8 Ways to Exfoliate Naturally

organic natural exfoliants on large leaf

Treehugger / Jenn Parker 

Exfoliation entails lightly scrubbing your skin with a substance that acts to physically or chemically remove dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin. Chemical exfoliants contain alpha-hydroxy acids that work on a molecular level to degrade dead skin, while physical exfoliants work by physically abrading dirt and dead cells. Regular exfoliation can help moisturize dry and damaged skin, promote new cell growth, and give you a clear, glowing complexion.

The key to successful exfoliation is to use gentle exfoliants. Many manufactured exfoliants contain plastic microbeads. These can create micro-abrasions in your skin and are harmful to the planet; they are tiny enough to slip past wastewater filtration systems and pollute rivers and seas. So instead of reaching for these at the store, turn to your cupboards! You can exfoliate your face at home using natural ingredients you might already have.

Choosing the Right Exfoliants for You

There's no perfect exfoliation routine for everyone, so consult a dermatologist for personalized advice.

Determining Your Skin Type

A crochet reusable pad for exofoliating the face.

Space_Cat / Getty Images

To get the most out of exfoliation, you need to know your skin type. Your skin is unique and will respond well to some exfoliants and poorly to others; using products that are too abrasive can do more harm than good, not abrasive enough and you might not see results. Skin types are primarily determined by your skin's level of oil or sebum production and can be divided into four categories:

  • Oily - may want to exfoliate with honey, yogurt, or papaya
  • Sensitive - may want to exfoliate with oatmeal or turmeric
  • Dry - may want to exfoliate with sugar, coffee, or oatmeal
  • Combination - may want to exfoliate with lemon juice or papaya

Talk to a dermatologist to find out what exfoliants would be best for you based on your skin type.

Skin Irritation

If your skin gets red or irritated, the regime you’re using may be too harsh. If this happens, stop exfoliating to allow your skin to heal.


bone spoon with lid of honey on wood table

Treehugger / Jenn Parker  

Honey isn't just healthy for you, it's also great for your skin. It's hydrating, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory. Honey has been used in ancient medicine to treat skin disorders such as psoriasis and dermatitis for centuries.

To exfoliate with honey:

  1. Squirt a dime-sized dollop into your hands
  2. Apply to face
  3. Rinse with warm water

Honey can be used on its own or as an ingredient in DIY facial scrubs. Raw, organic honey is best.


cup of yogurt over exotic leaf

Treehugger / Jenn Parker 

Yogurt contains lactic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid that helps to remove dead skin cells and stimulate new growth. This can soothe, smooth, and even your complexion. To exfoliate with yogurt:

  1. Apply 1 tbsp plain yogurt to your face
  2. Let sit for 20 minutes
  3. Rinse with water

The potential benefits of using fermented dairy products topically are still being studied, but some research suggests the probiotics found in yogurt interact with your skin barrier to fight infection and reduce inflammation.


If you have a lactose sensitivity, exfoliating with yogurt may damage your skin. Check with a dermatologist or do a patch test before you exfoliate with yogurt.


glass jar of sugar with tropical flowers

Treehugger / Jenn Parker 

The glycolic acid found in sugar cane is a natural chemical exfoliant that can help to separate dead cells from new cells in the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of your skin. When applied gently, this can help safely and effectively remove dead skin. To exfoliate with sugar:

  1. Make a paste using raw sugar and olive oil
  2. Apply to face in a circular motion
  3. Let sit for 10 minutes
  4. Rinse with water

Sugar scrubs are great exfoliants for those with dry skin.

Lemon Juice

lemon, sugar, scrub pads on breakfast tray

Treehugger / Jenn Parker  

As a source of citric acid, another alpha-hydroxy acid, lemon juice is also a natural chemical exfoliant. In addition to helping you shed dead skin cells, lemon juice may plump and brighten your skin.

