How to Exfoliate the Skin with Sugar: 7 Steps

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Everywhere you look these days you will hear about the importance of exfoliating. Helping your skin to slough off the old cells and excess dirt not only improves the skin’s appearance; it feels amazing if done properly. One of the most popular ways to exfoliate is to use sugar, in the form of a sugar scrub. These scrubs come in all formulations and can even be made at home with just a few simple ingredients you probably have in your pantry.

Where most worry about exfoliating is all of the warnings about exfoliating too often or when you should or should, how often, etc. We’ve put together this guide to help you answer all of these questions and more. This article will give you everything you need to know about using sugar as an exfoliant including a step by step guide through the entire process.

What are the steps to exfoliating your skin with a sugar scrub? Exfoliating does not have to be a scary process. Sugar scrubs can be found in most stores that carry skincare products or made at home.  Either way, follow these 7 easy steps for the perfect exfoliation using your favorite sugar scrub.

  1. