Top 10 Natural Exfoliants

Lemons are just one of many natural exfoliants that you can find at your neighborhood supermarket.
Lemons are just one of many natural exfoliants that you can find at your neighborhood supermarket. See more pictures of unusual skincare ingredients.
AP Photo/Larry Crowe

If you want to have good-looking skin, try getting rid of some of it. Specifically, you can do without those old dead cells that have migrated from the deep layers of your skin to the epidermis, the skin's top layer. Normally, our skin sheds those dead cells after they've reached the epidermis -- a new skin cell remains part of our skin for about a month before it flakes off -- but what doesn't flake away can make your complexion look dull and rough, and even interferes with the secretion of oil from your pores, causing blemishes [source: Gordon]. You can remedy that by applying an exfoliant, a substance used to unglue or to scrub away that debris. Regular exfoliation can help remove dead skin cells, help keep pores clean and improve blood circulation, which will give your skin a healthy, more youthful glow. Exfoliation also helps your moisturizer and skin care treatments penetrate better.

When it comes to exfoliation, you have several choices: You can make an appointment at a dermatology clinic or a trendy spa for a pricey skin-shedding regimen, or you can buy top-shelf designer skin treatments that retail for more than $100 per tiny tube. Or, you can spare your pocketbook by giving yourself an exfoliating treatment at home, using natural ingredients that you can find at your local supermarket, health-food store or even online. Some of these ingredients, in fact, are the same ones used in pricy, brand-name exfoliants.


In this article, we'll look at 10 homemade natural exfoliating treatments recommended by beauty experts and dermatologists. So, let's get started with one of the world's oldest beauty secrets: honey.

10: Honey

Honey isn't just good for sweetening your cup of chamomile -- it also makes a sweet addition to your skin care routine. Raw, unprocessed honey is a great topical antiseptic because it has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal benefits, which means it helps to reduce the occurrence of skin infections, and it helps fight acne. It's packed full of antioxidants, which can help your skin better protect and repair itself, and it's been shown to reduce inflammation, too. Honey helps to speed up the natural exfoliation process and it has humectant qualities, as well, which means that it attracts moisture to your skin, making it great for a hydrating facial scrub.


9: Yogurt

bowl of yogurt with spoon
Yogurt's delicious, but instead of eating it, try applying it to your face for a soothing exfoliation treatment.

Yogurt may be a good-for-you staple in your kitchen, but did you know it's also good for your skin? Yogurt contains lactic acid, which is an alpha hydroxy acid (the same kind you'll find in prescription skin care treatments) but at a concentration so mild it's gentle enough to use on any skin type, face and body.

Yogurt (and milk, too) hydrates and exfoliates, has skin-smoothing and soothing benefits, and the lactic acid may also help to even out your skin tone as well. Apply plain yogurt as a facial or to larger areas of your body, let it set for about 20 minutes, then rinse.


8: Baking Soda

You probably already have a box of baking soda in your fridge for odor control and in your pantry for baking. It may even be in your toothpaste and in eco-friendly cleaners. It's an all-purpose, non-abrasive gal Friday. And what you might not have known is that you should be using it to clean and exfoliate your skin, too. In fact, some of the expensive in-office (or at the spa) microdermabrasion treatments contain sodium bicarbonate. And sodium bicarbonate is nothing more than baking soda. Just add a teaspoon (less if you have sensitive or mature skin) to your every day facial cleanser to turn your morning wash into a spa-worthy treatment.


7: Ground Fruit Seeds and Nuts

Unlike honey and yogurt, which unglue the proteins holding those dead skin cells in place, ground fruit seeds (such as raspberry or blackberry seeds) and ground nuts (such as ground almonds) are both popular additions to exfoliating skin care products because they loosen and remove dead cells when massaged onto the skin in a gentle, circular motion.

It's important when using a friction-based exfoliant scrub to avoid products that contain sharp-edged ingredients such as ground stone-fruit pits (such as peach or apricot) and nut shells (such as ground walnut shells). It's not the ingredient itself that's too harsh but rather it's the way it's prepared -- those crushed pits and shells often have jagged edges that can cause microtears in your skin, leaving skin susceptible to blemishes and an uneven skin tone.


6: Sugar

mound of granulated sugar
A half-cup of sugar could be just what your skin needs to regain its natural glow.

If you have a sweet tooth, it may show on your face -- sugary diets may be increasing your risk of premature aging. But when you apply sugar to your skin, it's a different story -- no matter what your skin type.

