How to Make a Sugar Scrub

Handmade lemon sugar scrub in a glass jar with oil behind it.

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Roughly every 30 days, skin cells shed to make room for new ones. And while the body typically handles the process of getting rid of the old to make room for the new, sometimes a little boost goes a long way. Many dermatologists and beauty specialists recommend exfoliation to clear away dead skin cells, refresh and rejuvenate skin.

Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are the common ingredient found in exfoliating scrubs. The glycolic acid found in sugar cane is a naturally occurring AHA, and sugar scrubs have long been a popular and effective way to exfoliate and achieve beautiful, healthy skin.

Making your own sugar scrub

Sugar in a measuring spoon on a wood surface.

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If you’ve decided that commercially made sugar scrubs are too pricey for you and it’s time to learn how to make a sugar scrub, smart decision. Homemade scrubs are just as effective, a whole lot less expensive, and can be customized with optimal ingredients for your skin and aroma preferences.

The most basic sugar scrub recipe uses one-half cup sugar and a small amount of oil (olive, corn, peanut or safflower) to moisten the sugar and create a paste-like consistency. Cane, white or brown sugar can be used equally, but brown sugar tends to add a light, warm smell of molasses. A variety of beneficial ingredients can be added to this basic recipe to customize the scrub.

A sugar-oatmeal scrub is great for softening dry, itchy skin (remember that oatmeal bath when you had chicken pox?). Oatmeal can also be used in place of sugar in a scrub, as it acts as a gentle exfoliant on it its own.

For a more relaxing and pampering experience, add a few drops of essential oils, such as lavender, citrus or almond, for a fabulous fragrance and added health perks for your skin.

Those with sensitive skin should stay away from fragrant oils and stick with soothing, anti-inflammatory oils, including chamomile or aloe. If you're looking to counter wrinkles, add essential oils that are high in anti-oxidants, such as rosemary or clary sage.

Using and storing sugar scrubs

Sugar scrub with olive oil and rose petals

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Once a week is all it takes for sugar scrubs to make a significant difference in the softness of skin. Scrubbing should be done gently with fingertips or a washcloth in a circular motion, and ideally in the shower or right before going into the shower. (The shower floor may get slick from the oil — use caution). Don't scrub too hard, and if you've got sensitive skin, avoid doing a scrub the day of a special event. The removal of dead skin cells can sometimes cause skin blotchiness for a day or two, so if you're of the delicate skin variety, schedule your scrub for a quiet day or evening at home.

If your homemade sugar scrub recipe does not contain a natural emollient, follow with a high quality moisturizer to rehydrate the skin. For moderately dry skin, lotions work fine. Cream is just a bit thicker for dryer skin, and body butters, such as cocoa and shea, are even more intense for the driest skin types. A good moisturizer should leave skin feeling smooth, not oily, so don’t overdo it.

Keep in mind that homemade sugar scrubs run the danger of going rancid if kept too long or affected by water or bacteria. Proper storage and shelf-life are key, as is preserving a product that will be given as a gift or kept longer than a few months. Natural ingredients such as vitamin E oil or sea salt work well as a light preservative, or you can purchase a stronger product made specifically for water-based cleansers, like Liquid Germall Plus.

Once you've found a recipe that works for you, consider making some sugar scrubs for your friends, as they make great gifts. Craft stores carry a variety of jars, labels and other products to customize and add bling to your homemade sugar scrubs.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What kind of sugar should you use for DIY sugar scrub?

    Organic cane sugar is great to use for extra exfoliation, but it can be quite abrasive. Sensitive skin types might benefit more from brown sugar, which is finer. The latter also gives the scrub a sweet, molasseslike smell.

  • What's the best sugar to oil ratio for a scrub?

    You want just enough oil to moisten the sugar, which usually ends up being one part oil to two parts sugar. The ratio varies slightly based on the type of sugar you use.

  • How long does homemade sugar scrub keep?

    Your homemade sugar scrub should last two months if it doesn't contain any preservatives. If kept in an air-tight container in room temperature (or cooler), it could last even longer—up to six months. Be careful not to get water in the scrub, which could make it a breeding ground for bacteria.

  • How often should you use a sugar scrub?

    Experts recommend exfoliating once a week—any more could cause skin irritation.