The benefits of face scrubs are numerous, making them an essential part of any quality skincare routine. If you take your skincare seriously, you've likely used one already. Why? Because face scrubs provide a crucial step: exfoliation. But before you start scrubbing, read on to learn the do's and don'ts of using a face scrub and picking the right one for your skin type.
Meet the Experts
Blair Hayes, PA-C, a board-certified aesthetics physician assistant and CEO and founder of Skin by Blair
Erum Ilyas, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group
Kate O’Grady, a licensed esthetician, educator, and owner of Kate O’Grady Skincare
Michelle Henry, MD, dermatologist and founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan
What Does a Face Scrub Do?
Like a body scrub, a face scrub is essentially used for exfoliating dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, explains Blair Hayes, PA-C, a board-certified aesthetics physician assistant and CEO and founder of Skin by Blair.
“They typically contain small particles that help to physically slough off dead skin cells, unclog pores, and improve skin texture. Most also contain additional ingredients such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents to help nourish and soothe the skin,” she says. “They are usually applied to damp skin and massaged gently in circular motions before being rinsed off with water.”
What Is Exfoliation?
Even if the concept of a face scrub is new to you, the process of exfoliating probably is not. Exfoliation is two-fold, as there are two main ways to do it: chemical exfoliating and physical exfoliating.
With physical exfoliation, which is most often the kind used in a face scrub, you are manually removing the buildup of oil, sebum, and debris on the skin by use of an abrasive or gritty ingredient like sugar, seeds, or nutshells, explains Erum Ilyas, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology. “The goal with a physical exfoliant is to help shed or remove the buildup on our skin directly,” she says.
Chemical exfoliants, on the other hand, are products that use certain active ingredients, such as alpha-hydroxy acids, beta-hydroxy acids, or enzymes, to dissolve the fats or lipids in the superficial layers of skin. This helps shed these cells and their by-products, such as keratin and sebum or oil, according to Dr. Ilyas.
11 Benefits of Face Scrubs
There is good reason why dermatologists and other skin care professionals rave about face scrubs and recommend them to their patients. Using a face scrub in your skincare regimen will give you these key benefits:
1. Exfoliates to brighten dull skin
Ever look in the mirror and feel like your skin looked blah—not because of anything specific, but just because it wasn’t as vibrant as you’re used to? That’s called dullness, and it’s often the result of a buildup of dead skin cells that just sit on the surface of the skin. Using a face scrub can help slough off this layer to reveal fresh, brighter skin cells underneath.
2. Buffs flakes for softer lips
Some face scrubs are gentle enough to be used on the lips, which can help to exfoliate and remove dead skin cells from the lips, leaving them smoother and softer. One perk of making scrubs at home is knowing exactly what ingredients are in the recipe—and with sweet ingredients like brown sugar and honey, you won't mind tasting them!
3. Removes barriers to product penetration
Removing the buildup of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface also helps improve the absorption of other skincare products, notes Hayes, such as serums and targeted treatments. “These products can penetrate the skin more easily when there is no barrier preventing them from being fully absorbed,” she says. “This can enhance the effectiveness of these products and lead to better results.”
So essentially, when you use a face scrub, you are preparing your skin to better receive the benefits of other skincare products, such as antioxidant serums and moisturizers.
4. Promotes cell turnover to reduce signs of aging
As we age, the rate of cell turnover starts to slow down. Regular use of face scrubs can help to improve the tone of your skin by jump starting the skin cycle process. This can help to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging.
5. Boosts circulation to reduce puffiness
The massaging action of applying a face scrub to your skin can improve blood circulation and promote lymphatic drainage, which can help to reduce puffiness and improve overall skin health.
6. Unclogs pores to prevent blemishes
We naturally produce sebum (or oil) that is actually vital to the overall health of the skin, explains Kate O’Grady, esthetician, educator, and owner of Kate O’Grady Skincare located in Saratoga Springs, New York. “When there is an excess of sebum, pores will become clogged, and a pimple forms,” she says. Face scrubs can help to unclog pores and prevent breakouts by removing the buildup of oil and dirt on the surface of the skin.
