Scrubbing is the kind of hurt we endure because we think it's good for us. But with the right ingredients, there shouldn't be any pain -- just gain. Chosen wisely and used properly, scrubs do wonders for dry, scaly, dehydrated skin. "Scrubbing whisks dead, dull cells and dirt away, leading to a brighter, more radiant complexion. It also improves skin's absorption of other products so that they produce more noticeable results," says Scottsdale, Arizona-based holistic dermatologist Jeannette Jacknin, M.D., author of the book "Smart Medicine for Your Skin."
But all scrubs aren't created equal. Many harbor artificial colors, perfumes, and unappetizing chemicals. (Do you really want isopropyl myristate and amino methylpropanol, two potential irritants found in some body scrubs, on your skin?) Luckily, plenty of natural formulas containing almonds, sugar, and even rice work just as well. With the help of three experts -- New York City spa owner and author Susan Ciminelli, dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, M.D. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Jacknin -- we've created the following guide to choosing and using a healthy scrub.
For Your Face
- Gentle exfoliants like fine sugar, jojoba beads, rice bran, or almond meal
- Oats and honey to calm stressed skin
- Crushed grape seeds to deliver antioxidants to oily, acne-prone skin
Super-rough ingredients like coarse sea salt, ground apricot pits, and walnut shells, which are harsh on facial skin
"Many scrubs contain essential oils, each with a different purpose and scent," says Jacknin. Geranium, for instance, is ideal for tightening and toning, whereas chamomile calms sensitive skin, sage fights breakouts, and lemon energizes. "If your scrub contains essential oils," Jacknin adds, "leave it on for five minutes so it can penetrate your skin." If your complexion falls into the uber-delicate or acne-prone categories, or if you have a sunburn, use all scrubs with caution: In these cases, scrubbing can actually spread breakouts or aggravate already sensitive skin. Start with gentle pressure, avoid scrubbing if you feel discomfort, and exfoliate just once a week.
For Your Body
Larger exfoliating granules, such as coarse sea salt and raw sugar, crushed nuts, coffee grounds, bamboo powder, and corncob powder
Using scrubs on sensitive, irritated, or freshly shaven skin
Jacknin recommends scooping up about two tablespoons of scrub and rubbing in circles, working your way up from feet to heart. "Cleanse your body as usual before scrubbing," she says, "but hold off on shaving until another time, as some scrubs aggravate just-shaved skin." Heavily perfumed products can also irritate (and leave you gagging in the shower). Look for exfoliants with essential oils of lavender, mint, citrus, or basil, which refresh without overwhelming.
For Tough Spots
- Rough ingredients, such as ground walnut shells, fruit pits, crushed nuts, or very coarse salt or sugar
- Thick, pastelike scrubs, which stick better on elbows, feet, and knees
- Very oily or creamy formulations, as they tend to slide off easily
- Fine grains like sugar or jojoba beads, which aren't coarse enough for the job
Try lingering in the bath or shower to soften your skin before attacking tough spots with salt or sugar scrubs. Use a loofah or pumice stone to rub the product onto your body. Though two tablespoons of scrub does the job for your less-hardened body parts, there's no need to be stingy with cracked, leathery spots. "Don't hesitate to use more of your favorite scrub on particularly dry skin on your heels and elbows," says Jacknin. She also adds that these chronically scaly spots provide the only exception to the once-a-week rule. Go ahead and "scrub two to three times a week on these rough areas," she advises.