Sugar is made from sugar cane, which is a natural source of glycolic acid, an alphy hydroxy acid. Glycolic acid is good at breaking down the protein -- the glue -- that keeps dead skin cells from sloughing off, as well as boosting new skin cell production and smoothing and softening skin. Mix about one-half cup of sugar (white or brown -- both work) with enough olive oil (or grapeseed, jojoba or whatever your favorite oil may be) to make a paste. Using circular motions gently massage the mixture into your skin and rinse well -- it's safe enough to use on both face and body.


5: Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a great food for lowering your cholesterol, but it's also a cheap natural exfoliant that has anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a natural moisturizer [source: Mayo Clinic]. And it's gentle enough not to tear or injure sensitive skin [source: Kerr]. In an interview with the Las Vegas (Nev.) Review-Journal, Jennifer Frederick, spa director at Ritual Salon and Spa in Las Vegas, recommended this recipe for a hydrating honey oatmeal facial: Finely grind one cup of oatmeal in a blender or food processor, then stir together with one cup of plain yogurt or buttermilk and two tablespoons of honey in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly until it becomes a smooth paste, and then apply the mixture to your face. Leave it on for 15 minutes, and then rinse with warm water. Then congratulate yourself for having saved the $95 to $110 that this all would have cost you at the typical spa.


4: Lemon Juice

The lemon tree is very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet. But the fruit of the poor lemon -- well, you know the rest of the lyrics. But lemon juice, like other citrus juices, also contains alpha hydroxy acid, which penetrates and removes the protein glue that causes dead skin cells to stick to your epidermis [sources: Baran, Berthold-Bond]. Manufactured exfoliants often contain big doses of AHA -- so much, warns Sophie Uliano, a skincare advisor to actress Julia Roberts, that they can cause your skin to become more sun-sensitive. In 2008 Good Housekeeping magazine interview, Uliano recommended making your own citrus exfoliating mask. Mix one-quarter-cup each of lemon juice, apple juice, grape juice and cane sugar in a glass jar, making sure the sugar completely dissolves. Then apply the mixture to your face with a cotton ball, and leave it on for 10 minutes before rinsing it off.


3: Papaya

Papaya contains the enzyme papain, which dissolves old, dead skin cells without harming the younger, live cells beneath -- much like the prescription medication tretinoin (Retin-A), but without the potential side effects of skin flaking and irritation, according to natural skin care advocates. It's also believed that the enzyme can help heal the skin and cause lines and brown age spots to vanish. Papain is most potent in young fruit, so be sure to get green papayas at the local organic supermarket for your skin care regimen [source: Cichoke]. Annie Berthold-Bond, author of "Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living," recommends mashing a green papaya and using it to make a facial mask [source: Berthold-Bond].


2: Ground Coffee

Not only does coffee perk you up, but it can serve as a potent exfoliant as well, provided that you rub the ground-up coffee beans on your skin instead of using them to brew a steaming cup of joe. It helps tone the skin as well. Jennifer Frederick, spa director at Ritual Salon and Spa in Las Vegas, Nev., recommends using it as the main ingredient in a body scrub. Mix two cups of coarsely ground coffee with a cup of sea salt and two-to-three tablespoons of massage oil. Take a hot shower to moisten your skin and open your pores, and then, using wide circular motions, rub the mixture onto your skin with strong, even pressure. Then rinse off the scrub, pat the skin dry with a towel and apply your favorite lotion. A similar treatment would cost you $80 to $95 at a spa.


1: Sea Salt

For thousands of years, people have been soaking their hides in the super-salty waters of the Dead Sea, in hopes of curing various maladies. While sea salt doesn't always provide a miracle cure, it does have medicinal value in treating skin conditions such as psoriasis, and its gentle abrasive properties make it a great natural exfoliant, especially for people with dry skin. Try mixing a cup of sea salt and glycerin (which is sold in drugstores) to create a paste. After a hot shower, rub the paste over your body with your hands or a sponge, and then rinse it off [source: Readers Digest]. How much can you save by doing this treatment at home versus taking a dip in the Dead Sea? Well, that depends on how much a plane ticket to Jordan or Israel would cost you.

