Q: Are face scrubs really harmful to my skin? Why does everyone hate them?

Short answer: They are too aggressive on the skin and harm the environment.

Why Scrubs are Used

Scrubs are used for exfoliation, which means removing dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. This effect is achieved through natural or synthetic abrasives: tiny particles that increase the effect of friction during application, similar to sandpaper.

Why They Are Disliked

Scrubs with natural abrasives are perhaps the worst option for facial skin. Due to the “jagged” shape of the abrasive particles, they can cause micro-damage to the skin and disrupt the integrity of the protective barrier. The exception is gentle products with natural jojoba beads or fine bamboo powder. Jojoba beads are made from the fraction of this plant – resulting in smooth, rounded particles that do not injure the skin. Bamboo powder is often sold as a “just add water” product – when mixed with a small amount of water, it forms a slightly abrasive paste that gently exfoliates the skin.

Scrubs also harm the environment. Scrubs with synthetic granules often use plastic derivatives, usually polyethylene. These particles are gentler on the skin and don’t scratch it, but they are not environmentally friendly. Passing through drains, plastic granules end up in rivers, lakes, and seas, where they are ingested by aquatic life. It’s believed that plastic particles have a toxic effect on the fish that consume them, and their further movement up the food chain is undesirable for humans. A synthetic scrub component that does not harm the environment is microcrystalline wax, derived from petroleum. Its granules are as soft as plastic ones and are fully biodegradable.

What to Use Instead

Instead of scrubs, you can use AHA, BHA, and PHA acids. Exfoliation occurs by dissolving the lipid “glue” that holds skin cells together, rather than through mechanical friction like scrubs.


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