads

Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Nightly Brightening Pads

Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Nightly Brightening Pads

If you prefer your pads soaked in natural ingredients, Juice Beauty is your best bet. The Green Apple Peel Nightly Brightening Pads are made from bamboo, and while not as moist as many other pads, I found them quite effective (I would say on par with or even stronger than lactic acid). The star acid in here is malic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid, derived from green apples. Niacinamide is also high up on the ingredients list, and it's one of my favourites for targeting dark spots. You might be happy to know that these are formulated without synthetic fragrances, parabens, or propylene/butylene glycol.

Ingredients: Organic juices of pyrus malus (organic apple juice)*, citrus medica limonum (organic lemon juice)*, aloe barbadensis (organic aloe juice)*, niacinamide(Vitamin B3), organic vegetable glycerin*, gluconolactone, polysorbate - 20, palmaria palmata (red dulse algae extract), saccharum officinarum (organic sugar cane extract)*, citrus medica limonum (lemon extract), citrus aurantium dulcis (orange fruit extract), pyrus malus (apple extract), aloe barbadensis (aloe extract), cucumis sativus (organic cucumber extract)*, sodium benzoate, caprylyl/ capryl glucoside, sodium hydroxide, camellia sinensis (organic black tea leaf extract)*, potassium sorbate, glycyrrhiza glabra (organic licorice root extract), arctostaphylos uva ursi (bearberry leaf extract), sodium hyaluronate. * = Certified organic ingredient

Where to buy: Amazon.comUlta BeautyBeauty.com, Birchbox, MuraleJuice Beauty

3. Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Toner Pads

Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Toner Pads

Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Toner Pads

There's a second Juice Beauty option, which I've just started using myself. The Blemish Clearing Toner Pads have the same alpha-hydroxy acid, malic acid—but also a beta-hydroxy acid, willow bark extract, to exfoliate deep within the pores. These are designed for combination, oily and blemish-prone skin types, but so far, I haven't found them too drying. (So I would say don't be afraid to use acne pads, even if you don't have active acne.)

Ingredients: Organic juices of pyrus malus (organic apple juice)*, citrus medica limonum (organic lemon juice)*, vitis vinifera (organic white grape juice)*, aloe barbadensis (organic aloe juice)*, organic vegetable glycerin*, polysorbate 20, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel extract), saccharum officinarum (sugar cane extract), glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root extract), citrus limon (lemon peel extract), salvia sclarea (clary extract), citrus aurantium dulcis (orange extract), salix alba (willow bark extract), cucumis sativus (cucumber fruit extract), leuconostoc (radish root ferment filtrate), niacinamide (Vitamin B3), ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), tocopherol (Vitamin E), xanthan gum, caprylic/capric triglyceride (plant derived), caprylyl glycol (plant derived), caprylhydroxamic acid (plant derived), ethylhexylglycerin (plant derived), and propanediol (plant derived). * = Certified organic ingredient

Where to buy: Amazon.comUlta Beauty, SkinStore, MuraleJuice Beauty

4. Rodial Glamoxy 15% Fruit Acid Exfoliating Pads

Rodial Glamoxy 15 Percent Fruit Acid Exfoliating Pads

Rodial Glamoxy 15% Fruit Acid Exfoliating Pads

For another fruit acid option—just not as natural—check out the Rodial Glamoxy 15% Fruit Acid Exfoliating Pads. My understanding is that the bilberry extract is a lactic acid; the sugar cane is glycolic acid; the orange and lemon are citric acid; and the sugar maple is malic acid. So you're getting a bit of everything in here, along with some nice hydrating glycerin. The only bit I don't love is that there is quite a lot of dimethicone in these, and fragrance.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Vaccinium Myrtillus (Bilberry) Extract, Glycerin, Saccharum Officinarum (Sugar Cane) Extract, Polysorbate 20, PEG-12 Dimethicone, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Extract, Propylene Glycol, Acer Saccharinum (Sugar Maple) Extract, Fagus Sylvatica Extract, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Diazolidinyl Urea, Disodium EDTA, Parfum (Fragrance), Limonene, Benzyl Alcohol, Geraniol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Linalool, Benzoic Acid, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate

