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You’ve probably seen tubs of sugar, coffee grounds, or salt on store shelves promising smoother, brighter skin.

Here’s the lowdown on using body scrub to get silky soft skin that shines.

Body scrubs are a mechanical exfoliant, meaning they physically remove dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin with abrasive ingredients, like sugar or salt.

This stimulates skin cell turnover, resulting in smoother, brighter skin and possibly preventing future acne breakouts.

“If your skin is looking dry and dull, a mild exfoliation can help,” says Suzanne Friedler, a board certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC.

Depending on your skin type, some body scrubs may not work well for you.

Using a body scrub is relatively straightforward and safe, as long as you follow a few simple steps.

Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, is the president and co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Connecticut and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital. She and Friedlersuggest the following process:

  • Rinse your skin in warm water.
  • Put a small amount of body scrub in your hand.
  • Gently rub it on your skin in small circular motions, using your hand or an exfoliating glove.
  • Scrub your skin gently for no longer than 30 seconds.
  • Rinse your skin liberally with lukewarm water.
  • Wash your skin using your regular cleanser. (You can also do this before.)
  • Shave, if desired.
  • Pat your skin dry.
  • Apply a moisturizer.

Body scrubs temporarily disrupt your skin barrier and can dry out skin. Robinson suggests looking for a product with oil-free sources of moisture, such as ceramides, vitamin E, or hyaluronic acid.

Pro tip: Avoid using loofahs. Robinson says they tend to be bacteria magnets.

How often you should exfoliate depends on your skin type, although Robinson suggests starting with 1 to 2 times per week.

“You don’t want to overly strip the skin of moisture or compromise the skin barrier. See how your skin responds, and you can always build from there,” she says.

Robinson recommends looking for a gentle physical exfoliant with soft, small particles, such as:

  • crushed macadamia
  • sugar
  • sea salt

“Stay away from large particle scrubs, like apricot and walnut, which can cause micro-tears in the skin and lead to inflammation, scarring, and infection,” Robinson says.

Some physical scrubs also include chemical exfoliating ingredients. Choose a scrub with salicylic acid if your skin is oily, or choose glycolic acid if your skin is sensitive or dry, Friedler suggests.

If you’re not acne-prone, Robinson says you may also want to use a body scrub with moisturizing oils, such as:

Try the InfiniteAloe Face & Body Scrub with rosehip oil or The Body Shop Moringa Exfoliating Cream Body Scrub.

To make your own body scrub at home, mix coffee grounds or finely-ground sugar with honey, which Robinson says has humectant and antimicrobial properties.

Dilute your scrub with a touch of coconut oil for a looser consistency.

“This is great for spot scrubbing the feet, knees, or elbows, or for covering larger areas of the body,” she says.

Friedler suggests blending salt and sugar with aromatic oils. “Just keep them off your face, where they can cause breakouts,” she says.

Try these recipes below for a DIY at-home scrub.

Brown sugar and honey

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp. honey

Directions

  1. Add the brown sugar to the melted coconut oil.
  2. Add the honey.
  3. Mix thoroughly, adding more coconut oil to loosen up the mixture as necessary.

Coffee and coconut

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coffee grounds
  • 2 tbsp. hot water
  • 1 tbsp. warm coconut oil

Directions

  1. Mix the coffee grounds with water.
  2. Add the warmed coconut oil.
  3. Add more coffee grounds or oil to get the right consistency.

Sugar and olive oil

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine the brown sugar and olive oil.
  2. Add more of either ingredient until you reach desired consistency.

Sea salt and oil

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sea salt
  • 1/2 cup oil of your choice

Directions

  1. Blend the sea salt and oil.
  2. Add more of either ingredient until you reach desired consistency.

Prefer buying your skin care products? Robinson and Friedler recommend the following body scrubs:

While virtually all skin types benefit from exfoliation, Robinson notes there are a few exceptions.

Retinol or benzoyl peroxide

Mechanical exfoliants can damage the skin of people who use prescription retinoid creams or products containing retinol or benzoyl peroxide. This can make the skin more sensitive or prone to peeling.

If you’re using any of the above, ask your dermatologist if mechanical exfoliants are appropriate for you.

Skin conditions or injuries

If you have a skin condition, talk with a dermatologist for advice based on the medications and topicals you’re using, as well as the condition of your skin.

Avoid exfoliating skin while experiencing:

Beyond using exfoliants, “you’ll want to avoid scrubbing the skin, which can lead to further inflammation, fueling flare-ups,” Robinson says.

Hyperpigmentation

If you have dark spots on your skin (which are common after burns or bug bites), avoid harsh scrubs. They may worsen hyperpigmentation.

Sensitive skin

Robinson says you can exfoliate your skin if it’s dry or sensitive, as long as you follow up immediately with a good moisturizer.

“I advise sticking to a fragrance-free formula and spot testing it before trying it all over your body to see how your skin reacts,” she adds.

Try the PureSCRUBS Unscented Dead Sea Salt Body Scrub or Organic Fiji Fragrance Free Whole Body Sugar Scrub.

Oily skin

Don’t be tricked into overdoing it on oily skin.

“If you strip the skin of too much oil, you can actually trigger more production by the body to compensate,” Robinson says.

Body scrubs are a type of physical exfoliant that uses ingredients, like sugar or sea salt, to remove dead skin cells. This helps skin look brighter and may prevent future acne breakouts.

Most people can benefit from body scrubs, although you should talk with your doctor first if you have a skin condition, like psoriasis or eczema, or if you’re using a retinol.

Avoid using scrubs on sunburns, damaged skin, or irritated skin.


Colleen de Bellefonds is a Paris-based health and wellness journalist with over a decade of experience regularly writing and editing for publications including WhatToExpect.com, Women’s Health, WebMD, Healthgrades.com, and CleanPlates.com. Find her on Twitter.