7 Natural Ingredients to Exfoliate Your Skin

variety of foods used for natural exfoliation including oats, sugar, salt all in containers on table

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

As plastic microbead bans take effect, you'll need to find alternative ways to give your skin a good scrubbing.

The UK's microbead ban went into effect on June 19, 2018 and the ban in Wales started on June 30, 2018. After these dates, no beauty products containing tiny plastic particles could be sold. The bans, which reflect a global trend, are part of a broader effort to reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic washing into waterways and contaminating rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Some people are concerned, however, that their favorite facial exfoliants and body scrubs will not be the same post-reformulation, but fear not. It is entirely possible to get great exfoliation and radiant skin using ordinary pantry ingredients. The end result is cleaner, greener, and cheaper.

What follows is a list of ingredients that make great exfoliants. You can add a pinch to a handful of store-bought products to get extra scrubbing power, or you can mix up your own quite easily.

White or Brown Sugar

white ceramic bowl of raw brown sugar on wooden board with wooden spoon

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

A DIY sugar scrub is great for gentle exfoliation. Sugar is a natural humectant, which means it draws moisture from the surrounding environment to itself. "When you apply products with sugar or sugar derivatives, they’ll actually help hydrate your skin and keep moisture within," writes Emilie Davidson Hoyt for the Huffington Post. It is a natural source of glycolic acid, which is an alpha-hydroxy acid used to treat aging skin. It offers a finer exfoliation than salt, which makes it better for sensitive skin.


person in mustard shirt rubs salt on forearm for exfoliation

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Salt tends to be coarser than sugar, but it still offers great exfoliation. Try to find the finest salt you can and use it on your body, rather than face. Salt is a natural antiseptic and it may help kill bacteria even beneath the surface of the skin. The circular rubbing motion will unclog pores and remove dead skin cells.


two bowls filled with whole rolled oats and ground oats with wooden spoons stuck in

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Oats are perfect for sensitive skin, as they are less abrasive than salt and sugar, and are known for their soothing quality. They're useful for healing sunburn, thanks to their ability to reduce inflammation. Grind them up, mix with water, and apply the paste to your face.

Coffee Grounds

woman uses used coffee grounds to draw heart on leg while exfoliating

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

The residual caffeine in coffee grounds typically increases blood flow, which can "reduce the appearance of cellulite and give your skin a more even tone," says Healthy Mummy blogger Lee Price. Coffee can be quite gritty, so it's best to grind it as finely as you can and to use it on the main part of your body, not the face.


thick yogurt in lidded glass container with wooden spoon stuck in

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Yogurt may not seem like an obvious choice for exfoliation since it's so smooth, but it contains lactic acid, which is good for removing dead skin cells, reducing acne breakouts, and softening the skin. Spread it over your face and let it sit for a few minutes of deep cleaning. You'll notice a difference if you use several times a week.

Baking Soda

glass lidded container filled with baking soda with mini wooden spoon resting on top

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Arguably the most versatile ingredient in your pantry, baking soda is a fabulous exfoliant. It is fine yet sufficiently abrasive, and it blends easily into a paste with water, honey, or coconut oil.


two white ramekins filled with whole white rice and finely ground rice both on placemat

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

When rice is finely ground in a spice grinder, it makes an effective body exfoliant. Make a piña colada-inspired scrub by combining a half-cup of ground rice with a half-cup of coconut milk, a quarter-cup of brown sugar, and a tablespoon and a half of grated ginger for extra zing.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Next to baking soda, this has to be the other most useful product at home. ACV contains lactic and malic acids, which are good for exfoliating, reducing blemishes, and treating acne. It also contains alpha-hydroxy acids that help the skin to rejuvenate more quickly.

View Article Sources
  1. Hoyt, Emilie Davidson. “3 Ways Sugar Is Good for Your Skin.” Huffington Post. Updated January 16, 2013.

  2. Tang, Sheau-Chung, and Jen-Hung Yang. “Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin.” Molecules, vol. 23, no. 4, 2018, p. 863., doi:10.3390/molecules23040863

  3. Zakrewsky, Michael, et al. “Ionic Liquids as a Class of Materials for Transdermal Delivery and Pathogen Neutralization.” PNAS, vol. 111, issue 37, 2014, pp. 13313-13318., doi:10.1073/pnas.1403995111

  4. Rodan, Katie, et al. “Skincare Bootcamp: the Evolving Role of Skincare.”  Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery - Global Open, vol. 4, iss. 12S, 2016, p. e1152., doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001152

  5. Ress, Jessica. 100 Organic Skincare Recipes. Simon & Schuster, 2014.

  6. Price, Lee. “The Benefits of a Coffee Scrub.” The Healthy Mummy.

  7. Castillo, David E., and Jonette E. Keri. “Chemical Peels in the Treatment of Acne: Patient Selection and Perspectives.” Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol, vol. 11, 2018, pp. 365–372., doi:10.2147/CCID.S137788

  8. Budak, Nilgun H., et al. “Functional Properties of Vinegar.” Journal of Food Science, vol. 79, 2014, pp. R757-R764., doi:10.1111/1750-3841.12434