Where to buy: Nordstrom, Amazon.comASOS, Ulta Beauty, Beauty.com, SkinStoreMuraleSelfridges

5. Rodial Super Acids X-Treme Pore Shrink Cleansing Pads

Rodial Super Acids X-Treme Pore Shrink Cleansing Pads

Rodial Super Acids X-Treme Pore Shrink Cleansing Pads

Your other Rodial option, the Super Acids X-Treme Pore Shrink Cleansing Pads, are sold as "cleansing pads," but are still achieving our goal—exfoliation. I don't think they do a thorough enough job as your sole cleansing product, but are great as a second step after your face wash, to ensure your skin is thoroughly clean and to give you that gentle exfoliation benefit. The acid of choice here is salicylic acid (the apple amino acids aren't exfoliating but conditioning the skin) and there's no dimethicone this time. Similar to the Juice Beauty blemish pads, these could help acne- or blackhead-prone skin... but I think I'd use them as part of a rotation that also includes some glycolic, unless you're super-sensitive.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Butylene Glycol , PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sodium Cocoyl Apple Amino Acids, Glycerin, Olive Oil PEG-7 Esters, Allantoin, Phenoxyethanol, Salicylic Acid, Benzyl Alcohol, Sodium Chloride, Enantia Chlorantha Bark Extract , Disodium EDTA, Tocopheryl Acetate, Dehydroacetic Acid, Lactobacillus Ferment Lysate, Oleanolic Acid , Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate

Where to buy: Nordstrom, Amazon.comASOS, Saks Fifth AvenueBeauty.com, SkinStore, MuraleSelfridges

6. Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads

Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads

Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads

Nip + Fab is Rodial's little sister brand, offering not only a more affordable price point but also stronger exfoliating options (which seems counterintuitive, but I'm not complaining!). The Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads are the "entry-level" pads, featuring 2.8 percent glycolic acid. There's some hyaluronic acid in here to hydrate, witch hazel to tone and dimethicone for smoothing (not crazy about that). I actually have not tried these ones, as I moved straight to the "extreme" version, below...

Note: Nip + Fab also sells the Dragon's Blood Fix Cleansing Pads, which are like an inexpensive version of the Rodial cleansing pads (salicylic acid doing the exfoliating). 

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Glycolic Acid, Polysorbate 20, Sodium Hydroxide, PEG-12 Dimethicone, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Alcohol Denat. (SD Alcohol 40-B), Disodium EDTA, Globularia Alypum (Blue Daisy) Extract, Panthenol, Lactic Acid, Parfum, Limonene, Ethylhexylglycerin, Dehydroacetic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Linalool, Geraniol, Citral

Where to buy: Amazon.comASOS, Ulta Beauty, Drugstore.com

7. Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme

Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme

Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme

The exfoliating pads I have used the most often—I'm on my third jar now, I think!—are the Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme. You're getting five percent glycolic acid, plus salicylic acid, plus lactic acid, plus niacinamide, plus hyaluronic acid. Pretty crazy that they put all that good stuff in here and at such a reasonable price. (No dimethicone either, which makes this a better bet than the other Nip + Fab glycolic, in my opinion.) Needless to say, I like this formula a lot! You would want to build your way up to using these, but once your skin can handle them, they are my top pick for affordability and getting real results. 

Ingredients: Aqua (Water/Eau), Glycolic Acid, Triethanolamine, Glycerin, Polysorbate 20, Niacinamide, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Hydroxide, Benzyl Alcohol, Disodium EDTA, Mandelic Acid, Panthenol, Salicylic Acid, Lactic Acid, Limonene, Parfum (Fragrance), Benzyl Benzoate, Dehydroacetic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Geraniol, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citral, Linalool.

Where to buy: Amazon.comASOSUlta Beauty, Target

8. Cane + Austin 30% Miracle Pad+

Cane + Austin Miracle Pad+

Cane + Austin 30% Miracle Pad+

I think the most intensive exfoliating pad on the market must be the new Cane + Austin 30% Miracle Pad+. Formulated by dermatologist Craig Austin, the results are said to be equivalent to a 30 percent glycolic acid medical grade peel (!!). There's also lactic acid, witch hazel and willow bark extract in here, but no fragrance. I only got my hands on a few sample packets to try, but the tingling was very tolerable (not irritating), and it's actually recommended to use them twice a day.

