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To Scrub, or Not to Scrub?

To Scrub, or Not to Scrub?

Without question, many people like to scrub their skin as a frequent step in their daily skincare routines. The problem is that most scrubs are too harsh and abrasive for skin (and we’ve evaluated dozens). You can find face scrubs that contain just about everything, from volcanic ash to forms of sand, ground-up nuts, sea shells, sugar, and salt. There are also oatmeal and jojoba bead scrub particles or even homemade scrubs; while these might sound as if they’re more kind to your skin, they often aren’t. We cannot stress enough how destructive these scrubs can be on skin if you aren’t very, very careful.

Harsh, abrasive scrubs and stiff-bristled cleansing brushes can cause micro-tears in skin—every time you use them. That’s absolutely not a good thing, especially if you tend to over-scrub, as many people do.

This kind of scrubbing leads to a breakdown in the composition of skin, which is pro-aging and pro-pore clogging, and consistently reduces skin’s ability to restore itself.

So, why do we continue to use these kinds of scrubs? Often it’s because your skin does initially feel softer after each use. But there’s no getting around the fact that, over time, this is not good for skin. It becomes a never-ending cycle of bad skincare—just the opposite of what you want!

You can use any scrub or cleansing brush as long as it’s gentle! The right non-abrasive scrub with rounded beads can be great for skin. You can't always tell just from reading the label if the ingredients are gentle because it depends on how finely the particles are milled or cut, but a good rule of thumb is to test it on the back of your hand. If it feels even the tiniest bit scratchy, avoid at once!

Cleansing brushes are another option but only if the head has soft, silky bristles that don’t abrade skin. Or, do what Paula has done for years—use a water-soluble cleanser with a soft, cushiony washcloth.

Scrubs or cleansing brushes work beautifully as an extra cleansing step. They help to be sure you get all your makeup off each night, or in the morning to feel refreshingly clean, but not dry or tight. They can also be helpful for those with oily or combination skin for eliminating surface signs of dry, flaky skin and clogged pores.

When to use a scrub? You can use a scrub once or twice a day but mostly this is more of a personal preference than anything else. During the day, you can just use it as your cleanser; at night, you can use it after removing your makeup, as you don’t want to scrub makeup “into” your skin.

What a scrub isn’t. Don’t confuse what a scrub does for skin with what an AHA or BHA exfoliant does. Scrubs and exfoliants have completely different benefits and work in very different ways. Scrubs simply refine the very surface of skin; they cannot remove the thick, deeper built-up layers of dead skin that result from sun damage or from oily skin, or white bumps among other issues. AHAs and BHA can reach all the dead layers and they hydrate skin. Plus, BHA can exfoliate directly inside the pore and improve how the pore works—no scrub can do that.

We always love skincare that doesn’t compromise the integrity of your skin!

References for this information:

Clinics in Dermatology, May-June 2012, pages 335–344
Bulletin of National Institute of Health Sciences, volume 129, 2011, pages 93–99
Yonsei Medical Journal, June 2006, pages 293–306

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!