St. Ives Exfoliating Pads Review + Alternatives - The Acne Experiment

St. Ives Exfoliating Pads Review - The Acne Experiment

These are St. Ives Exfoliating Pads. They retail for about $5 and contain about 5-8% Lactic Acid. I want you to get super excited guys, because this is a cheap/effective/big-brand-name product. Get pumped and feel it down in your bones. Are you frothing? I hope you are, because St. Ives discontinued this product in January. I received a jar as part of a Christmas gift from my mom (yes, I had acne products on my wishlist), and about a week into my trial, I discovered St. Ives a-wasunt gonna be makin' em anymore. :'(

Despite this, I decided to push forward with the trial because these St. Ives pads are the only drugstore brand lactic acid face product on the market. Most exfoliants that you will find will contain glycolic acid; lactic is a gentler exfoliator and a good introduction to AHAs, and these guys only contain lactic (a rarity).

I first read about them on Reddit's Skincare Addiction sub; St. Ives is one of the top exfoliants they recommend (this is not to be confused with the Apricot Scrub which is terrible). Although they don't divulge the exact percent, the lactic acid content is decent since it's the second ingredient on the list, and the pH is 3.6 according to Paula's Choice. The pads also contain a few fruit extracts that aren't fantastic for the skin, but the bad ones - lemon/orange - are far enough down the list to be considered less problematic.


  • St. Ives Exfoliating Pads (water, lactic acid, glycerin, tocopheryl acetate, prunus armeniaca (apricot) fruit extract, vaccinium myrtillus fruit extract, saccharum officinarum (sugar cane) extract, citrus limon (lemon) fruit extract, citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) fruit extract, acer saccharum (sugar maple) extract, betaine, sodium hydroxide, polysorbate 80, polysorbate 20, DMDM hydantoin, fragrance)
  • Spot treatments as needed - I used Manuka Honey (I use this), undiluted Tea Tree Oil (I use TJoes), and/or salicylic (I use this) spot treatments on existing blemishes throughout the trial.


  1. Clean your face. For me, that usually means a washcloth + warm water. I did not use a cleanser for the first part of the trial.
  2. Pat skin dry, then if your skin is sensitive, wait about 10 minutes before using the exfoliating pads. 
  3. Wipe one pad all over the face/neck/décolletage mornings and evenings. If irritation occurs, reduce application to evenings only.
  4. Panic when St. Ives discontinues the product and the prices skyrocket on Amazon to 3x the retail price.
  5. Cut all your pads in half to extent the one tub you have. Deal with it, décolletage/neck.
  6. Steal your mother's tub of St. Ives exfoliating pads. (She thought they were makeup removing pads, anyway.  What the hell, Mom.)
  7. Write well worded, finger-wagging letter to St. Ives about how irresponsible and stupid it is to discontinue this product.
  8. Write a letter to Trader Joe's about discontinuing their poutine. These people are savages.
  9. Once all this is done (it should take no more than 15-20 minutes), apply spot treatments as needed on existing acne.
  10. If you chose Manuka Honey, don't tell anyone you're putting honey on your face and they will think you have oozing sores.


Of course I really like these dumb pads. It would be too easy for me to like a product that I could actually find/buy in 6 months. The exfoliation is very mild, my skin feels very soft, and they don't make my face super greasy like I was expecting (lactic acid is the most humectant of the AHAs and AmLactin made my face an oil slick). My skin was kind of "dewy" for lack of a better term. After the first two weeks, I reduced application of the pads to once per day (at night). Lately I've only been applying it to my chin once or twice a week (my POD is super temperamental). 

