Exfoliation is key to maintaining smooth, soft and healthy skin. The process of exfoliating involves using a “scrubby” material coupled with manual scrubbing to remove dead skin. Removing dead skin allows moisturizer and other skin care products to absorb better. Removing dead skin also create a more even and radiant skin tone. When creating your own handmade beauty products, there are a wide variety of natural exfoliant options.
Because there are so many different types of exfoliants, it can be hard to choose. The most important thing to consider when selecting an exfoliant is where you plan on using it. For example, facial skin typically requires a very gentle exfoliant, while rougher patches of skin such as heels or elbows may require a larger exfoliant with more texture. You may also want to consider how you are applying the exfoliant. For example, a larger exfoliant, such as poppy seeds, may be scratchy when applied directly to the skin, but is more gentle once dispersed throughout a bar of soap. You can also mix large and fine powdery textured exfoliants to find the perfect blend for you. Choosing the ideal exfoliant is really all about personal preference. =)
When making cold process and melt and pour soap, we recommend adding 1 teaspoon of exfoliant per pound of soap. Depending on your personal preference, you may want to use more or less exfoliant. For cold process soap, if the exfoliant is fine and powdery, dispersing it in a lightweight liquid oil before adding it to the soap will help prevent chunks. If adding a fine powdery exfoliant to melt and pour, disperse the exfoliant in rubbing alcohol and add to the melted soap. Larger, heavier exfoliants can be added to cold process soap directly at trace. If adding large exfoliants to Bramble Berry Premium melt and pour, make sure that the soap has cooled to about 125 ° F to avoid them from sinking to the bottom of the base.
Below is a list of popular exfoliants and how to use them. Keep in mind there are no concrete rules when using exfoliants. Which exfoliant you use, and how much you add will depend on your skin and personal preference. Start small; you can always add more if it’s not scrubby enough but you can’t take it out. If you’re not sure which exfoliant to use for your project, you might enjoy the Exfoliant Sampler Pack. It comes with eight 1 oz. samples of various exfoliants, shown below.
One of the most gentle exfoliants, colloidal oatmeal is micro-fine ground oatmeal. It is known for its soothing properties. Colloidal oatmeal is often used in lotion, soap, soaks, masks and creams. Because it is so fine, we recommend using it along with another exfoliant if you’re looking for a “scrubby” feel. When used in cold process soap, disperse it in a lightweight liquid oil or water to avoid clumps. Disperse 1 tsp. colloidal oatmeal in the liquid and add at trace. I prefer water over oil for colloidal oatmeal. If you’re looking for recipes using colloidal oatmeal, check out the Goat Milk & Oatmeal Cold Process Soap, and the Rough Patches Wash Tutorial.
Bamboo Extract Powder
A very light exfoliating powder, bamboo powder is obtained from the bamboo tabashi stems collected in the form of an exudate (a thick liquid) which crystallizes at room temperature. This crystalline powder is very rich in mineral salt and is an excellent source of silica. It is ground to 160 microns for a light gritty feel. Suggested usage in soap, lotions or bath gels is 5% to 8% weight (but you can always use less or more as desired). Because of the fine texture, bamboo extract powder is great for facial scrubs. To use in melt and pour soap, we recommend dispersing the powder in 99% isopropyl alcohol before adding it to the soap to avoid clumps. For cold process, the powder can be dispersed in a lightweight liquid oil or water and added at trace as shown in the Black, White and Gold All Over Cold Process tutorial.
Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda)
Commonly used for baking and cleaning purposes, baking soda is a great gentle exfoliant for bath and beauty products. In particular, baking soda is great for scrubs and soaks. It’s most commonly used along with citric acid to create bath bombs. Baking soda also works well in rebatch soap as shown in the Soothing Baking Soda Oatmeal Bar. Unfortunately, baking soda does not work well in cold process soap. You can see the results of our baking soda and cold process testing at the bottom of this post. Click here to learn more about baking soda, including how to use it in a variety of recipes.
Pumice is created from milled volcanic glass and is a fantastic gentle exfoliant. Pumice has a fine powdery texture, making it appropriate for both the face and body. In soap, we recommend about 1 Tbs. per pound of soap. To help prevent clumps, disperse pumice in a lightweight liquid oil or water before adding to cold process soap. For melt and pour, disperse pumice in rubbing alcohol before adding it to your soap as shown in the Havana Layers Melt and Pour Soap.
Walnut shells are finely ground to create a fine, powder exfoliant. Brown in color, walnut shells are great for facial scrubs due to the fine texture. Walnut shells are used in the Walnut Facial Scrub for Men to give the scrub extra scrubiness and a natural color. Walnut shells are also used in the Rose Clay Exfoliating Mask on Soap Queen TV. Walnut shells can be used in both cold process and melt and pour soap. How much you use will depend on how scrubby you’d like your product to be, but we recommend starting out at about 1 tsp. per pound. Keep in mind that walnut shells will give your soap a natural brown color.
Ground Pumpkin Seeds
Ground pumpkin seeds are a medium sized exfoliant, and are great for both the body and face. Slightly yellowish in color, ground pumpkin seeds will add a slight tint to your projects. They can be added directly to cold process soap at trace. If using them in melt and pour, let the base cool slightly to ensure the pumpkin seeds suspend throughout.
