22 Best Organic Face Scrubs & Exfoliators of 2021
PUBLISHED: 07/02/2019 | LAST UPDATED: 01/17/2020
Exfoliation is the secret beauty weapon for ageless, plump, glowing skin all year round. Peer into any beauty experts routine and you’re sure to find some form of routine exfoliation. Do you often experience skin that is dull, lackluster, and dry? Are your pores constantly clogged? Do you have blackheads? Acne? Wrinkles? If so, then adding a natural face scrub or exfoliant into your weekly regimen is truly a must. However, if done improperly, exfoliation can quite literally damage your skin. If the thought of exfoliating your skin conjures up thoughts of fear, pain, irritation, and raw skin– then chances are you’ve experienced the side effects of over-exfoliation. Whether you’re a newbie to facial exfoliation or have been (literally) burned before by the process in the past, we’ve created this simple guide to show you how to use gentle, natural face exfoliators and facial scrubs to transform your skin–pain free!
What is Exfoliation and What are the Benefits?
Our skin is constantly regenerating, leaving dead skin cells on the surface. This creates dryness, texture, and clogged pores. Exfoliation is the process of agitating the surface of the skin to remove the topmost layer of dead skin cells and stimulate cell turnover (new skin cell growth).
There are two types of exfoliation: chemical exfoliation and mechanical exfoliation. Chemical exfoliation utilizes a variety of acids at varying strengths to dissolve dead skin cells, dirt, and oil. Manual exfoliation uses physical abrasives to remove dead skin cells physically. Both methods are valid and can produce amazing results when used effectively.
Routine exfoliation is beneficial because the buildup of dead skin can lead to irritated, dull, and blotchy skin. A lack of exfoliation can also be the cause of acne, blackheads, and clogged pores. To top it all off, regular exfoliation strengthens your skin’s barrier function, improves hyperpigmentation, and provides you with preventative anti-aging benefits (1).
Types of Natural Facial Exfoliators
The best way to exfoliate at home is by using a gentle, natural face scrub that is free from synthetics, harsh abrasives, micro-beads, and damaging acids. The truth is that you don’t need to use heavy scrubs or overly concentrated acids to properly exfoliate and achieve glowing skin. A weekly all natural and organic mask, gentle fruit acid peel, or powder-based facial scrub is all that is needed. Natural peels use acids to exfoliate the skin by breaking down the dead skin on the surface. Common natural peel ingredients include fruit enzymes and AHA/BHA acids. Natural masks provide exfoliation by breaking down dead skin cells and drawing impurities from deep within the pores. Finally, gentle natural facial scrubs manually remove dead skin cells with powders (like almond, coffee grounds, oats, and clays), fine salts, and other abrasives like shredded coconut and sugar. There are also other exfoliating options such as handheld cleansing brushes and exfoliating sponges.
How to Exfoliate to Avoid Damaging the Skin?
Over-exfoliation is what happens to the skin after exfoliating with ingredients that are too strong or exfoliating too frequently. The result is red, rough, and dry skin. In the worst cases, over-exfoliating can result in scars, bleeding, hyperpigmentation, and deep burns (in the case of potent acid peels) (2).
To avoid this, it’s best to start with a gentle exfoliation method once per week. This could be a natural peel, mask, or face scrub that we’ve researched and recommended below or another gentle product that is free from undesirable ingredients. See how your skin reacts to the product and process, then slowly increase usage to 1-3 times a week depending on your skin type and tolerance. Sensitive skin types should stick to once per week or less, while oily and dry skin types can work up to three times per week. There is no need to rush, take your time and find the right balance for your skin.
How to Find a Great Natural Face Exfoliator?
When it comes to exfoliation products, it is a classic case of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good are made with natural and organic ingredients that are beneficial for the skin such as oatmeal (gently abrasive and soothing), apple cider vinegar (contains good bacteria which is great for acne), and fruit enzymes and acids are all great natural exfoliators. The bad and ugly are made with plastic micro-beads (irritating and harmful to the environment), synthetic fragrances, harsh abrasives and scrubs, concentrated synthetic acids, and alcohol (dries the skin).