7. Removes dry skin to reveal smoother skin texture
Texture is one of those tricky elements that many of us are looking to refine when it comes to our skin. A face scrub can help in this area by sloughing away cell buildup, which can make skin feel rough and dry.
“With gentle exfoliation a couple of times a week, flaky, dry skin can be smoothed out and appear more plump and hydrated, particularly when paired with a good moisturizer,” says O’Grady. “You’ll also notice makeup laying more evenly and without the cakiness.”
8. Clears out hair follicles to reduce ingrown hairs
Ingrown hairs can be a pesky challenge for both men and women and using a face scrub can help to reduce the occurrence of ingrown hairs by removing dead skin cells that can clog hair follicles. “Oftentimes, as the hair starts to grow, it can pause under the surface of the skin before being released,” Dr. Ilyas explains. “Using a face scrub can help reduce this tendency by releasing the surface layers and giving the hair more room to grow.”
9. Delivers antioxidants to revitalize skin
When applied to the skin, antioxidants can help to protect against environmental damage, improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and promote overall skin health. To nourish your skin, you can incorporate antioxidant-rich ingredients into your scrub, such as avocados, strawberries and green tea.
10. Uses anti-inflammatory ingredients to soothe redness
Some face scrubs contain anti-inflammatory ingredients that can help to soothe red, inflamed skin. Chamomile, aloe vera and calendula are natural anti-inflammatory ingredients that can help calm redness and irritation.
Some anti-inflammatories are especially helpful for acne-prone skin. Tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can help to reduce inflammation and prevent breakouts. Salicylic acid is a type of beta-hydroxy acid that can help to exfoliate the skin, unclog pores, and reduce inflammation.
11. Face massage promotes relaxation
The act of using a face scrub can be a relaxing and therapeutic experience, as the massaging motion can help to relieve stress and tension. Incorporating a face scrub into your skincare routine can be a simple act of self-care that helps to boost your overall well-being and confidence.
How often should you use a face scrub?
The gold-standard recommendation for how often to exfoliate in general is 2 to 3 times a week. However, this can vary significantly based on the individual’s skin needs, specifically surrounding skin type and sensitivity.
As a step one, Hayes recommends always choosing a face scrub that is appropriate for your skin type and using it only as directed, as over-exfoliating can lead to irritation, redness, and dryness.
When should you NOT use a face scrub?
“While face scrubs can be a beneficial addition to a skincare routine, there are certain groups of people who should avoid them, including those with more sensitive skin,” she says. “If you have very sensitive skin, a face scrub may cause irritation, redness, or inflammation.” In this case, she recommends avoiding face scrubs altogether or choosing a very gentle exfoliator.
For individuals with active breakouts or inflamed skin, she recommends holding off on using any face scrub until the skin has healed, as it can exacerbate the problem and cause further irritation. “If you have rosacea, a face scrub may aggravate the condition and cause flare-ups. So, in these cases, it’s best to avoid using a face scrub or to choose a very gentle exfoliator,” she adds.
Choosing the Best Face Scrub for Your Skin Type
Here, experts share their recommended face scrub based on skin type.
Best face scrub for dry skin
If you have dry skin, Hayes recommends opting for a gentle face scrub that won't further dry it out. “Face scrubs that contain large or rough particles, such as walnut shells or apricot kernels, can be too abrasive and harsh on the skin,” she says. “Not only can they cause micro-tears on the skin’s surface, but they can also strip away the natural oils, leading to further dryness.”
Look for scrubs with humectant ingredients like sugar and honey or moisturizing natural oils. Use 1-2 times a week.
Best face scrub for oily skin
For oil-prone skin, a face scrub can be beneficial for unclogging pores and removing excess oil. “When choosing a face scrub for oily skin, look for one that contains alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid, that can help to regulate oil production,” says Hayes. “These types of face scrubs can help to prevent breakouts and reduce the appearance of enlarged pores.”