Crushed Grape Seeds
Crushed grape seeds are a fine and gentle exfoliant, making them a great option for face scrubs. Similar to walnut shells, crushed grape seeds add a natural color brown color to your products. Crushed grape seeds can be used in soaps and scrubs. For cold process soap, crushed grape seeds can be added directly to the soap at trace. If using them for melt and pour, add them to slightly cooled soap to ensure they distribute evenly throughout the base.
Jojoba beads are created from jojoba oil. Jojoba oil is a luxurious liquid wax derived from the seed of the Jojoba shrub. Jojoba oil is made of up various long chain molecules. These molecules are transformed from a liquid to a solid wax by processes called hydrogenation or transesterification. This firm wax is referred to a jojoba ester, also known as a jojoba bead! Jojoba beads should not be confused with plastic micro beads which are used in some bath and beauty products. Click here to learn more about jojoba beads and how to use them in a variety of projects.
Jojoba beads come in various sizes, making them extremely versatile for a variety of projects. Their spherical shape makes them a popular choice for face products. Small jojoba beads are great for facial products, while the medium and large jojoba beads are more suitable for body products. Because jojoba beads are made from jojoba oil, they can melt in extreme heat. If using them in soap, keep temperatures below about 130°F to avoid any melting.
There are a wide variety of salts that can be used for bath and beauty products. Depending on the size, salt can offer a gentle or more scrubby type of exfoliation. Epsom salt (extra fine), dendritic salt, small and extra small pink sea salts give a gentle to medium exfoliation. Larger sized salt such as the medium and coarse pink sea salt offer more intense exfoliation. Salts can be used in a wide range of products, including scrubs and soaks. Salt can also be used in cold process soap to create salt bars. Salt bars are known for their rich and creamy lather. To learn how to make salt cold process bars, check out the Pretty in Pink Salty Cold Process tutorial. For even more information on salt, check out the Sunday Night Spotlight: Salts blog post.
Shredded loofah comes from whole loofah sponges. The sponges are ground to a fine texture, making it easy to disperse the loofah texture throughout soap or scrubs. Shredded loofah is a slightly rougher exfoliant, and is not recommended for the face. With a fine powdery texture, a little bit of shredded loofah sponge goes a long way. Shredded loofah can be used in cold process soap; simply add the shredded loofah during trace. We recommend using 1 tsp. per pound of soap, but you can certainly add more for a super-scrubby bar! In melt and pour, add the shredded loofah to slightly cooled soap to help it suspend evenly. To see recipes using shredded loofah, check out the Layered Lilac Loofah Cold Process, and the Loofah Cold Process Soap Tutorial. To learn more about loofah, check out the Sunday Night Spotlight: Loofah Sponges blog post.
Poppy seeds are an oilseed obtained from the opium poppy. Small and spherical, they are a great addition to soaps and scrubs. Poppy seeds are on the larger side, and may be considered a little rough for use in facial products. In addition to adding scrub, poppy seeds are a popular choice due to the cute polka dot effect they give to soap. If using them in cold process soap, add poppy seeds at trace as shown in the Lemon Poppy Seed Cold Process. In melt and pour, add poppy seeds directly to the melted base.
Coffee grounds are a popular soapy additive due to its wide availability and familiarity. Coffee grounds can range in size depending on the type of ground used. We recommend adding used coffee grounds to prevent bleeding in your soap. In cold process soap, coffee grounds can be added directly at trace as shown in the Espresso Shot Cold Process Tutorial. The recommended usage rate is about 1 tsp. per pound of soap, but more or less can be used depending on personal preference. If using coffee grounds in melt and pour soap, be sure to add the grounds to slightly cooled soap to help them suspend evenly throughout the base. Click here to for the Espresso Soap Bar melt and pour tutorial shown below.
Strawberry seeds are a slightly larger exfoliant, making them great for body exfoliation. Depending on your skin type, you may find strawberry seeds a little scratchy for facial exfoliation. Because they are rather large, you do not need to disperse them before adding them to melt and pour or cold process soap. We recommend adding about 1 tsp. of strawberry seeds per pound of soap, but you can always use more or less depending on personal preference. You can see the effect that strawberry seeds give cold process soap in the Strawberries & Cream Soap tutorial.
Cranberry seeds are a rather coarse exfoliant. Due to the roughness, they are usually used for body scrubs rather than for the face. In particular, cranberry seeds are great for areas of the body with rough skin, like the feet or elbows. Red in color, cranberry seeds add a hint of color to your projects. Because they are a natural product, the red color of the seeds can sometimes bleed into cold process soap, so keep that in mind. Cranberry seeds are used in the Cranberry Seed Foot Scrub (left) and the Cheery Cranberry Seed Melt and Pour Tutorial.
Loofah sponges are a unique natural exfoliant produced by the luffa plant. They come in the form of long tubes that can be cut down and added to soapy projects. Loofah sponges are rather rough, and are not recommended for use on the face. Their texture is great for body soap, or for rough areas such as the feet or elbows. To use the flat loofah sponges, dunk the sponges in water to plump them up! You can then cut in the loofah sponges into the perfect size for your project. Or, cut them while flat and submerge in water after. To see loofah sponges in action, check out the Making Loofah Soap video on Soap Queen TV. For even more recipes using loofah sponges, check out the Sunday Night Spotlight: Loofah Sponges blog post.
It’s important to remember that there are no rules when using exfoliants. What might feel harsh and scratchy on your skin may be perfect for another person or, another body part. The key to finding the right scrubby additive for your project is to test, test, test. Making a small test batch with the exfoliant and asking friends and family for their input is a great way to see how your product feels to others.