Which Natural Exfoliants Work for Your Face and Body?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What are natural exfoliants?

An exfoliant doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. In fact, many natural products that you likely already have in your pantry may be all you need to exfoliate your skin.

Many of these items have the ability to create just enough friction to remove dead cells from the surface of your skin.

Some popular natural exfoliants include:

  • baking soda
  • finely ground sugar
  • coffee grounds
  • finely ground almonds
  • oatmeal
  • finely ground sea salt
  • cinnamon

You can also combine other products often found in your kitchen to these natural exfoliants.

Examples include:

  • honey
  • green tea or chamomile tea
  • essential oils

These natural exfoliants are all physical exfoliants. This means that by gently rubbing or massaging them on your skin, the dead skin cells can be sloughed away.

Physical exfoliants are different from chemical exfoliants, which contain skin- friendly agents like alpha hydroxy acid and retinol to loosen and remove dead skin cells.

Natural exfoliants for your face

Exfoliants that are used on the face should be very fine-grained with small, even particles. Because your facial skin is more delicate than most other areas of your body, coarser exfoliants, like sea salt, sugar, or coffee, aren’t a good option.

It’s also important not to overexfoliate your face. Exfoliating too often can strip the skin on your face of its natural oils and lead to breakouts. Too much scrubbing may also cause your skin to become irritated.

Most skin care experts agree that exfoliating your face once or twice a week is best for most skin types.

Examples of natural physical exfoliants for the face include:

  • baking soda
  • very finely ground oatmeal
  • cinnamon
Acne-friendly baking soda and honey scrub

This facial scrub recipe, with its anti-inflammatory and oil-reducing ingredients, is well suited to acne-prone skin.

The best natural exfoliants for your body

Because the skin on your body tends to be thicker and less delicate than the skin on your face, you can often use slightly coarser exfoliants.

Some popular natural physical exfoliants include:

  • ground brown sugar
  • coffee grounds
  • oatmeal
  • ground sea salt

A word of caution: Hold off on using sea salt if you have a cut on your skin. The salt may irritate and burn an open wound.

Oatmeal body scrub

This oatmeal body scrub helps soften your skin thanks to the skin-soothing beta- glucan compound that’s naturally present in oatmeal.

This scrub is great to use in the shower or bath once the warm water has already softened your skin.

Sea salt scrub

If you like, you can add essential oils of your choice to this sea salt scrub for a spa-like experience.

The best natural exfoliants for your lips

Because your lips are more delicate than the skin on your body, you’ll want to use different ingredients than you would for a body scrub.

Examples of natural exfoliants include:

  • finely ground sugar
  • cinnamon
  • finely ground coffee

Additionally, you’ll want to include some ultra-nourishing components to a lip scrub. Examples include:

  • almond oil
  • coconut oil
  • honey
  • olive oil
  • vitamin E oil

You may also want to add a sweet-smelling component to make the scrub extra appealing. Some options include:

  • cocoa powder
  • vanilla extract
  • peppermint oil or extract

Overexfoliating your lips can cause them to become irritated and dry. For this reason, only exfoliate your lips once a week.

If you have any pimples or blisters on your lips, hold off on exfoliating until these are cleared up.

Vanilla coffee lip scrub

This vanilla coffee lip scrub combines nourishing moisturizers, like oil and honey, with exfoliating ingredients such as finely ground coffee and sugar.

Sugar lip scrub

This DIY lip scrub uses sugar as the main exfoliant, and combines honey and oil to nourish and soothe the skin on your lips.

Are there natural exfoliants to avoid?

As with anything that’s applied to your skin, there’s always a risk that you may have an allergic reaction to one or more of the components. This is especially true for essential oils or the exfoliants themselves.

You may want to do a patch test on a small area of your skin to ensure you don’t get red and itchy from an ingredient.

Be careful of any natural exfoliant that’s not ground well. If an exfoliant, like coarse sea salt, granulated sugar, coffee grinds, or oatmeal, has jagged edges it could scratch or damage your skin.

Take a careful look at the texture of all natural exfoliants, and make sure the granules are smooth and small enough to apply to your skin.

The bottom line

By getting rid of dead cells on the surface of your skin, exfoliation can help keep your skin smooth, healthy, and vibrant.

Many natural exfoliants work well as granules that can remove dead or flaky skin from your face, body, or lips. Together with nourishing ingredients like oils and honey, you can create DIY scrubs that are quick and easy to make.

Be sure not to overexfoliate your skin. Once or twice a week is sufficient for your face, while your lips only need weekly exfoliation.

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