If you’ve spent any time on Twitter on skincare, you know that facial scrubs are considered the number one enemy of the skin. After the extraordinary rise of the infamous St. Ives apricot scrub in the early 2000s and the ensuing lawsuit claiming the product created micro-tears in the skin, inflammation and advanced aging, physical scrubs are more than ever a source of division.
Yet while many skin experts denounce them all the time, consumers are simultaneously pinpointing their favorite products. Of course, the internet was dismayed when Kylie Skin released a walnut scrub in 2019 – however, it is one of the brand’s most reviewed products with a brilliant 4.5-star average rating on its website. Dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant has been a favorite with longtime skincare fans and Paula’s Choice The UnScrub Gentle Cleansing Scrub recently won a coveted Allure Best of Beauty award in 2019. So like the brand and consumer interest for scrubs show no signs of diminishing, this begs the question – are they really this Wrong?
âI was against them for the clients because most [people] were not using them properly, âsays Sean Garrette, a New York-based esthetician. “But if you are someone who has a rough texture on your skin, [scrubs] helps with texture and smoothing, especially for guys who shave like me. I use them a lot for the ingrown hairs in my beard. Jessica Houston, head esthetician at BEAUTYBEEZ in Los Angeles, is less forgiving. âWhenever someone asks me about exfoliators, I never go straight to physical exfoliators,â she says of her recommendations. âI understand the gravitation towards a real scrub. I’m just not sure if that’s the best thing for people to recommend to put their face on. They can be effective, but you have to get the right kind.
While skincare professionals on the whole still tend to look aside the whole category, they admit that it are some benefits for physical exfoliators – with a few caveats.
Best practices for using a scrub
Humans have a nasty habit of being rougher on their skin in order to make a product “work”, which increases the risk of an already potentially harmful ingredient. As with many other skin care ingredients (retinol, acids, etc.), scrubs in the wrong hands and with improper use can lead to disastrous results. But with a little guidance and a light hand, they can work wonders for your skin, too.
For starters, experts agree that nut scrubs (which have grown in popularity in recent years) are doing you a disservice. “Any ‘pit’ scrub is going to be really abrasive [for the skin]Explains cosmetic surgeon Dr Kevin Sadati. “You want to use something sweet like rice and oatmeal powder.” The right This type of physical exfoliant strikes a precarious balance between actually polishing the skin without creating undue damage.
Garrette notes that the danger of scrubs lies both in the product itself and in its use. While the nutty chunks in popular scrubs are too jagged for even the softest touch, it’s crucial to exert light pressure when using a physical exfoliant and let the product do the heavy lifting. .
âA physical scrub really uses this action to lift dead, rough skin and texture,â says Garrette. âPhysical exfoliators aren’t perfectly round, that’s how they pick up dead skin. If the product is a round jojoba bead, it will melt in water and it is not useful for exfoliating. Diatomaceous earth, ground bamboo, volcanic sand and microcrystals are becoming the scrub material of choice in new product launches, all of which are gentler on your skin.
Choose a hybrid exfoliating product
Physical exfoliators boosted by the power of enzymes and exfoliating acids provide a more complete treatment that relies less on manual polishing (which can be too harsh on the skin) and can reduce the risk of irritation. That’s why finding a product that contains both physical and chemical exfoliating ingredients can offer the best of both worlds.
âStart with a softer texture but the acid is a bit stronger,â says Houston. “It will help achieve long term results instead of just that instant gratification.” [like softer skin]. If you use it correctly, you will see improvements in issues like hyperpigmentation. If uneven tone is one of your main concerns, besides texture issues, a chemical or hybrid exfoliator will provide the best results. Houston adds, âIf you just use one scrub, you’re not getting all the benefits of exfoliation.
Lactic acid and exfoliating enzymes are two common ingredients you’ll find in hybrid exfoliating products, which can help resurface smoothly and reduce the risk of irritation.
How to know if you are the right candidate
Everyone’s skin is different, which means that not all products and ingredients are right for you – this also applies to physical scrubs. âPeople with rosacea should never use facial scrubs or any post-laser treatment,â says Dr. Sadati. “Anyone with inflamed skin should also stay away from scrubs.” As a general rule, it’s wise to avoid any exfoliant (chemical or physical) after a cosmetic procedure, such as lasers, to avoid irritating your already sensitized skin.
Additionally, people with active acne, eczema, or generally sensitive skin should stick to enzymes and gentler chemical exfoliators, like lactic acid. Exfoliating acids and enzymes break down dead skin cells and encourage the natural renewal process rather than physically pulling them away from the surface. Those with more resilient, balanced skin or visible flakes are better suited for testing waters with scrubs.
Most importantly – don’t overdo it with scrubs
Rule number one with an exfoliant, but especially physical formulas, is not to overdo it with how often you use it (or how aggressively you scrub). âJust because you see the results you want after a few uses, it probably means your skin likes where it is,â Houston cautions. âIf you keep trying to use it, it’s probably going to have the opposite effect. Start maybe twice a week.
It is also crucial to have the right follow-up routine. âWhen you overdo a scrub, you will naturally dehydrate your skin,â says Garrette. âYou want to make sure the rest of your routine is hydrating. Niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, beta-glucan – just [add] soothing ingredients. Make sure to protect your skin with an SPF in the morning and a nourishing cream in the evening.
For best results after exfoliation, keep your routine (and pressure) gentle. âWith skin care, everything has to be simple,â says Houston. âA little goes a long way. Start small then gradually incorporate [new products, like a scrub]. “
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âThis contains salicylic acid and an enzyme complex like the enzymes in papaya and pineapple,â says Garrette. âSo it sort of works on a chemical level and also helps smooth out that texture with the exfoliating microcrystals. “
“I’m still looking [a physical exfoliant] that contains some type of chemical or enzymatic component, âsays Garrette. “It has enzymatic as well as physical exfoliation properties.”
âI use it in my facials if you have hyperpigmentation or if your skin looks uneven for an overall smoother finish,â says Houston.
âIt’s actually one of my favorites,â says Houston. âI’ll use it twice a month when I see roughness on my T-zone or my chin if I want a more even skin tone. “
âIf you plan to use a scrub, use something soft and gentle, as they can often be very uneven and abrasive,â says Dr. Sadati. Stemology Skin Polisher uses both rice and oatmeal powder for a gentler exfoliation.