Exfoliation involves stripping away dead skin cells from the skin's surface. For those supporting green living, understanding how to exfoliate skin naturally can significantly supplement a sustainable lifestyle. By choosing natural exfoliants, we benefit our skin and contribute positively to the environment.
So, let's understand why and how we should exfoliate in this article. We also included a mini guide on seven natural exfoliants to jumpstart your greener skincare routine.
The skin sheds dead skin cells as new cells regenerate. Just like other animals, like snakes, true crabs, spiders, and geckos, humans often shed their skin as new ones grow. However, it isn’t as elaborate as other animals in the animal kingdom, i.e., snakes. As we shed dead skin cells, it piles on our body. Exfoliating helps us remove dead cells.
When dead cells build up in your body, they produce excess oil and clog your pores. Clogged pores can lead to acne breakouts and other skin problems. Exfoliating helps prevent and reduce these problems.
You should exfoliate because it removes dead skin cells, unclog pores, and promotes cell regeneration. It improves the appearance of your skin, giving you glowing and healthy skin. Exfoliation helps cleanse pores, freeing oil and dirt trapped inside.
By cleansing your pores, it prevents acne breakouts. It also gives you a softer and smoother skin. Overall, exfoliation is great for your skin’s health.
There are two ways to get rid of dead skin cells. They are mechanical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation. Mechanical exfoliation uses brushes, sponge, or scrub to remove dead skin cells through motion. The mechanical method involves using exfoliating brush, scrubs, and towels/washcloths.
The most common types of mechanical exfoliation are scrubs and sponges. The products that use the method are usually coarse. Sugars, oatmeal, sands, and crystals are perfect examples. These are the products you apply in a gentle, circular motion.
Chemical exfoliation uses chemicals and enzymes to break down the bonds holding dead skin cells on your skin’s surface. These chemical exfoliants include alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA).
An alpha hydroxy acids chemical exfoliator contains glycolic, lactic, and citric acids. On the other hand, beta hydroxy acid chemical exfoliation uses beta hydroxy and salicylic acid. Using these chemical exfoliators causes your skin to shed dead cells naturally. However, beta-hydroxy acids work best for acne-prone skin.
These exfoliating methods work differently. For instance, alpha hydroxy acid works better on flaky skin. Using mechanical methods can cause micro cuts on the skin.
Mechanical methods also don't work on sensitive skin. It can lead to irritation and redness. It is advisable to use a mild chemical exfoliator. Normal and oily skin types can use any form of mechanical exfoliation, while combination skin can use both methods.
Now that we are learning how to exfoliate skin naturally, we must first understand the basics of proper exfoliation. Here are the steps from start to finish:
The right way to exfoliate your skin is to exfoliate according to your skin type. There are four skin types, and they react differently. Exfoliators work differently on different skin types. Using an exfoliator that isn’t compatible with your skin type can cause skin irritations and micro-cuts.
Bacteria can enter these cuts and cause more skin problems like inflammation, scarring, and clogged pores. For instance, dry skin is prone to redness and irritation. Avoid using physical exfoliators on dry skin. You should avoid harsh and abrasive exfoliators if you have sensitive skin.
Instead, pick gentle exfoliating products with lactic acid. Also, you shouldn’t scrub your skin too hard. Use a soft washcloth to exfoliate. It also applies to combination and normal skin types. Only use gentle exfoliation ingredients to remove dead skin cells.
Ensure you take note of your current skincare products before you purchase exfoliating products or ingredients. This is because some skincare products might need to be compatible with the exfoliating item you intend to buy. Using skincare items that contain retinol or benzoyl peroxide can worsen acne problems. It can also increase the dryness and sensitivity of the skin.
Avoid removing dead skin cells from your face and skin harshly. Massage exfoliant gently into your skin to prevent skin irritation and redness. Especially if you are using a scrub, physical, or chemical exfoliant, gently rub the product on your skin using small and circular motions.
Do not rinse your skin with hot water. Use lukewarm water instead because hot water dries out the skin. Also, never attempt to remove dead skin cells from your skin if you have injuries and sunburns.
Space out the frequency of your exfoliation. How often you exfoliate depends on your skin type and exfoliation method. For dry or sensitive skin, exfoliate once a week. Someone with normal, combination, or oily skin should exfoliate two to three times a week. Nothing more.
Exfoliating the skin makes it dry and sensitive. Ensure to apply moisturizer after you are done. It helps keep your skin hydrated and healthy. Also, apply sunscreen before you go out to avoid sunburns.
Related read: Zero Waste Sunscreen.
