It’s no surprise that skin, the body’s largest organ, requires regular maintenance to be its healthiest—but what’s the secret to success? Exfoliating can create the foundation for a skin-nourishing natural beauty regimen. “Exfoliation is incredibly important for radiant, youthful-looking skin, and I find that women are either not exfoliating enough, or they're exfoliating incorrectly and irritating or sensitizing their skin,” says Jolene Hart, a certified beauty and healthy coach and author of Eat Pretty (Chronicle, 2014).
When done properly, the process removes dead skin cells and supports healthy circulation. But the products you choose—and how often you use them—are key to ensuring you’re making the most of your scrub.
Choosing and using exfoliators
First, scrutinize those ingredients! “A lot of us were brought up using facial scrubs that slough off dead skin with crushed nut shells or synthetic beads, but it's easy to go overboard with those physical scrubs,” Hart says. In addition to potentially irritating your skin, there’s an environmental reason to avoid microbeads: They can build up in lakes and rivers through wastewater, leading Illinois and New Jersey to be the first to pass acts that ban microbead use in personal care products (many other states are following suit, with new bills passing or working their way through legislative assemblies every month).
So love your skin and the environment by instead choosing scrubs that use natural exfoliating ingredients such as sugar, salt, and coffee. Such ingredients not only remove dead skin, but also offer various other skin care benefits: Sea salt is rich in skin-supportive minerals, and coffee’s caffeine may help tackle cellulite. Enzyme-rich exfoliants are another great option, especially for the face, which tends to be more sensitive than the body. “I vastly prefer using enzymatic exfoliants from natural ingredients like pineapple, papaya, pumpkin, or honey that gently loosen dead skin cells and result in incredibly smooth, even skin, with little to no irritation,” says Hart.
The next question: How often should you exfoliate? Many women aren’t exfoliating enough. But, you also don’t want to overdo it. How often you exfoliate depends on a range of factors, according to skin care experts: age, skin type, where you live, and if your skin gets easily clogged. To start, opt for twice weekly; then listen to your skin and adjust the frequency if you’re experiencing dryness or breakouts.
Easy DIY natural body scrubs
For a fast, fun project that uses wholesome ingredients from your natural products store (or your pantry!), try these quick and easy body scrub "recipes" at home. Yes, it's really this simple.
An invigorating exfoliant, this blend is filled with micronutrients from the ocean.
• 1 cup sea salt
• 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
• 2 tablespoons powdered seaweed
Sugar softens skin gently, while grapefruit essential oil cleanses (and acts as a natural preservative for your scrub!).
• 1 cup coarse organic sugar
• 1/2 cup almond oil
• Several drops grapefruit essential oil
How to make: Put salt or sugar in a container that comes with a sealed lid. Slowly add the oil, mixing as you pour. Add other ingredients (such as seaweed), and mix well. Finally, add a few drops of essential oil, if using. For the most intense exfoliating, apply to dry skin in a circular motion and wash thoroughly.
Our favorite natural exfoliators
Charcoal, used in detoxifying facial washes, is now making its way into new products, says Jolene Hart, author and certified beauty coach. “A cool new trend to try is exfoliation with cloths and sponges that use charcoal; they exfoliate gently while the charcoal draws impurities out of the skin. This is an interesting new use that gives us another way to exfoliate, with benefits.”
For tried-and-true natural exfoliation, keep an eye out for these products next time you're at your local store:
Balanced Guru Scrub Me Nice-and-Gritty
Scrumptious! This organic body scrub has so many delicious natural ingredients that smooth and soothe skin, including organic coffee seed, coconut oil, and even mushroom extract.
Derma e Microdermabrasion Scrub
For a salon-quality facial treatment, we love this classic from Derma e, which is a potent combo of Dead Sea salt and volcanic sand.
Earth Therapeutics Pure fx Purifying Vegetable Body Sponge
A totally innovative find: This 100-percent biodegradable sponge is made from the konjac plant and is infused with detoxifying charcoal to gently cleanse and exfoliate.