How to Use a Sugar Scrub the Right Way

Experts break down some commonly asked questions about scrubs.

Your shower routine probably has all the basics covered: shampoo, conditioner, and sudsy body wash. But a fourth addition to this regimen—a good old fashioned sugar scrub—can make all the difference both in terms of your skin’s hydration and overall glow factor. With insights from a seasoned skincare pro, we’re diving into what sugar scrubs are and why they’re an absolute shower must, plus a quick rundown on how to properly use a sugar scrub.

<p>zsv3207/Getty Images</p>

zsv3207/Getty Images

What Is a Sugar Scrub?

A sugar scrub combines granulated sugar with moisturizing ingredients—like botanical oils and butters—to create a gritty paste or slush-like texture. Some formulas have additional ingredients, like essential oils, to add to the overall exfoliating experience.

The goal of sugar scrubs is to physically exfoliate skin. It’s applied directly onto your skin and gently rubbed to help buff away dead skin cells. This creates smoother, softer, and brighter skin, and it can even help your skin tone look more even.

“One of my favorite benefits is that exfoliated skin better absorbs skincare products, such as moisturizers and serums,” says Ginille Brown, an esthetician and aesthetic nurse practitioner based in Los Angeles. “They can be used on all skin types and tones, including darker skin tones.”

How to Properly Use a Sugar Scrub

Sugar scrubs are a pretty straightforward product to use, but there are a few tricks and guidelines to follow. The biggest rule is to be super gentle, making sure not to press the granules too hard into your skin or rubbing for too long. Brown says that excessive or harsh exfoliation is a recipe for discomfort, and can even result in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Step 1: Wet Your Skin

Sugar scrub should be applied to damp skin. This reduces friction and prevents excessive exfoliation.

Step 2: Grab the Right Amount

As a general guideline, Brown says that a quarter-sized amount is typically sufficient for the face, while a larger amount may be needed for larger body areas like the arms and legs.

“You can adjust the quantity based on your personal preference and the specific needs of the skin,” she says. “A huge glob may be a bit excessive; you can probably get the job done using less and therefore your scrub can last you longer.”

Step 3: Massage for a Couple Minutes

Gently massage the scrub onto your skin in circular motions for about one or two minutes. “The pressure should be light to moderate, avoiding excessive force,” Brown says. “Gentle, circular massaging helps ensure that the sugar granules effectively exfoliate the skin without causing irritation or damage.”

It’s OK to spend more time in some areas and less time in others. Brown says that sugar scrubs are particularly beneficial on areas with rough or dry skin, like your elbows, knees, and heels. Less may be needed for areas that are naturally smooth or where skin is thinner, like on your upper chest or the undersides of your arms.

Step 4: Rinse with Warm Water

Brown says there's no need to let it set for an extended period, so go ahead and rinse the sugar scrub off with warm water once you’ve finished exfoliating. “Rinsing promptly ensures that the exfoliation process is effective while preventing potential irritation that could occur if the scrub were left on for too long,” she says.

Sugar Scrub FAQs

Still not 100% on how to use a sugar scrub? These FAQs should get you squared away the next time you reach for your favorite exfoliator.

Should You Use a Scrub Before or After Shaving?

Use your sugar scrub before shaving—not after. “This helps prepare the skin by removing dead skin cells, allowing for a closer and smoother shave,” Brown explains. “For women of color, exfoliating before shaving can help reduce the risk of ingrown hairs, which can be a concern with coarse or curly hair.”

Do You Use a Scrub Before or After Body Wash?

Sugar scrubs should be used after washing your body. This ensures your skin is clean and prepared for exfoliation. It also prevents you from completely washing away those rich moisturizing ingredients in your scrub.

What’s the Difference Between Salt and Sugar Scrubs?

Salt and sugar scrubs are nearly identical, but there are a few key differences. “Sugar scrubs differ from salt scrubs due to their smaller and smoother granules, which make them a milder and more gentle option for exfoliation,” explains Brown. “They therefore pose a lower risk of over-exfoliating the skin, which can lead to irritation and skin damage.” Salt can also sting if you have any superficial wounds.

Can All Skin Types Use Sugar Scrubs?

Sugar scrubs are mild and therefore suitable for skin types, especially when you use them gently and as directed. However, Brown notes that people with sensitive skin or certain skin conditions—such as eczema or psoriasis—should get the green light from  a healthcare professional beforehand.

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