  1. Mix one-quarter cup each of lemon juice and cane sugar
  2. Apply to face using a cotton pad
  3. Let sit for between two and five minutes
  4. Rinse with water

Perform a patch test on a small portion of your face before exfoliating with lemon juice. People with sensitive skin or abrasions may experience burning and irritation.


cut papaya and leaves on breakfast tray

Treehugger / Jenn Parker

The enzyme papain is what makes Papaya an effective exfoliant. Papain dissolves the keratin in dead skin cells to smooth your face. Papaya can help promote blood circulation and elasticity. To exfoliate your face at home with papaya:

  1. Mash fresh papaya into a smooth paste
  2. Apply to face
  3. Let sit for 15 minutes
  4. Rinse with water

Papain is most potent in young fruit, so use green papayas if possible. Papaya is ideal for combination or oily skin.


coffee beans and coffee grounds in a spoon

Marc Mcdermott / EyeEm

Ground coffee is an excellent manual exfoliant that can help scrub away dead cells and debris when massaged into the skin. On top of that, caffeine has been shown to plump skin and fight signs of aging such as wrinkles and dark spots. To exfoliate with coffee:

  1. Combine 1/4 teaspoon used coffee grounds with yogurt or coconut oil
  2. Apply to face
  3. Let sit for five minutes
  4. Rinse with water

Unlike some physical exfoliants such as the St. Ives Apricot Scrub containing walnut shells, finely ground coffee is not likely to cause tears in your skin.


oatmeal, honey, milk, and towel for oatmeal facial scrub

Jelena Irikova / Getty Images

Oatmeal is a common ingredient in skincare products. Known for its therapeutic anti-inflammatory properties, oatmeal is gentle and non-irritating for most. It may also help protect the skin against harmful UV rays. To exfoliate your face at home with oatmeal:

  1. Combine one tbsp finely ground oats with one tbsp coconut oil, olive oil, or honey
  2. Apply to face
  3. Let sit for five minutes
  4. Rinse with water

Oatmeal is an ideal exfoliant for people with dry or sensitive skin. Be sure to purchase organic oats that have not been treated with pesticides or chemicals.


bowl and spoon of ground turmeric with fresh turmeric root

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More than just a versatile spice, turmeric is an exfoliant. Turmeric contains curcumin, the compound that gives it its yellow color and many of its health benefits. Turmeric is used medicinally to treat skin conditions throughout South Asia and has been shown to reduce inflammation and fight infection when used as an exfoliant. To exfoliate with turmeric:

  1. Combine 1 tsp ground turmeric with yogurt, coconut oil, or water to form a paste
  2. Apply to skin
  3. Let sit for 10 minutes
  4. Rinse with water

Turmeric is a good exfoliant for all skin types, especially sensitive skin.

How Often Should You Exfoliate Your Face?

How often you should exfoliate your face depends on your skin type, age, and existing conditions. You want to exfoliate often enough to remove dead cells and uncover new skin, but not so often that you damage your skin's natural protective barrier. Try exfoliating once per week to start and increasing frequency as needed. You may need to exfoliate more if you are in the process of treating a skin condition.

As you age, the cells of your epidermis tend to regrow more slowly. Cell turnover typically takes between 40 and 60 days for adults over the age of 65 and 28 days for adults between the ages of 18 and 25. Older adults may benefit from more frequent exfoliation than young adults.

Tips for Trying a New Natural Exfoliant

Be mindful of the fact that the skin on your face is likely much more sensitive than the skin on the rest of your body. This makes gentle chemical exfoliants a good choice for facial exfoliation and more abrasive physical exfoliants a good choice for body exfoliation. Follow these tips when trying a new natural exfoliant at home:

  • Do a patch test before trying a new exfoliant by applying a small amount to your arm and monitoring for adverse reactions
  • Ensure that your hands and applicators are clean prior to application
  • Always massage exfoliant gently into your skin for no more than one minute
  • Rinse with water that is around room temperature
  • Moisturize after exfoliating with a high-quality moisturizer

Experts recommend exfoliating in the evening as most cell growth takes place overnight.

View Article Sources
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