St. Ives Exfoliating Pads Before and After - The Acne Experiment
Before & After St. Ives Exfoliating Pads
Before = immediately following the PC Salicylic trial ; "Week 1" = 1 week using the St. Ives pads twice per day ;
"Week 2" = two weeks using the St. Ives pads twice per day

St. Ives Exfoliating Pads Before and After - The Acne Experiment
Before/After St. Ives Exfoliating Pads

You will notice that my skin still looks really really bad because of the salicylic acid trial. How do I know this isn't from the St. Ives exfoliating pads? First, my skin continued to improve while I was using them, and second, I wasn't getting the deep cystic acne I was getting with the SA. A lot of the spots on my forehead are still from the SA mess, and others are hyperpigmentations (that are still fading, even as I write this a month later).

Here's my forehead one more week after using St. Ives Exfoliating Pads (ie "week 3"):

St. Ives Exfoliating Pads/Lactic Acid Before and After - The Acne Experiment

Before/After St. Ives Exfoliating Pads

Before = after 1 month on Paula's Choice BHA (salicylic acid); After = 3 wks on St. Ives Exfoliating Pads AHA (lactic acid)

There is an improvement here, even if it can't be seen clearly in the photos. In the before shot, my forehead was lumpy to the touch, and in the after shot, the skin was much smoother and less red. This cements my idea that AHAs work better on my skin than BHAs do, and that not everything that is marketed towards acne prone skin is actually the best option for all acne prone skin.

I'm going to test out a few other products while using the St. Ives, then find a replacement. If you're interested in this product, this is what I suggest:
  1. It's likely that the bigger grocery chains and stores like target/CVS/Walgreens have already removed this product from the shelves - it's worth a look (especially the clearance section), but I doubt they'll have it. You may have better luck with small stores or independent pharmacies as they are less likely to cycle their stock as diligently. Check Big Lots if you have one nearby. I checked both and came up empty, but others (on Reddit) have been able to find them there.
  2. Buy the tubs online while you can. Amazon sells them, but the price is likely to fluctuate as the stock dwindles.
  3. The pads are only good unopened for two years from the manufacture date, so stockpiling 10 of them is probably not a good idea, unless you plan on cleaning your whole body with them. You can check the date by looking at the number on the bottom of the tub. The first 5 numbers are the manufacture date; my tub has "05313SU10" stamped on it, meaning they were manufactured on 5/3/13 and are only good until May of this year (2015).
Here are some alternatives to St. Ives exfoliating pads, from closest match to least similar:
  1. Silk Naturals Lactic Acid - 8% (only available on their website) - It has a pH of 3.5, making a very close match to St. Ives. If you have a swipe hankering, get some super thin ones and soak them yourself. The Reddit Skincare Addicts recommend these.
  2. Garden of Wisdom Lactic Acid 8% Exfo Pads - (only on their website) - These are literally the only other lactic acid pads I could find anywhere. The controversy is that the pH is considerably higher than St. Ives' 3.6 (it's 1.9), but I'm not convinced this is a bad thing.
  3. Garden of Wisdom Mandelic Acid (only available on their website) - Mandelic is a lesser known AHA that is thought to be stronger than Lactic, but gentler than Glycolic.
  4. Alpha Hydrox AHA (Glycolic Acid) Swipes - 14% (Amazon) - These have a higher % of glycolic acid, so they may be better for weekly use. This one is on my wishlist as well.
  5. Various Glycolic Acid products - You can find glycolic acid products everywhere. These are the brands I'm considering: Paula's Choice, Garden of Wisdom, Neostrata, Alpha Hydrox, Peter Thomas Roth, Acne.org, and Olay.
I haven't decided what to test first, but I'll let you know, in blog form, once I do.  I have decided what to test first AND I DID IT ALREADY. Read my review of Silk Naturals Lactic Acid Toner HERE.


PS: If all this exfoliation/BHA/AHA talk is confusing you, mosey on over to my chemical exfoliants guide

St. Ives Exfoliating Pads (Lactic Acid) Review + Alternatives - The Acne Experiment

St. Ives Lactic Acid  (Exfoliating Pads) Review + Alternatives :: The Acne Experiment

All Images © Crappy Candle / The Acne Experiment

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