- Exfoliating removes dead cells from the skin’s surface to improve its health and appearance.
- Homemade exfoliators can effectively smooth both your face and body.
- Exfoliation should only be performed 2–3 times a week to prevent irritating the skin.
Regular exfoliation is key to keeping skin healthy and glowing. While there are a huge number of commercial exfoliating products available, you can create effective homemade exfoliators for both face and body with a few simple ingredients.
Benefits of Homemade Exfoliators
Exfoliating removes the uppermost layer of dead skin on your face or body. The process brightens and smooths your skin while preventing the pore congestion that leads to dullness, flakiness and breakouts.
Exfoliants fall into two categories. Chemical exfoliants break down and loosen dead skin cells on a molecular level, while mechanical exfoliants slough off dead skin through physical abrasion.
Homemade exfoliants are a cost-effective alternative to commercial products. They can work both physically and chemically, depending on the ingredients you choose. They are particularly beneficial for people with skin that does not react well to common skin care product ingredients.
Homemade Exfoliating Face Scrub for Your Skin Type
A DIY face scrub can be easily customized to your skin’s needs. The ingredients you choose can, for example, help control oil production in acne-prone skin or provide extra moisture for dry skin.
However, not all natural ingredients are necessarily beneficial to your skin. White sugar, baking soda and crushed walnut shells are damaging to the skin of your face and not suitable for any skin type. They can, however, be used on the rest of the body.
Similarly, though olive oil is often recommended as an ingredient to use in scrubs, it has been found to damage the stratum corneum, the skin’s protective barrier.
These scrub recipes use common kitchen ingredients to address the needs of each skin type with science-based evidence.
Milk and almond scrub for normal skin
This scrub is both a physical and a chemical exfoliant, both types being well-tolerated by normal skin.
The finely-ground almond meal helps slough off dead skin while milk contains lactic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that unglues dead skin cells for a brighter, smoother appearance.
- 1/2 cup of finely ground almond meal
- 2 tbsp whole milk powder
- Combine ingredients in a plastic container.
- Add a small quantity of warm water to the mixture to form a paste.
- Apply over the face using a circular motion, avoiding the eyes.
- Rinse off with lukewarm water and apply moisturizer.
Cinnamon and yogurt scrub for oily and acne-prone skin
Physical exfoliation can irritate active acne blemishes. This scrub contains cinnamon, which is soft enough for use on mild acne. If you have severe acne, use the yogurt on its own. The lactic acid in the yogurt provides gentle chemical exfoliation with no scrubbing involved and moisturizes the skin without blocking pores.
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp plain yogurt
- Combine ingredients in a small bowl.
- Apply to the face with your fingers, scrubbing in a circular motion and avoiding the eye area.
- Wait 15 minutes, then rinse with lukewarm water and moisturize.
Coconut oil, brown sugar and lemon scrub for dry skin
The coconut oil in this scrub provides extra nourishment for dry skin. It can be replaced with jojoba or almond oil for similar benefits. Lemon juice has lightening properties to reduce hyperpigmentation and can also thicken the skin.
Don’t swap out the brown sugar for white or raw—brown sugar has softer granules and is thus better than other types of sugar for use on the face.
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1–2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Combine oil and lemon juice in a bowl.
- Add brown sugar and stir until you reach a thick, gritty consistency.
- Apply the mixture all over the face, avoiding the eyes.
- Use a wet washcloth to remove the scrub.
- If you have very dry skin, apply a moisturizer; for some people, the oil residue from the scrub will be hydrating enough.
Colloidal oatmeal and aloe vera face scrub for sensitive skin
Colloidal oatmeal is oatmeal ground into a very fine powder. It is known to help restore the stratum corneum, which is usually compromised in sensitive skin. The superfine particles can also gently exfoliate.
Colloidal oatmeal is available at pharmacies; you can also make your own at home by grinding plain, non-instant oatmeal into a fine powder in a spice grinder.
Aloe vera gel has been demonstrated to reduce redness, a common symptom of skin sensitivity. If you have an aloe vera plant, extract the gel by cutting off a leaf at its base and squeezing the gel out. Otherwise, you can purchase 100% aloe vera gel at a pharmacy.
- 1/4 cup colloidal oatmeal
- 2–3 tbsp aloe vera gel
- Combine colloidal oatmeal and aloe vera gel thoroughly to form a thick paste.
- Apply all over the face in a circular motion, avoiding the eyes.
- Wait 15 minutes before rinsing with lukewarm water.
- Follow up with a moisturizer.
DIY Exfoliating Body Scrubs
The skin on your body is thicker and less sensitive than the skin on your face. It can therefore tolerate body scrubs containing larger, rougher granules to slough off dead skin. The oil in the scrubs helps deeply hydrate and smooth typically dry areas such as elbows and knees.
Almond oil and sea salt scrub
While sea salt is too coarse to be used on the face, it is an effective ingredient in a body scrub. After you rinse off the scrub, the almond oil leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth.