Note: Cane + Austin also sells a milder 20% Miracle Pad and a 10% Retexture Pad (both glycolic-based), so it might be best to work your way up.

Ingredients: Water, Glycolic Acid, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract, Ammonium Hydroxide, Lactic Acid, Salix Alba (Willow Bark) Extract, Phytic Acid, Tartaric Acid, Salicylic Acid Phospholipids, Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A), Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Ubiquinone (Coenzyme Q10), Polysorbate-20, Menthol, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Acetone, Disodium EDTA.

Where to buy: Sephora

9. Bliss That's Incredi-Peel! Spa-Strength Glycolic Resurfacing Pads

Bliss That's Incredi-Peel!

Bliss That's Incredi-Peel! Spa-Strength Glycolic Resurfacing Pads

The Bliss That's Incredi-Peel! pads are a bit different in that they come in individually wrapped packets (making them even more convenient for travelling) and are shaped like a rectangle, not a circle. I like that you get more surface area, so you could probably do your face, chest and upper back with the one pad. Apparently, these have some kind of time-release technology that makes the glycolic gentle enough for all skin types. Your skin does feel slightly tacky after—I wonder if that's from all the polymers in here?—but that goes away if you apply a serum or moisturizer.

Ingredients: Water, Glycolic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Methyl Methacrylate/Glycol Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer, Glycerin, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Citrus Aurantium Amara (Bitter Orange) Flower Water, Tocopheryl Acetate, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Xanthan Gum, Butylene Glycol, Lauryl Methacrylate/Glycol Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Benzoic Acid.

Where to buy: Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, Hudson's Bay, Ulta BeautyBeauty.com, Target, Bliss

10. Laboratoire Dr Renaud Peel Pads

Laboratoire Dr Renaud Peel Pads

Laboratoire Dr Renaud Peel Pads

The only straight-up lactic acid pads I've found are the Laboratoire Dr Renaud Peel Pads (go Canada!). I think these would be the closest replacement for Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, minus the niacinamide. You also get a bunch of fruit acids, so these have similarities with the Rodial Glamoxy pads as well. Although not unpleasant, the scent isn't the greatest—but I'm more than happy to live with that and not have artificial fragrance and silicones in here. This is a really nice formula! I used every last one and need to buy more now.

Ingredients: Water/Eau, Lactic Acid, Saccharide Isomerate, Glycerin, Propanediol, Sodium Hydroxide, Polysorbate 20, Vaccinium Myrtillus Fruit Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Averrhoa Carambola Fruit Extract, Passiflora Incarnata Fruit Extract, Actinidia Chinensis (Kiwi) Fruit Extract, Garcinia Mangostana Fruit Extract, Ananas Sativus (Pineapple) Fruit Extract, Punica Granatum Extract, Litchi Chinensis Fruit Extract, Zizyphus Jujuba Fruit Extract, Psidium Guajava Fruit Extract, Saccharum Officinarum (Sugar Cane) Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Fruit Extract, Acer Saccharum (Sugar Maple) Extract, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Fruit Extract, Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Peel Extract, Vanilla Planifolia Fruit Extract, Xanthum Gum, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol

Where to buy: See here for locations

11. Dr. Denese Advanced Firming Facial Pads

Dr. Denese Advanced Firming Facial Pads

Dr. Denese Advanced Firming Facial Pads

I love the idea of an all-in-one anti-aging treatment, and that's what you get with the Dr. Denese Advanced Firming Facial Pads (another instance where I've used up every last pad, they were so good!). Formulated by dermatologist Adrienne Denese, these contain glycolic acid, two kinds of firming peptides, soothing aloe and moisturizing glycerin. It's rare to see pads with peptides (Peter Thomas Roth's are the only others I've found), and I've never found any pads as juicy and "wet" as these are. It's VERY satisfying to use these and literally drench your skin in the beneficial ingredients.

Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Glycolic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Polysorbate 20, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Avena Sativa (Oat) Protein, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Carbomer, Yeast Extract, Zea Mays, Ascorbic Acid, Tocopherol Acetate, Thioctic Acid, Triethanolamine, Diisopropyl Dimer Dilinoleate, Diisostearyl Dimer Dilinoleate, Oryzanol, Ubiquinone, Sodium PCA, Trisodium EDTA, Potasium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate.

