Are natural sea sponges good for my skin?

Natural sea sponges are a product of the ocean and can be used to scrub the skin soft.
Natural sea sponges are a product of the ocean and can be used to scrub the skin soft.
©iStockphoto.com/Maksim Mikhin

Take a stroll through the bath and beauty section at any store, and you'll find a wide array of scrubbers and scourers to help cleanse you from head to toe. If you go looking for sponges, you'll find that man-made sponges far outnumber the natural ones. Having more synthetic products than natural ones to choose from doesn't necessarily mean that sea sponges are inferior -- they're just different.

You might have wondered where sea sponges come from. Sea sponges have been around for hundreds of millions of years. Natural sea sponges might appear to be an unusual seaweed or other kind of plant, but because they grow by consuming organic materials instead of by photosynthesis, they're actually classified as animals that live in the water. Sponges are grouped into three categories, based on whether their skeletons are made of organic matter, calcium carbonate or glass. Sea sponges have the ability to continue growing even if you chop them up into pieces. This means that you can harvest a piece of a sea sponge and it will regenerate [source: Australia National University Reporter]. Of course, by the time a sea sponge makes it to your tub, it won't still be growing because it's no longer living.

Before you start scrubbing at yourself with any kind of sponge, you should think about the condition of your skin. If you have any skin conditions, such as eczema or contact dermatitis, then make sure to be extra gentle if you decide to use the sponge. Also, if you have dry skin, using a scratchy sponge might just irritate it [source: Griffin]. Keep the overall health of your skin in mind before you decide whether you want to use a sponge, and use it as a guideline to pick out the texture and type.

If you're ready to explore the world of washing with sponges, the first step is deciding whether to go with man-made or natural sea sponges. Read on to learn the pros and cons of using natural sea sponges.

Pros and Cons of Natural Sea Sponges

In recent years, it's become trendy to advertise the natural and organic properties of products. For people who prefer to bathe with natural products, sea sponges offer the chance to soap up and scrub down with a product manufactured by Mother Nature herself. However, as with any natural or synthetic product, sea sponges have their benefits and downsides.

On the plus side, many people consider natural sea sponges to be eco-friendly. Sponges are able to grow back after they are harvested, so they could be considered a sustainable resource. Also, the harvesting process isn't believed to involve chemicals or by-products that damage the environment, which adds to the green factor [source: Brown].

Also, the rough surface of the natural sea sponges can be a good exfoliating tool for some. Tough sponges can help scrape away dead cells lingering on your skin with the potential to clog pores. By exfoliating, you'll reveal the fresh skin underneath and help keep pores free of impurities.

However, using any kind of sponge -- whether it's natural or synthetic -- might be too abrasive for some skin types. If you have sensitive skin, dry skin or a skin condition such as psoriasis, you might prefer to bathe using just your hands or a very soft cloth, since using a sponge or regular washcloth could be irritating to the skin [source: Casey]. Also, if you have oily skin that tends toward acne, harshly scrubbing your face with a sponge can just make you break out more. If so, avoid sponges altogether, and gently wash your face and pat it dry to discourage additional breakouts.

If you're still not sure whether natural sea sponges are for you, keep reading to learn how they compare with synthetic sponges.

Natural Sponges vs. Artificial Sponges

When you see all the brightly-colored artificial sponges gleaming at you from the shelves and compare them with their sometimes more drab-looking natural cousins, it's tempting to take advantage of modern technology and go for the glitz. After all, by choosing an artificial sponge, you won't be raiding Mother Nature's beauty cupboard. But artificial sponges have their pros and cons, too, just like natural sponges do.

One of the main attractions with synthetic sponges is that many of them are embedded with antimicrobial ingredients to discourage nasty germs from turning the sponge into a plague palace. Although this might sound like a huge pro, it is also a main con. The modern antimicrobial ingredient of choice is triclosan, which is widely touted by environmental groups as a danger to your health [source: Walker]. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that triclosan poses a danger to human health only when it's used in paint [source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]. Others aren't so sure, though. Recent studies at the University of California Davis suggested that triclosan can have a negative effect on hormones and the nervous system [source: Downs].

Keep in mind that if you have sensitive skin or a skin condition such as eczema, using a sponge with antibacterial properties might irritate your skin. Generally, people with special skin concerns should avoid chemicals that might irritate the skin and cause flare-ups of their skin conditions, and that can include the antimicrobial agents in sponges [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

Also, be wary of what your sponge is made of, because some synthetic fibers, such as polyester, can be too abrasive. Newer synthetic sponges tend to have softer fibers, but even so, these can remove too much skin, and they can also break down and leave chemical particulates on your face [source: Peck].

Overall, the choice between natural sea sponges and artificial sponges comes down to personal preference. If you like the eco-friendly, natural approach, then sea sponges might appeal to you more. If you think modern technology is where it's at, then you might want to choose artificial sponges.

Keep reading for even more information and articles on synthetic and natural sponges.

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