One of the most common body treatments offered at spas is the body scrub. It consists of a head to toe exfoliation followed by a shower and moisturizer application. Outside of the spa setting, body scrubs are available EVERYWHERE. Just walk down the bath-and-beauty isle of any drugstore and you will see numerous brands of scrubs for the body and face (remember St. Ives Apricot Scrub…available since forever). Specialty shops like The Body Shop or Bath and Body Works also carry them in a variety of flavors and consistencies. With all this choice, how does one pick the right scrub and how can you tell the difference between them all?
Universally speaking, body scrubs will improve circulation by way of the tiny capillary networks that feed the skin. The friction of rubbing the scrub into the surface of the skin causes these networks to flood the surrounding tissues, making you turn a little red. The boost of “nutrition” helps the fresh skin cells in the deepest layer of skin known as the dermis to migrate to the surface. The lifetime of a skin cell is 30 days. Once it migrates to the surface it officially “dies” and becomes saturated with keratin, a protein whose fibers coil and bind to form a protective layer over the skin to keep the outside elements from damaging it. Keratin does the same thing for hair and nails. Age and hormones (for women) will change how the cells turnover, making skin uneven and rough. The scrub itself is exfoliating away the surface layer of dead cells, helping along the natural order of things. In addition, it can unclog pores, helping skin to breathe as well as keep the naturally acidic pH in check, so you will smell fresh.
Now that the science behind exfoliation has been explained, let’s take into account what is going on with your skin. Are you prone to oiliness? Do you shed like a lizard? Do you have sensitive, reactive skin prone to breakouts? Do you want to prevent ingrown hairs and bumps? These are all important factors in choosing a scrub. Here is how I would break down your decision.
SUGAR OR SALT
Most scrubs on the market are either sugar or sea-salt based. Sugar based scrubs are more moisturizing than salt based because sugar molecules bind to water, thus retaining moisture in whatever state they are present in. The sugar exfoliates and holds moisture, so that skin will feel hydrated post scrub. This molecular action enhances the job of the moisturizer, helping to keep the skin properly hydrated. If your skin is the type that flakes off when the seasons change or has a tendency to remain dry no matter what the weather, sugar based it the route to go. Sugar is also best with skin that is highly sensitive, as it is not as abrasive in texture as salt.
Salt based scrubs, aside from being the most aggressive texture for exfoliating, draw everything out of the skin, including water. These types of scrubs can effectively address rough patches and clogged pores because the properties in sea salt ionically bond to positively charged impurities that would be found on the surface of the skin and lodged in pores. Reference my post on DETOX treatments for a more in depth chemistry lesson. Often, the salt based scrubs will have eucalyptus essential oil added to them, which acts as an antiseptic and antimicrobial agent on the skin. Salt based scrubs are potent; therefore skin absolutely needs to be moisturized well post treatment in order to ensure hydration.
Addendum: Other scrub bases can consist of fruit seeds, ground nut shells and oatmeal (St. Ives anyone). People with allergies, especially nut based ones should be wary of the seed and nut shell varieties, dependent on their level of reactivity. The oatmeal based scrubs are super gentle and not very abrasive at all. They are often used to relieve the itch and discomfort of chicken pox, mosquito bites, hives, sunburn and for a gentle exfoliation of the face.
SCENTS and FLAVORS
Marketing, marketing and more marketing. Flavors and scents of various scrubs on the market are designed with the buyers’ eyes and noses in mind. However, certain essential oils, as the aforementioned eucalyptus oil described above, can have therapeutic affects on the exterior and interior of one’s body. Scrubs with lavender, vanilla or chamomile essential oils are soothing to the skin, helping to neutralize redness, prevent bacterial growth and tone down the itch and irritation of such conditions as dermatitis, eczema and acne. Also great for congested skin are lemon and orange scented scrubs, as the essential oils of both help the lymphatic system do its job of clearing out toxins. They also control excess oil production and aid mature skin to retain moisture. Lastly, mint oils like spearmint and peppermint have similar therapeutic qualities as the eucalyptus oil. They boost circulation to the skin through the menthol component that cools on contact and then vasodilates those little capillary networks. Best of all, they stimulate the nervous system, which can leave you feeling completely invigorated.
With the above in mind, you can now expertly peruse your spa menu and/or drugstore beauty aisle armed with the therapeutic knowledge of a beauty practice that is beyond skin deep. You can also make your own scrub, using the information above to tailor it for your specific need. Some recipes for homemade scrubs can be found here:
Here are some of my favorite Over-The-Counter Scrubs:
Worwood, “The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Over 600 Natural, Non-Toxic and Fragrant Recipes to Create Health – Beauty – a Safe Home Environment” (1991)