Aside from a generous daily application of sunscreen, exfoliation is one of the best gifts you can give to your skin. We’d hazard a guess that you’re probably already using an exfoliating product in your facial skincare routine (even if you don’t realize it)! Retinol, salicylic acid, all those glow tonics, at-home peels, and gentle scrubs all exfoliate your face in some form or another, keeping your complexion bright, radiant, clear, and balanced.
So where do sugar scrubs enter the picture, then? Well, given the large granules, sugar scrubs are best used to exfoliate your body. (The only exception would be if the sugar has been hella-refined to an almost powder consistency, but in general sugar scrubs are reserved for non-face usage.) Today we’re giving you a full rundown on what sugar scrubs are and how they work, plus we’re throwing you some detailed directions for how to use a sugar scrub in your weekly regimen. We’ve also got some product recommendations for you, as well as a DIY sugar scrub recipe.
What Is A Sugar Scrub?
For some extra insight into the topic of sugar scrubs, we hit up our friend Dr. Rita Linkner, a board-certified dermatologist at NYC’s Spring Street Dermatology. “A sugar scrub is a type of mechanical exfoliator that removes dead skin cells from your skin,” she tells us. “They are formulated with sugar granules, which are large and physically exfoliate [your body] for glowing, more radiant skin.”
In addition to sugar granules, sugar scrubs are typically mixed with some type of fruit or nut oil, such as coconut oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, and jojoba oil. So, while the sugar buffs away dead cells to reveal the fresh and bright skin underneath, the oils help hydrate and nourish. The result is happy, healthy skin that’s ready for a red carpet moment.
If you’re wondering what the difference is between sugar scrubs and salt scrubs, the answer is, well, not a whole lot. Both are similarly exfoliative, though sometimes you can find salt scrubs that are a bit larger and therefore more abrasive if that’s your preference. While salt scrubs tend to sting a bit when used on freshly shaved or waxed skin, they’re believed to have nourishing mineral qualities. In general, though, sugar scrubs tend to be gentler.
Is it OK to Use Sugar Scrubs on Your Face?
Like we mentioned above, sugar scrubs work best when you use them as a body exfoliator.“Some people tend to use sugar scrubs on their face. However, since they are not medical grade, I do not recommend them for facial use. Sugar granules can be large – like on par with sand – and this is very exfoliative, especially to someone with sensitive skin,” says Dr. Linkner.
In other words, if you use a sugar scrub on your face then there’s a solid chance it’ll clap back with angry, red, damaged skin if it has not been specifically formulated for the face. The skin on your body is much thicker and more durable, and therefore benefits from a heartier scrub. Bottom line: save the sugar scrub for your body and use products intended for your face to gently exfoliate your way to pretty, bright skin. For example, we discovered the L’Oreal Smooth Sugars scrubs, and when used very gently, they gently buff the skin without causing damage, read our full review here. However, if you have very sensitive skin, it’s better to avoid altogether, as advised above.
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How To Use Sugar Scrubs On Your Body
Using sugar scrubs is about as straightforward as you’d think. You can apply the scrub either before hopping into the shower or once you’re already in there, and it’s just a matter of grabbing a generous glop in your hands and massaging it into your skin using a circular motion or back and forth strokes. Dr. Linkner says you can focus a little more attention on the rougher parts of your body, which include your elbows, knees, ankles, and the bottoms of your feet. Dead skin tends to accumulate here, so they’re basically begging for some exfoliating action.
If you want, you can apply the sugar scrub to a washcloth or hand mitt and massage it into your skin that way. Whatever method you prefer, the biggest thing to note is that you don’t need to press very hard while exfoliating with your sugar scrub. The light pressure from your hands and the abrasiveness of the sugar are all that’s required for the scrub to do its job.
Once the sugar scrub is applied, you can let it set for a couple minutes so that the oil has time to sink into your skin and amp it up with some moisture and nutrients. After simply rinse the scrub away and you’re good to go. Some people like to follow up with a cleanser if the oil feels too heavy on their skin, but others prefer to let the oil soak in throughout the day for extra moisture. It’s really just a matter of your skin type and preferences. As for how often you should scrub down, Dr. Linkner says, “If you are looking to incorporate a sugar scrub into your routine, use it on your body only once a week.” Make it a ritual, babe.
Pro tip: You can also use sugar scrub the day before getting a spray tan or before applying a faux tanning product at home. Why? The exfoliating action creates an even base for the tanner and therefore reduces the risk of splotches, streaks, and uneven fading.
Our Fave Sugar Scrubs
The beauty market is your sweet oyster when it comes to sugar scrubs. Dr. Linkner says one of her faves is Fresh’s Brown Sugar Body Polish Exfoliator, $39. “It uses real brown sugar crystals mixed with a combination of rich oils to exfoliate the skin. It smells divine, too,” she tells us. Those oils include primrose, sweet almond, apricot kernel, and jojoba, which work together to make your skin silky soft. The brand also threw in some ginseng root and peppermint extract to soothe, nourish, and invigorate.
To conjure visions of the beach, try Tree Hut’s Coco Colada Shea Sugar Scrub, $8. This wallet-friendly sugar scrub is made with sugar, coconut oil, pineapple fruit extract, sweet almond oil, orange oil, and shea butter for a proper summer-inspired party on your skin. It also contains glycerin, which means it’ll lather and rinse away nicely.
If you’re feeling particularly extra there’s no way you could go wrong with Frank Body’s Shimmer Scrub, $22, which is made with holographic mica for the perfect bath time selfie opp. In addition to using sugar to exfoliate, it also uses salt and coffee seed powder. The oils at work are grape seed and soybean, and a little carrot root extract and vitamin E are added to further nourish.
The Body Shop also makes a handful of kickass sugar scrubs, including their Shea Exfoliating Sugar Body Scrub, $24, which puts super hydrating shea butter in the spotlight; their Mango Exfoliating Sugar Body Scrub, $20, which smells absolutely divine; and their Spa of the World™ French Grape Seed Scrub, $32, a luxe scrub that combines French grapeseed powder and organic sugar from Paraguay with nourishing Brazil nut oil and grapeseed oil.
How to Make a Sugar Scrub at Home
Wanna whip up your own batch of DIY sugar scrub? Simply combine three parts sugar – we’re partial to brown sugar since it tends to be less abrasive, but white works, too – along with one part of whatever oil you’ve got on hand. Olive, avocado, sunflower, grapeseed, and jojoba are all great choices. To make your DIY sugar scrub even more personalized, add a few drops of your chosen essential oil.
For more DIY’s check out this DIY enzyme scrub that’ll brighten and smooth your complexion after just one use!