Oatmeal benefits the skin. Ground oats make an excellent natural exfoliator. It reduces inflammation and moisturizes the skin. Oatmeal contains beta-glucan, phenols, saponins, and oils. Beta-glucan is a compound that absorbs water, while phenols are a type of antioxidant. Saponins have soap-like properties that can act as a cleanser.
A 2020 study showed that oatmeal can help soothe sunburns3. It can restore and maintain your skin barrier. Another study on people with eczema shows that it heals damaged skin better than regular moisturizers1.
You can use oatmeal to make face masks and scrubs. First, grind the oats into fine granules to make any of these. Then, add other natural ingredients like honey, essential oil, brown sugar, and aloe vera to improve consistency and benefits.
Sugar is one of the many natural exfoliants that effectively remove dead skin cells. You can use various sugars, granulated, brown sugar, and organic sugar, to make a sugar scrub. To make it better, mix sugar with coconut oil.
Coconut oil contains fatty acids, vitamin E, and proteins. The fatty acids are antimicrobial and antibacterial, while the vitamin E protects the skin from breaking down. It also contributes to cellular health and tissue repairs.
You can create a body and lip scrub using sugar and coconut oil. A cup of sugar and half a cup of carrier oil is sufficient. You can add other materials like citrus peels, honey, and other essential oils.
However, sugar scrubs are better for the body than the face. Sugar granules are too coarse, and they can cause minor tears and injuries in the face. However, sugar exfoliator is great for the lips! Just make sure to massage sugar exfoliants gently on the body and lips to avoid tears.
Baking soda is a staple in the kitchen. You can use it to make exfoliating paste, but most dermatologists won't accept it because of its abrasive nature. It strips the skin of its oils and nutrients. Moreover, it contains anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce breakouts.
However, you can still use baking soda as a body scrub. You have to use it sparsely. To improve consistency, mix it with vitamin E oil and water.
Then, only apply it to affected areas; don't let it sit for over 3 minutes. Finally, wash it immediately with warm water and moisturize your skin to avoid redness, dryness, and sensitivity.
Baking soda scrub recipe:
Honey has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that help relieve skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. It improves the skin's appearance by preventing the formation of wrinkles and infections. It gives you an overall glowing complexion.
This liquid gold balances the skin's bacteria and provides hydration. It also improves the healing process of your skin cells2. Using raw honey with another natural exfoliant to promote cell regeneration.
For example, make a honey and cinnamon natural exfoliant or a honey and baking soda scrub. You can also use only honey as a standalone exfoliant. Just rub it on your face and body using a circular motion. Let it sit for about 3 to 5 minutes before rinsing it off.
For coffee lovers, learning how to exfoliate skin naturally with ground coffee is a smart way to reduce food waste. Finely ground coffee is one of the many physical exfoliants that help remove dead cells. It has therapeutic anti-inflammatory properties. The antioxidant in coffee, caffeine acid, also helps stimulate cell renewal and increase collagen levels.
Furthermore, it reduces cellulite on the skin by dilating blood vessels to promote blood circulation. Using finely ground coffee in your exfoliation routine can plump skin and clear dark spots.
Coffee scrub recipe:
Lemon juice is a natural chemical exfoliant with alpha hydroxy acid. These chemical components exfoliate the skin naturally, increasing cell turnover. It removes pigmented cells and improves your complexion. Also, its astringent properties reduce oil production by tightening the pores and controlling excess sebum.
Lemon body scrub recipe:
Yogurt benefits not only our digestive system but also our skin and immediate appointments. This fermented dairy product has a wealthy range of vitamins B2, B5, and B12. It can moisturize and hydrate dull, flaky skin.
Additionally, yogurt has calcium, protein, zinc, magnesium, lactic, and fatty acids. These help moisturize the skin, preventing skin dryness. Yogurt can also protect the skin from harmful UV rays and even skin tone.
Exfoliating is essential to maintain healthy, glowing skin. Natural exfoliation enhances the benefits of exfoliating your skin. However, consider your skin type before using any natural exfoliant. Most importantly, always conduct a patch test on a small skin area to check for irritations.
Capone, K., Kirchner, F., Klein, S. L., & Tierney, N. K. (2020). Effects of colloidal oatmeal topical atopic dermatitis cream on skin microbiome and skin barrier properties. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 19(5), 524–531.
Jalil, M. A. A., Kasmuri, A. R., & Hadi, H. A. (2017). Stingless Bee Honey, the Natural Wound Healer: A Review. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology.
Guerra, K. C. (2022b, August 28). Sunburn. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.