Exfoliating is an important part of any skincare routine, but one that is often neglected. If you have dry, dull, or rough patches -- or simply want to look younger -- don't skip this step. Sloughing off dead skin cells can reveal smoother, healthier skin.
Ditch the loofahs and sponges that can harbor nasty bacteria and get back to the basics: soap. An exfoliating soap bar does two jobs in one: cleanses skin and removes dead cells. Some even moisturize, too.
Benefits of exfoliating soap
Every two to four weeks, our skin regenerates. As new layers of skin are created, the old layers can be slow to shed from the body, especially as we age. Exfoliating once to three times a week, depending on your skin type, helps the body's natural process of releasing dead skin cells.
Here are the other benefits of using an exfoliating bar:
Cleanses your skin, just like a regular bar of soap. Exfoliating bars also contain ingredients to clean dirt and debris from your skin.
Enhances moisturizers that you apply to your skin post-exfoliation by allowing them to penetrate deeper and more effectively.
Evens skin tone by removing dead skin patches that can make you appear blotchy or discolored.
Gives a closer shave by unclogging and exposing your hair follicles if you exfoliate before shaving or waxing.
Improves lymph flow and circulation when the bar is used in firm circular motions and in particular directions. The healthy flow of lymph can promote detoxification.
Reduces signs of aging like fine lines. Buffing your skin with an exfoliating bar can reveal brighter, younger-looking skin and help diminish the appearance of wrinkles.
Exfoliating bars rely either on physical exfoliating agents, like crushed shells or pits, or chemical agents, like acids or fruit enzymes. Here's a list of common exfoliating ingredients that can be found in these bars.
Oatmeal: Not just a healthy choice for breakfast, oatmeal is a gentle, natural exfoliant for sensitive skin. It's also anti-inflammatory, making it a favored ingredient among acne and eczema sufferers.
Sea salt: Whether sourced from the Dead Sea or other bodies of water, sea salt granules are coarse and provide a satisfying scrub for particularly rough areas like elbows or feet.
Coffee: Ground coffee has become a popular ingredient in invigorating scrubs and bars. Not only do the ground grains provide a physical exfoliant, but they also have an antimicrobial and anti-aging effect (by boosting circulation and collagen production).
Ground almonds/fruit pits: Recommended only for oily skin types, fruit pits that are ground to finer particles provide a vigorous scrub. Finely ground almonds may be less abrasive on more delicate skin and also contain rich nutrients, but should be avoided if you have a nut allergy.
Sugar: Plain, old sugar -- especially brown sugar with its rough, sizable granules -- works well as an exfoliating agent, especially when paired with a hydrating plant oil, like grapeseed or olive oil.
Microbeads/silica particles: Tiny plastic beads called microbeads used to be ubiquitous in rinse-off cosmetic products, especially scrubs, because they won't dissolve in water. However, more and more states are banning them because they hurt marine life and the environment. A more eco-friendly alternative to microbeads are silica beads or particles.
Fruit enzymes: Unlike physical exfoliants that have an abrasive texture, fruit enzymes apply a peeling action to your skin by dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells. Fruit enzymes are more gentle and natural than acid exfoliants.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): Strong chemical acids like lactic acid and glycolic acid are powerful and popular exfoliants. They may cause irritation in sensitive skin or if used too frequently. Opt for gentler beta hydroxy acids (BHA), like salicylic acid, if AHAs are too harsh for your skin.
Depending on size and the quality of ingredients, an exfoliating bar can cost between $1.25 and $15 for 1.3 to eight ounces.
Q. What ingredients should I look for if I want to moisturize my skin as well as exfoliate it?
A. Look for bars containing plant oils, such as jojoba, coconut, and olive, as well as shea or other butters. Goat's milk is also moisturizing and soothing to sensitive skin.
Q. I've noticed that some exfoliating bars feature activated charcoal or clay. What do these ingredients do?
A. Both natural ingredients are believed to draw out impurities or toxins from the skin. They are also beneficial for acne-prone skin.
Exfoliating soap bars we recommend
Best of the best: Aspen Kay Naturals' Coffee & Oatmeal Exfoliating Soap
Our take: An organic bar featuring coffee and oats to kick off your morning skincare routine.
What we like: Contains high-quality, all-organic ingredients. Shea butter and olive oil are hydrating. Smells yummy. Coffee and oatmeal gently exfoliate skin.
What we dislike: Quality ingredients come at a higher price tag.
Best bang for your buck: Oliver Rocket's Pine Tar Soap
Our take: A black bar containing detoxifying charcoal that will seriously clean your skin.
What we like: Loaded with hydrating oils as well as exfoliating agents, such as pine tar, sea salt, and oatmeal. Can be also used on hair and beards.
What we dislike: Strong scent. Not ideal for sensitive skin.
Our take: Featuring Arabica coffee, this popular detox/exfoliating soap is one of the best on the market.
What we like: Contains nutrient-rich bladderwrack seaweed and nourishing Hawaiian kukui oil. Activated charcoal detoxes, and coffee can improve cellulite.
What we dislike: Bar doesn't last very long.