Updated 12/28/20 Over the past thirty years of being an esthetician, I’ve learned that the skincare industry is much like the fashion industry in that it follows trends. What’s hot eventually becomes not hot.
I’ve mostly seen this with specific skincare ingredients, but categories of skincare products are subject to consumer trends, too. One type of product that has been on the unpopular list for a while now is the facial scrub. However, I still stand firm on this one being a great addition to any routine as I know it can give serious results.
Why Have Facial Scrubs Become Unpopular?
There are a few reasons facial scrubs ended up on the no-no list, many of them having to do with the fact that some can be poorly formulated.
Many scrubs still use plastic beads, which are considered to be harmful to the environment.
Back in 2013, it was discovered that plastic beads are slipping through water treatment plants. As a result, the fish are mistaking the plastic beads for food, which is damaging to marine life. Once this word got out, people omitted scrubs from their routine.
Facial scrubs that use non-round, natural grains have a reputation for scratching and lacerating the skin.
Sea salt, sugar, apricot kernels, walnut husks, and other types of granular agents are not made to have round edges. Because of this, they don’t glide perfectly over the face. Instead, they have sharp edges that can create micro-tears and damage the skin’s protective barrier, leading to increased irritation. (Dermarolling is intentionally creating tears and holes in the skin via needles for those who seek that sort of treatment. However, this is done in a controlled way, and you would never want any sort of tearing action from an exfoliating facial scrub.)
With the popularity of leave-on acid exfoliators, who needs to exfoliate with an “old school” scrub?
People love the benefits that removing dry skin cells gives but an acid exfoliator “feels” like it’s working better—especially when it gives a tingle, right? Well, the most effective exfoliation actually requires both chemical and physical exfoliants. More on this in a moment!
They require an extra step which means your skincare routine will take even longer.
First, you have to cleanse. Then use a scrub. Who has time for that, right?
Why I Believe the Benefits of a Facial Scrub Are Still Worth the Effort
Despite their reputation, I very much believe that facial scrubs are still worth the effort and should be part of your routine—here’s why.
A facial scrub will…
- Make pores appear smaller—instantly. (Read my wood analogy in section two of this large pores post.)
- Remove dry skin immediately. Want your skin to feel baby soft? Nothing works faster than a scrub. And who doesn’t love instant gratification?
- Give your skin a brightening glow. Facial scrubs increase blood flow to the skin via the massaging action to bring a fresh, healthy look.
- Fade discoloration from sunspots and acne scars much more quickly than just using acid exfoliators, retinol or prescription retinoids alone.
- Make your makeup go on much smoother. Foundation makeup and powders are notorious for grabbing on to dry, flaky skin and making it appear worse. Use a gentle scrub before doing a makeup look for smoother application.
- Allow for a more effective exfoliation process. When it comes to removing dry, damaged cells, chemical exfoliators with acids work to dissolve the bonds keeping dry, dead skin cells stuck to the skin. After they’re loosened up, physical exfoliators (like a facial scrub) work to lift them off. They both work synergistically to give you a beautiful result when used within a skincare regimen. Read my complete guide to using exfoliants.
As you can see, there are many, many benefits of a facial scrub if you take the time to use one.
Physical Exfoliators (Like Scrubs) Work Especially Well for Removing Unwanted Discoloration, and Here’s How I Know It
Here are two solid examples (I could share so many more) of how physical exfoliation can make a big difference when used in conjunction with chemical exfoliation.
- The first example is about a client who had amazing results as you can see in this before and after picture. We did a combination of chemical peels along with a professional physical exfoliating device called Bio Brasion (similar to microdermabrasion) back when our Dallas, TX spa was still in operation. I can assure you, if she only had chemical peels performed, we would have not gotten to this result. Every time the Bio Brasion was done, it was actually lifting off and removing the pigmented cells that had been loosened by peels, and you could see an immediate improvement in the discoloration.
- The second example is a story about my late husband. He had this one brown spot on his right cheek that I would work on to keep lightened up throughout the year. (Brown spots and pigmentation get much worse in the summer with the heat and sun.) Like many guys, he could have cared less about it, but I was always applying acids and a prescription skin bleach to keep his brown spot at bay. While acids and skin bleach did help a lot, the most dramatic difference came when he shaved his face with a razor. A razor is considered a physical exfoliator and works in the same type of way that a scrub does, by physically removing dead skin cells from the surface. He would shave about twice a week and every time he did, the brown spot would literally get about 30 percent lighter—instantly. Even he was surprised. Just a simple razor over the face lifted away pigmented cells that had already gotten a helping hand from exfoliating acids and a skin bleach. After, I would apply a vitamin C serum and his brown spot would fade even more!
What to Look for in a Facial Scrub
As I mentioned above, scrubs aren’t so popular these days because those that are poorly formulated can harm your skin and the environment. That said, if you use the right kind, they will deliver a tried-and-true result without causing any damage.
- Avoid facial scrubs that use plastic beads. Most companies now will promote right on the box if their scrub is free of plastic beads since they are really a no-no these days—rightfully so. In my skincare line, we only use biodegradable jojoba beads.
- Opt for spherical beads rather than jagged grains. When they are round, they roll gently over the skin. No more mini-tears.
- Choose a 2-in-1 facial scrub. If you want to keep your routine easy, make sure your scrub is based in a cream or gel so that it can act as a cleanser, too. This way, you don’t have to cleanse, rinse, use a scrub, and then rinse. Both our AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser and Mint Renewal Cleanser have rounded jojoba beads in them.
How Often to Use a Facial Scrub
I believe facial scrubs should be used in a skincare routine along with acid exfoliators, but ideally not on the same day. If you’re using an exfoliating acid serum several nights a week, then use a scrub on the days when you’re not using that. Generally, 1-2 times a week is a good rule of thumb for using a facial scrub. I personally like to use a facial scrub in the shower because the beads get rinsed away easier when you’re standing up and don’t get stuck in your hairline.
So there you have it. A modern facial scrub is very effective at helping you achieve smoother, softer, and more even-toned skin. What are you waiting for?
Interested in reading more of my helpful posts? Here are 10 skincare rules that I swear by.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”