- 1/2 cup mineral sea salt
- 1/4 cup almond oil
- 1–2 drops essential oil of your choice (optional)
- Combine ingredients in a bowl, adjusting quantities as necessary to create a paste.
- Apply in a circular motion over the entire body excluding the face.
- Rinse off in the shower and apply body lotion to your still-damp skin.
Honey and sugar scrub
Honey is beneficial for any skin type. It contains antioxidants to fight the signs of aging and has antibacterial properties that can help treat body acne. Honey also smooths and hydrates the skin without adding excess oil, making it appropriate for both dry and oily skin.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2–3 tbsp unpasteurized honey
- Combine honey with sugar to form a thick paste.
- Apply all over the body except the face, rubbing in a circular motion.
- Rinse off in the shower and apply a body lotion or cream to your still-damp skin.
Coffee grounds are another effective exfoliator for the body. Evidence suggests that coffee grounds can reduce the appearance of cellulite, but further research is needed to support this claim. The caffeine in coffee is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it constricts blood vessels and may tighten the skin’s appearance.
If you have dry skin, add a few tablespoons of jojoba oil, coconut oil or almond milk to this scrub to deeply moisturize your skin.
- 1/2 cup fresh coffee grounds
- Hot water
- 2 tbsp oil of your choice (for dry skin)
- Pour coffee grounds into a small bowl.
- Add hot water a little at a time until the mixture becomes a thick paste.
- Add oil of your choice (optional).
- Rub the mixture over your body, excluding the face, in a circular motion.
- Rinse off in the shower and follow up with a body lotion.
Best Way to Use Your Homemade Exfoliator
Following a few general guidelines will help you reap the maximum benefits of your exfoliation routine.
Only exfoliate your face and body once to two times a week; exfoliating more often may damage your skin’s natural protective barrier.
Exfoliate in the evening. That way, you can apply a nourishing moisturizer afterward and give your skin time to recuperate while you rest.
Do not exfoliate if you have open cuts, inflamed acne lesions, or a sunburn.
Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells by physically scrubbing or chemically ungluing and dissolving your topmost layer of skin. Homemade exfoliants are easy to prepare and a cost-effective alternative to commercial products.
The scrub you choose should be customized to your skin’s needs. For example, a person with dry skin can use an exfoliant with coconut oil for extra moisture, while a person with sensitive skin could use aloe vera to soothe irritation.
Avoid using facial scrubs with rough granules such as crushed nutshells or white sugar, which can cause micro-wounds in the skin of the face. These ingredients are better suited to use on the body, which has thicker skin.
For best results, exfoliate once or twice a week in the evenings before bed.
- Algiert-Zielińska B, Mucha P, Rotsztejn H. Lactic and lactobionic acids as typically moisturizing compounds. Int J Dermatol. 2019 Mar;58(3):374-379. doi:10.1111/ijd.14202
- Bernstein EF, Underhill CB, Lakkakorpi J, Ditre CM, Uitto J, Yu RJ, Scott EV. Citric acid increases viable epidermal thickness and glycosaminoglycan content of sun-damaged skin. Dermatol Surg. 1997 Aug;23(8):689-94. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9256916
- Byun, S. Y., Kwon, S. H., Heo, S. H., Shim, J. S., Du, M. H., & Na, J. I. (2015). Efficacy of Slimming Cream Containing 3.5% Water-Soluble Caffeine and Xanthenes for the Treatment of Cellulite: Clinical Study and Literature Review. Annals of dermatology, 27(3), 243–249. doi:10.5021/ad.2015.27.3.243
- Cappelletti, S., Piacentino, D., Sani, G., & Aromatario, M. (2015). Caffeine: cognitive and physical performance enhancer or psychoactive drug?. Current neuropharmacology, 13(1), 71–88. doi:10.2174/1570159X13666141210215655
- Catherine Mack Correa, M., & Nebus, J. (2012). Management of patients with atopic dermatitis: the role of emollient therapy. Dermatology research and practice, 2012, 836931. doi:10.1155/2012/836931
- Danby, S. G., AlEnezi, T., Sultan, A., Lavender, T., Chittock, J., Brown, K., & Cork, M. J. (2012). Effect of Olive and Sunflower Seed Oil on the Adult Skin Barrier: Implications for Neonatal Skin Care. Pediatric Dermatology, 30(1), 42–50. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1470.2012.01865.x
- Fox, L. T., du Plessis, J., Gerber, M., van Zyl, S., Boneschans, B., & Hamman, J. H. (2014). In Vivo skin hydration and anti-erythema effects of Aloe vera, Aloe ferox and Aloe marlothii gel materials after single and multiple applications. Pharmacognosy magazine, 10(Suppl 2), S392–S403. doi:10.4103/0973-1296.133291
- Mohapatra, D. P., Thakur, V., & Brar, S. K. (2011). Antibacterial efficacy of raw and processed honey. Biotechnology research international, 2011, 917505. doi:10.4061/2011/917505
- Smit, N., Vicanova, J., & Pavel, S. (2009). The hunt for natural skin whitening agents. International journal of molecular sciences, 10(12), 5326–5349. doi:10.3390/ijms10125326