Try a rice flour face scrub or a gentle cleanser with activated charcoal three times a week.
Best face scrub for sensitive skin
If you have sensitive skin or are prone to redness and irritation, Michelle Henry, MD, dermatologist and founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan, recommends using gentle ingredients or hypoallergenic products specifically formulated for sensitive complexions. “Avoid scrubs with harsh particles, which may cause further irritation of delicate skin,” she adds.
Look for a gentle face scrub that contains calming ingredients such as oatmeal, chamomile or aloe vera to help soothe any redness or inflammation. Use 1-2 times a week.
Best face scrub for combination skin
If you have combination skin, Dr. Henry recommends opting for mild scrubs that won’t excessively strip away natural oils but will still provide effective exfoliation benefits. “Look for products that contain ceramides or glycerin, which will provide additional hydration without causing breakouts on oily areas; opt for oil-free formulas, if possible,” she says.
Try a baking soda face scrub to absorb excess oil or a cleansing clay scrub to clear out pores without drying out the skin. Use 2-3 times a week.
What should you apply after using a face scrub?
O’Grady always recommends using an exfoliant during a nightly routine and following it up with a gentle toner and restorative night cream. “There are so many options for facial scrubs, but it’s best to leave the heavier exfoliation methods to the professionals and stay clear of things that tout 'microdermabrasion-like effects' because they are often too harsh,” she says. “Breaking down the protective barrier of our skin will only lead to inflammatory skin conditions like problems like hyperpigmentation, dermatitis, and breakouts.”
Face Scrub FAQs
What ingredients can I use to make a face scrub?
You can use a variety of ingredients to make a face scrub, such as sugar, coffee powder, oatmeal, almond meal, honey, coconut oil, olive oil, essential oils, and more. The ingredients you choose will depend on your skin type and skincare concerns.
How do I choose the right ingredients for my skin type?
If you have dry skin, you may want to choose ingredients that are moisturizing and gentle, such as oatmeal or honey. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you may want to choose ingredients that are exfoliating and anti-inflammatory, such as sugar or tea tree oil. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to choose ingredients that are calming and gentle, such as chamomile or aloe vera.
How often should I use a face scrub?
It's generally recommended to use a face scrub no more than two to three times per week, as over-exfoliating can damage the skin barrier and cause irritation.
Can I customize a face scrub recipe to suit my specific skincare concerns?
Yes, you can customize a face scrub recipe to suit your specific skincare concerns by choosing ingredients that address your particular concerns, such as acne, dryness, or dullness.
Can I use a face scrub if I have sensitive skin?
Yes, you can use a face scrub if you have sensitive skin, but it's important to choose a gentle scrub that won't cause irritation. You may want to avoid scrubs that contain harsh ingredients, such as salt or citrus, and opt for calming ingredients such as oatmeal or chamomile.
How should I store my homemade face scrub?
If you make cleansing grains that don't include water or fresh ingredients, then store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Otherwise, store any leftovers in the refrigerator and use within 7-10 days.
Can I use a face scrub on other parts of my body, such as my hands or feet?
Yes, you can use a face scrub on other parts of your body, but it's important to choose a scrub that is appropriate for the skin on that area. For example, you may want to choose a coarser scrub for your feet than you would for your face.
What are some common mistakes to avoid when making a face scrub?
Some common mistakes to avoid when making a face scrub include using too much or too little of an ingredient, using harsh or irritating ingredients, and over-exfoliating the skin.
Can I use a face scrub in combination with other skincare products, such as a moisturizer or serum?
Yes, you can use a face scrub in combination with other skincare products, but it's important to follow a consistent skincare routine and allow time for each product to be absorbed into the skin.
How long will my homemade face scrub last, and how often should I make a new batch?
The shelf life of your homemade face scrub will depend on the ingredients you use, but it's generally recommended to use it within 7-10 days if it includes fresh ingredients. You should make a new batch whenever your current batch runs out or if you notice any changes in the texture or scent of the product.2
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