Where to buy: Amazon.com, QVC

12. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

Yet another dermatologist-developed pad—the Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel is a two-step treatment created by Dr. Dennis Gross. Step one is the most active, delivering glycolic, salicylic and malic acids. After you leave that on for two minutes, you're meant to apply step two, which calms down the acid activity and hydrates/nourishes. (Confession: I've sometimes left step one on for longer and not done step two... but I wouldn't try that unless your skin has developed a tolerance to acids.) Like the Bliss pads, these are individually wrapped, and are a good middle-of-the-road acid choice.

Step 1 Ingredients: Water, Alcohol Denat. (SD Alcohol 40-B), Glycolic Acid, Potassium Hydroxide, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Salicylic Acid, Polysorbate 20, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Malic Acid, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Achillea Millefolium Extract, Anthemis Nobilis (Chamomile) Flower Extract, Soy Isoflavones, Copper PCA, Zinc PCA, Lecithin, Disodium EDTA, Alcohol, Polysorbate 80, Fragrance, Linalool, Benzyl Salicylate, Benzoic Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate.

 Step 2 Ingredients: Water, Sodium Bicarbonate, Ascorbic Acid, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Retinyl Palmitate, Retinol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Resveratrol, Ubiquinone, Achillea Millefolium Extract , Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Raphanus Sativus (Radish) Root Extract, Soy Isoflavones, Phospholipids, Copper PCA, Sodium PCA, Zinc PCA, Lecithin, Polysorbate 20, Polysorbate 80, Octoxynol-9, Simethicone, Alcohol, BHT, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Benzoate, Phenoxyethanol.

Where to buy: Nordstrom, Sephora

13. Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads

Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads

Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads

My last pick are the Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads, currently on my wish list of things I wanna try! I love that they used three kinds of acids (glycolic, lactic and salicylic). Similar to the Dr. Denese pads, there is also a peptide (arginine) for even more anti-aging action. Vitamin E, aloe and green tea extract minimize irritation, and they also skipped the alcohol and fragrance. So far, Sephora has more than 500 4.5 star reviews for this product—impressive indeed!

Note: For acne, the Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads (with 10 percent glycolic and two percent salicylic) might be the better choice; I suspect they are stronger. Those have alcohol denat, which could be too much for non-oily skin types.

Ingredients: Water, Glycolic Acid, Ethoxydiglycol, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Lactate (Lactic Acid), Rosa Centifolia Flower Water, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Ppg-5-Ceteth-20, Butylene Glycol, Arginine, Linolenic Acid (Vitamin F), Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Retinol (Vitamin A), Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D), Alanine, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C), Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Symphytum Officinale Leaf Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Salicylic Acid, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Propylene Glycol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Diazolidinyl Urea.

Where to buy: NordstromSephora, Amazon.comUlta Beauty, Beauty.com, Cult Beauty, Amazon.ca

Conclusion

If you're on board with the idea of exfoliating pads, then hopefully I've helped make the decision process a little easier today! If you haven't already, read more about what they can do and how to use them over here.

Like I keep saying, with acids you always want to start mild and slow. If your skin can handle it, work your way up to stronger acids, more frequent applications, or both. Redness, dryness, tightness, flaking and stinging are all signs of irritation and that you've exfoliated too much.

Remember that if you happen to purchase a jar of exfoliating pads that aren't quite right (too weak or too strong), that doesn't necessarily mean you have to stop using them. I always like to have weaker pads on hand as part of my "rotation," for times when my skin can only handle something gentle. The too-strong pads might actually not be too strong if you save them for a weekly or twice-weekly treatment—it doesn't have to be every day, with every pad. I mix it up!

1. First Aid Beauty | 2. Juice Beauty | 3. Juice Beauty | 4. Rodial | 5. Rodial | 6. Nip + Fab | 7. Nip + Fab | 8. Cane + Austin | 9. Bliss | 10. Laboratoire Dr Renaud | 11. Dr. Denese | 12. Dr. Dennis Gross | 13. Peter Thomas Roth

Have you used exfoliating pads yet?
Which one is your favourite?
Have you tried any of these?