For more information about natural exfoliants or other related topics, follow the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Alberts, B.; Johnson, A.; Lewis, J.; et. al. "Epidermis and Its Renewal by Stem Cells." Molecular Biology of the Cell. 2002. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Anderson, Nina; and Howard Peiper. "All Natural Anti-Aging Skin Care." Pages 14-16. 1996. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Baran, Robert and Maibach, Howard I. "Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology." Taylor and Francis. 2005. (Sept. 3, 2009)
  • Begoun, Paula. "The Complete Beauty Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Smart Beauty." Rodale Press. 2004. (Sept. 4, 2009)
  • Berthold-Bond, Annie. "Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living." Three Rivers Press. 1999. (Sept. 4, 1999)
  • Bond, Annie B. "5 Favorites for Skin Care." Care2. 2004. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Bond, Annie B. "Simple Sugar Scrub Formula." Care2. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Cichoke, Anthony J. "The Complete Book of Enzyme Therapy." Avery.1998. (Sept. 4, 2009)
  • Cooke, Kieran. "Green and Confused: Is glowing skin worth a choked seagull?" The Times (London). Aug. 31, 2009. (Sept. 4, 2009)
  • Cole, Bethan. "Scrubbing up well: Why using the wrong exfoliator could wreck your skin." The Daily Mail. 2009. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Corbin, Lori. "Foods for Facials: Tips to Make Your Skin Radiant." KABC-TV. 2007. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Dayal, Roshni. "Natural Beauty Secrets from India: Easy, Economical, and Effective Head-To-Toe Home Remedies for a Beautiful You, Naturally." Tate Publishing. 2009. (Sept. 3, 2009)
  • Dolan, Sue. "Naturally Skinsational: Rejuvenating Skin Care Recipes." Skin Care Resource Center. 2009. (Sept. 3, 2009)
  • Forbes, Robert James. "Studies in Ancient Technology, Vol. 5." Brill Archive. 1957.
  • Fritz, Anne L. "10 Foods That Can Enhance Your Skin and Hair." Everyday Health. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Garza, Xazmin. "Baking Up Beauty." Las Vegas Review-Journal. Jan. 8, 2009.
  • Good Housekeeping. "Gorgeous & Green." Vol. 247, Page 136. July 2008.
  • Gordon, Marsha and Fugate, Alice E. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beautiful Skin." Alpha Books. 1998. (Sept. 3, 2009)
  • Guglielmetti, Petra. "10 Kitchen Pantry Beauty Ingredients." Woman's Day. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Hamilton, Douglas and Azizzadeh, Babak. "Beverly Hills Beauty Secrets: A Prominent Dermatologist and Plastic Surgeon's Insider Guide to Facial Rejuvenation." John Wiley and Sons. 2009. (Sept. 3, 2009)
  • Harmon, Katherine. "The Science Behind 10 Natural Skin Remedies: Why They Work -- Or Don't." May 7, 2009. (Sept. 4, 2009)
  • Healthy Lifestyle. "Natural Exfoliants Made Easy." (Sept. 3, 2009)
  • Kaminsky, Ben. "When should I avoid exfoliating my skin?" Sharecare. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Kerr, Fran. "Easy Oatmeal Recipes for Homemade Facial Skin Care." High on Health. March 20, 2008. (Sept. 4, 2009)
  • Kilgore, Marcia; and Jeffrey Podolsky. "Beauty's Best Exfoliants." The Wall Street Journal. 2009. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Lucas, A. "Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries." Google Books. (Sept. 8, 2009)
  • Marco, Meg. "Save Money By Exfoliating With Baking Soda." The Consumerist. Jan. 12, 2007. (Sept. 4, 2009)
  • Marmur, Ellen. "Food Solutions for Your Skin." The Dr. Oz Show. 2011. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Mayo Clinic staff, "Cholesterol: The Top 5 Foods to Lower Your Numbers." June 5, 2009. (Sept. 4, 2009)
  • Naab-Levy, Nikki. "Smart Shopping for Exfoliants." (Sept. 3, 2009)
  • National Honey Board.
  • Readers Digest. "1,801 Home Remedies: Trustworthy Treatments for Everyday Health Problems." Readers Digest Books. 2004. (Sept. 4, 2009)
  • Sachdev, Priya. "Forever Beautiful: A Handbook of Beauty Care the Natural Way." Star Publications. 2008. (Sept. 3, 2009)
  • Shaw, Mary-Liz. "Foods out of style for meals used for beauty, home and play." Real Milk Paint. May 25, 2004. (Sept. 8, 2009)
  • Space NK. "ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment." (Sept. 4, 2009)
  • Stonyfield Farm. "Rejuvenate Your Skin with a Yogurt Facial." (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • The Beauty Brains. "Is Baking Soda An Effective Natural Exfoliant?"2008. (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • The George Mateljan Foundation: The World's Healthiest Foods. "Honey." (Mar. 15, 2012)
  • Watson, Stephanie. "Beauty and Skin care: Vitamins and Antioxidants." 2010. (Mar. 15, 2012)