If you want a quality natural facial exfoliator then you have two options: make your own facial scrub at home or purchase an all-natural product from a reputable organic brand. Making your own DIY exfoliator scrub is simple. Check out our DIY Exfoliator Guide at the bottom of this article for a few of our favorite recipes and a list of our 10 Best Natural Face Exfoliators that you can find in your kitchen right now.
For a list of vetted natural exfoliants, then check out our top list of battle tested products from the best organic brands. You won’t find any sulfates, parabens, phthalates, petrochemicals, mineral oils, sodium lauryl sulfate (a harsh detergent), synthetic fragrances + dyes, PEG compounds, or anything else from our list of banned ingredients. Happy scrubbing!
10 Best Natural Exfoliators and DIY Face Exfoliator Recipes
Making a homemade exfoliant from natural ingredients is as easy as a five minute trip to your kitchen. The goal of exfoliation is to remove dead skin as well as trapped dirt and oil within the pores. Fortunately, you don’t need fancy ingredients in order to effectively exfoliate your skin. Yummy natural ingredients like oatmeal, pineapple, milk, rice, and sugar are all effective options. As with all things skin care, the quality of the results depends on the quality of the ingredients and formulation. Remember, you’ll be using this DIY scrub on your face, around your mouth, and eyes. Be sure to use the best ingredients that you can find. We’ve suggested some organic versions of each natural exfoliant below. Look for certified organic, non-gmo, and 100% pure versions of each ingredient when possible.
Oatmeal is a gentle manual exfoliant which works by removing dead skin without irritating or cutting the skin. It’s anti-inflammatory and softening properties are great for soothing sensitive skin. Amp up the moisturizing properties of an oatmeal exfoliator scrub by combining with oils, yogurt or milk and rub into the skin in circular motions. To use, take organic rolled oats and grind into a fine powder using a food processor or coffee grinder. Take a tablespoon of the powder and add a few drops of water to turn into a paste. Massage the paste into your skin in the areas that need a good scrub (typically the nose, chin, forehead, and cheeks). Rinse and follow up with your favorite organic cleanser.
Organic Cane Sugar or Brown Sugar
The texture of sugar particles is effective for physically removing dead skin and gently agitating the surface of the skin to reveal smooth skin below. To use, find a quality organic cane sugar or brown sugar and mix with one or more organic oils to create a wet, sandy texture and rub into the skin in circular motions. If the sugar feels too rough on your skin, run it through a food processor or coffee grinder to create a finer scrub.
Sea salt has coarse granules great for physically exfoliating the skin, and is best for people without sensitive skin as the granules are more abrasive (than other exfoliants such as sugar). Sea salt can help to cleanse the skin and fight bacteria. A good authentic and finely ground Himalayan Pink Salt is a great option. Sea salt can be used on its own (just mix with a little organic oils before applying), or combined with any of the ingredients on this list to make your own DIY salt scrub.
Non-GMO Baking Soda
Baking soda granules are tiny yet effective at physically nudging dry skin away from the face, although not recommended for sensitive skin as it may trigger irritation. To use, find a non-gmo baking soda and mix 1 tsp with 1 tablespoon of another powder (like almond powder, oat meal powder, or coffee) and add enough water to create a paste. Massage the mixture skin in circular motions before rinsing thoroughly.
Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Organic raw apple cider vinegar is the fermented product of apple juice and good bacteria. The gentle acids in ACV help to break down dead skin cells and is great for acne-prone skin as it has antibacterial properties. Apple cider vinegar is potent and must be diluted with water before applying to the skin. Dilute 1 part organic apple cider vinegar with 4 parts water and mix. Soak a cotton round into the mixture and sweep over the face. You can also combine this diluted apple cider vinegar toner mixture with coffee, oatmeal powder, or almond powder to add a little more exfoliation power to the scrub.
Organic Coffee Grounds
Coffee grounds have an abrasive texture for manually removing dead skin cells without damaging the skin. As an added bonus, the antioxidants and caffeine contained within coffee help to stimulate circulation while fighting fine lines and wrinkles. To use, combine organic coffee grounds with an organic oil (coconut oil is a great pairing) and massage all over the face and body.
Ground raw rice has a gentle, yet abrasive texture. The amino acids in rice help to break down and softly remove dead skin cells. Ground rice is known to be an anti-inflammatory and helps to balance oily skin. Combine with oil, lemon juice and/or honey and rub in circular motions over the face.
