- Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is an alkaline ingredient that can function as a physical exfoliant.
- Baking soda removes dirt, grime and dead skin cells from the surface of the skin by neutralizing the skin’s acid barrier.
- Despite the efficacy of baking soda as an exfoliant, its side effects are more serious than other alternatives.
Exfoliating is an important part of a good skin care routine. When skin is exfoliated, oil, dirt and dead skin cells are removed, leaving skin fresh and prepared for the next step of your routine.
Baking soda is one of many ingredients with exfoliating properties and is commonly included in other skin care products. However, baking soda alone can also be used as a skin exfoliant.
Why Is Baking Soda Used as an Exfoliant?
Baking soda is an abrasive, which means it’s capable of removing material from the skin’s surface to exfoliate it.
In addition to being abrasive, baking soda exfoliants are alkaline, which means they work by neutralizing acids. Since the skin is covered by an acid mantle, these exfoliants disrupt and remove this skin barrier. As a result, oil, moisture and other particles are removed from the skin’s surface.
How is it used?
Baking soda home remedies are a DIY solution to exfoliate the skin. Baking soda can be used alone to make an exfoliating face mask or scrub, or added to other ingredients to increase its exfoliating capability.
A baking soda exfoliant can be made as follows:
- Combine 1 tbsp baking soda and several drops of water in a small bowl.
- Mix to form a paste.
- Gently rub the paste in small circular motions onto the desired part of your body for 2–3 minutes; avoid the delicate eye area.
- Rinse with warm water; pat dry.
If you prefer, a few drops of your favorite essential oil can be added to the mixture.
- Combine 1 tbsp baking soda, ½ tbsp of honey and 2 tbsps of fresh lemon juice in a bowl.
- Mix to form a paste.
- Apply the paste to your face and leave for up to 15 minutes.
- Remove the paste with a lukewarm towel; wash with cool water and pat dry.
Coffee can also be added to a baking soda scrub to enhance its vasoconstricting and antioxidative effects.
- Combine 1 cup of ground coffee, 3 tbsps of coconut oil, 2 tbsps baking soda and 1 tbsp of brown sugar in a bowl.
- Mix to form a paste.
- Scrape paste into an ice cube tray and freeze for 1 hour.
- Gently rub an ice cube along your skin as needed.
Is It an Effective Exfoliant?
Baking soda is made up of fine grains that help remove dead skin cells and dirt without causing the irritation you might experience from using an exfoliating brush or harsh scrub.
Safety and Side Effects of Baking Soda Exfoliants
Both the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Cosmetic Ingredient Review have determined that baking soda is safe for cosmetic purposes. Additionally, sodium bicarbonate is a common ingredient in several over-the-counter (OTC) cosmetics.
Although baking soda is safe for use in cosmetics, it can react negatively when it comes into contact with your skin and the moisture within.
The outer layer of skin, called the stratum corneum, is home to the acid mantle. Beneath the acid mantle is a moisture barrier responsible for keeping skin hydrated. When baking soda comes in contact with the acid mantle, it neutralizes the acid and compromises the moisture barrier, which can cause skin to lose hydration and become dry.
Changes to the acid barrier impact the composition of bacterial flora on the skin surface. In other words, your skin loses the bacteria it’s familiar with and becomes exposed to bacteria that can lead to skin conditions.
Though baking soda can serve as an exfoliant, its neutralization of the acid mantle and disruption to the moisture barrier can lead to undesired and negative impacts on your skin.
Once the protective acid mantle has been disturbed, baking soda can cause skin irritation. While low concentrations of baking soda in other cosmetic products are less likely to irritate, skin irritation can develop after repeated and direct contact between your skin and large amounts of baking soda.
Baking soda skin exfoliants act as physical exfoliants to remove debris and dead skin from the surface. Physical exfoliation triggers immediate desquamation, or skin peeling. As a result, there can be an increased loss of skin hydration, leading to dry and irritated skin.
Should You Use a Baking Soda Exfoliator?
While baking soda is useful and effective for many nonexfoliative purposes (such as baking and cleaning), its use as an exfoliating scrub or face mask is currently unsupported by research and studies. Baking soda may, in theory, serve as an exfoliant, but its effects on the skin make it a poor choice.
If you do use a baking soda exfoliator, you should remain wary of the risks compared to the benefits. Before exfoliating with baking soda, perform a small spot treatment on your skin to gauge how your skin reacts.
Use baking soda exfoliants only two times per week, at most, to avoid overexfoliating. In addition, ensure you are keeping your skin hydrated by including a moisturizer as part of your skin care routine.
Alternatives to Baking Soda Exfoliants
In contrast to baking soda skin exfoliants, many professionally-formulated cosmetic products have been proven safer and more effective for exfoliating the skin.
Chemical skin exfoliants, such as alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) are made with ingredients that exfoliate the skin through a chemical process in which the bonds between skin cells are broken to encourage cell turnover and the formation of new cells. At the same time, dead skin, oil and bacteria are peeled away from the stratum corneum to leave behind newer and healthier skin.
AHA exfoliants, such as glycolic, lactic or mandelic acid, are water-soluble, which means they are best used for dry skin. AHAs are also humectants and work to maintain moisture in your skin. As a result, they are a common exfoliating solution for dry skin.
BHA exfoliants, such as salicylic, tropic, malic and (sometimes) citric acid, are lipid-soluble and capable of passing through the oil and fatty tissue in the skin. As a result, BHAs provide a deeper exfoliation and help to clean and unclog pores and hair follicles. BHA exfoliants are especially helpful for exfoliating oily skin.
AHA and BHA exfoliants can be used in tandem, but should be introduced into your skin care routine on an alternating basis.
At-home chemical exfoliants can be made by mashing and then mixing fruits such as papaya and pineapple into a face mask before applying it to the skin.
Physical exfoliants, such as those using baking soda, are abrasive to the skin. They function by mechanically scraping skin away from the body.
Exfoliating scrubs are a common physical exfoliant and are often made with ingredients such as:
- Fruit pits
- Jojoba beads, made from vegetable oil
- Salt and sugar grains
Physical exfoliation tools are another method for manually exfoliating the skin, and include:
- Facecloths, microfiber cloths and sponges
- Exfoliating brushes and mitts
- Dermaplaning tools
Cosmetic procedures such as dermaplaning and microdermabrasion can be performed by your dermatologist to physically exfoliate your skin.
DIY physical exfoliants in addition to baking soda scrubs, include:
- Coffee grounds
Baking soda can function as a skin exfoliant because of its alkalinity, which neutralizes the acid mantle of the skin to remove dead skin cells and bacteria. By disrupting the acid mantle, however, the moisture barrier beneath is also compromised. The result is skin that becomes susceptible to moisture loss and dryness.
The loss of the protective acid mantle and moisture barrier also opens up the potential for foreign bacteria to grow in the exfoliated area. In addition, frequent use of baking soda as an abrasive exfoliant can begin to irritate the skin and further dry it out.
Although baking soda can serve as an exfoliant, individuals should be wary of using it as such. Instead, professionally-formulated chemical and physical exfoliants have similar or better efficacy without the risk of compromising the skin’s natural protection.
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