Unveiling the Pros and Cons: To Use or Not to Use Facial Scrubs?

Really? Face scrubs could damage my skin? But how come it feels so good after? Instead of going further down the rabbit hole, let's try to clear up this dilemma!

October 16, 2021 5 minutes read
Woman with a face scrub on her face

In This Post

The skin is our largest organ that is exposed to various negative influences on a daily basis. With this in mind, it's clear that it should be pampered, nurtured, and cared for with love. And so we invest a lot of time and money in establishing a good skincare routine and finding products beneficial for our skin.

Which leads us to our today's topic – face scrubs. What are they used for? Should I start, continue or stop using them? Are they really bad for my skin? Why the heck is there so much conflicting information about face scrubs on the Web?

Let's take one step at a time.

What Are Face Scrubs?

face scrub, gua sha tool, and face roller

In essence, face scrubs are mechanical exfoliators. They usually contain abrasive ingredients, such as sea salt, sugar, coffee grounds, rice bran, or ground-up nutshells, combined with some massage or essential oil. Physical exfoliation could also be done with a washcloth or a brush. And lastly, we have microdermabrasion, which is usually only performed in a dermatologist's office.

These mechanical exfoliants physically remove dead skin cells from the skin's surface by applying mechanical force, leaving the skin feeling smooth and soft. People with naturally oily skin are especially drawn to a good scrub as it helps them feel fresh and less greasy.

But, you might now wonder – Why is the Internet telling me facial scrubs damage my skin?

Well, because they do – but only to a certain extent! Some face scrubs contain sharp and large particles. These particles, combined with aggressive scrubbing and extreme pressure, can cause tiny tears in your skin. Over the long run, these micro-tears or abrasions become bigger, destroying the natural skin barrier that protects you from the outside influences and pollutants and keep the water in.

Which leads us to the next question...

Should I Use Face Scrubs or Not?

man with scared expression on his face using a face scrub

The answer isn't that black or white, yes or no... It's more like gray (some sweet middle), and it all depends on your skin type and conditions, as well as the manner and frequency of application.

So, the answer is Yes, but only if you:

Dermatologists will always suggest using chemical over physical exfoliants, especially if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin. Chemical exfoliants or peels contain acids, such as AHAs (most commonly lactic and glycolic acid) and BHAs (salicylic acid, for example).

Although it might not sound like it, chemical exfoliants are gentler on the skin and are better at targeting specific skin conditions, such as hyperpigmentation and stimulating collagen production.

On the other hand, while good at getting rid of dead skin cells, physical exfoliants or face scrubs don't do much more than that. Plus, with these, there's simply more room for error. People have a tendency to get carried away with them and scrub too harshly, which can lead to irritation and other skin issues.

So, face scrubs – yes or no? It all depends on your skin type and needs. In a nutshell – Yes, if your skin can take it and you don't overdo it in terms of frequency and pressure; No, if you have sensitive skin, prone to irritation or acne.

How Should I Use a Face Scrub?

woman using face scrub

If you're still not akin to the idea of putting acids and peels on your skin and want to stay away from chemical exfoliants at all costs, you can give a face scrub a shot and see how your skin reacts to it.

To get the best out of it and avoid any side effects, follow these six easy steps:

Step #1: Cleanse Your Face.

It's best to exfoliate after you've thoroughly washed your face with a gentle cleanser. Cleansing will eliminate any excess oil and dirt and prep your skin for exfoliating.

Step #2: Use a Small Amount of the Product.

Put a pea-sized amount of the scrub into your palm or between your fingertips. Rub your hands together to distribute the product evenly as it will allow for a more even application.

Step #3: Apply It Gently to Your Wet Face.

Apply the product while your face is still wet. Massage the scrub very gently using circular motions and don't apply any pressure. The face scrub will do its thing without any additional pressure. Avoid the area around your eyes and do this step no longer than ten to 15 seconds.

Step #4: Rinse Off Thoroughly.

Rinse with lukewarm or cool water, and make sure to remove all of the product. Avoid using hot water because it can irritate your skin, especially after a scrub.

Step #5: Pat Dry.

After rinsing, pat your face dry using a clean and soft towel. Again, be gentle and try resisting rubbing your face with a towel. You can leave your skin damp to get better absorption of your next product.

Step #6: Continue With Your Skincare Routine.

Once your face is dry and completely free of the product, you can continue with the next steps in your skincare routine. Apply your serum and moisturizer as you would normally do. It's super important to protect and nourish your skin post-scrubbing. So, look for rich moisturizers with peptides and ceramides to strengthen and maintain a healthy skin barrier.

Note: Keep your exfoliating routine for evenings, whether you're using chemical or physical exfoliants, because exfoliating makes your skin super-sensitive to sunlight.

What Kind of Face Scrub Should I Go For?

woman with face scrub on her face

If you're dead set on using a scrub instead of a chemical peel, make sure to choose the right formula.

Dermatologists advise against using physical exfoliants with large and sharp particles, such as apricot or walnut scrubs. These tend to be particularly harsh on the skin, causing micro-tears that can lead to more skin problems over time.

Opt for gentler face scrubs instead, containing finer particles, such as salt or sugar. You can also try a silicone face brush. These are pretty gentle and an excellent alternative to traditional face scrubs but, essentially, do the same thing. For people who tend to be aggressive with their face, a silicone brush can be a lifesaver.

Some Parting Words of Advice...

Exfoliation is an innovative and useful treatment in facial skincare, removing dead skin cells and promoting cell turnover. After exfoliating, your skin will be smooth, but you're not supposed to feel any tightening or tingling.

All in all, whatever type of exfoliating or peeling you choose, you shouldn't overdo it. Frequent peeling can cause injuries, and even chemical burns, the repair of which is often painful and long-lasting.

If you still haven't made up your mind, experiment with both physical and mechanical peels – but not at the same time, of course. In time, you will determine for yourself what suits your skin best.


How do you use a face scrub?

First, you should cleanse your face with a gentle cleanser, and then, while your skin is still wet, apply a face scrub. Massage it into the skin using a very light hand and circular motions. Then, rinse and proceed with your skincare routine.

Do you wash your face before or after a face scrub?

It would help if you washed your face before using a face scrub. Then after scrubbing, you should thoroughly rinse it off and don't leave any scrub residue on your face.

How long should I leave the scrub on my face?

It will depend on the specific product you're using, but some general rule of thumb would be to leave it on for about 30 seconds or so. Do a thorough rinse after and apply a nourishing and hydrating face mask or cream.

When should face scrub be applied?

Face scrub should be applied after cleansing and before toning, serums, and moisturizing. Regarding how often you should scrub your face, we'd recommend once a week or even less frequently to avoid over-exfoliating your skin and potentially damaging it.

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