Almond meal is a very gentle way to get physical exfoliation without being overly abrasive or irritating. Almond powder contains oils which nourish dry and sensitive skin. Combine a non-gmo almond meal with a little fine ground Himalayan Pink Salt and organic oat meal powder. Take 1 tablespoon of the mixture and add enough water to form a paste. Massage the paste into the skin and rinse.
Certain fruits (such as pineapple, papaya, kiwi, and citrus fruits) contain natural enzymes and acids which break down dead skin cells. You can take advantage of these natural enzymes in your own DIY exfoliating fruit mask. Blend one or more of the fruits mentioned above until they form a smooth paste. Then, mix 1 tablespoon of the fruit mixture with 1 tablespoon almond meal and 1 tablespoon coconut oil. Massage the mixture of the skin and let sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing. Think this is too good to be true? Turns out, topical application of enzymes in these fruits show significant improvement in skin smoothness and texture, reducing the depth and number of lines in wrinkles (3).
Milk (lactic acid)
Milk contains lactic acid which gently breaks down dead, dull skin cells. Milk also has a softening effect on the skin and is gentle enough to be used on sensitive skin. In a study, lactic acid proved to be one of the most effective acids in improving skin hydration and wrinkle improvement (4). To use at home, combine 1 tablespoon of milk with 1 tablespoon oatmeal powder and a drop of your favorite essential oil. Massage the mixture over the face and let it sit for a minute or two before rinsing.
DIY Natural Face Exfoliator Recipes
There are endless ways to mix and match the above ingredients to make your own DIY natural exfoliant at home. Homemade facial scrubs and exfoliating masks can sometimes work as well or better than store-bought scrubs. We’ve listed two simple natural facial scrub recipes below, but don’t let us limit your imagination! Here are some tips to creating your own scrub:
- Mix in a few drops (1 drop per tablespoon of oil or scrub) of your favorite essential oil to create your own signature scent.
- Be sure to mix physical exfoliant powders and scrubs (like salts and almond powder) with a carrier oil. These oils help to gently distribute the scrub, trap dirt and oil, and help to dissolve dead skin cells. Good carrier oils to explore are jojoba oil (for all skin types), olive oil (hydrates and soothes dry skin), grapeseed oil (non-comedogenic for oily skin), and sweet almond oil (all skin types).
- It’s best to make your scrub as soon as you plan on using it. Bacteria love to hang out in moist environments and these scrubs are technically food-grade. Instead, prep and mix the dry materials in bulk separately from the oils and liquids. When ready to use, mix only the amount of dry and wet ingredients needed for one-time use.
DIY ORGANIC SUGAR & OLIVE OIL FACIAL SCRUB
Method: Combine all ingredients in a small container, cup or bowl. Stand over your bathroom sink and rub the mixture onto your (clean) face and neck with circular movements. Leave for a few minutes to allow the oils to soak into the skin. Rinse off and follow up with your favorite cleanser.
SOOTHING ORGANIC OATMEAL FACIAL SCRUB
- 2 Tablespoons Organic Rolled Oats (ground)
- 1 Tablespoon Organic Plain Greek Yogurt
- 1 Tablespoon Organic Jojoba Oil
Method: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Prepare your skin for exfoliation by cleansing with a natural cleanser. Massage the oatmeal and yogurt mixture onto your face and neck with circular movements. It’s a good idea to stand over your sink as this scrub can get messy! Let the scrub sit on your face as a mask for a few minutes to allow the oils and oat extracts to soak into the skin. Rinse off and follow up with an organic toner.
1. (2009) Clinical and cosmeceutical uses of hydroxyacids; Clinics In Dermatology https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0738081X09001564?via%3Dihub
2. (2013) Measuring Changes In Skin Barrier Function With Skin Impedance: Household and Personal Care Today https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/20b3/67d4d457b9fef3d963b351c68e0973aa0e35.pdf
3. (2007) Topical proteolytic enzymes affect epidermal and dermal properties; International Journal Of Cosmetic Science https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18489307
4. (1996) Comparative effectiveness of alpha-hydroxy acids on skin properties; International Journal Of Cosmetic Science https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19245467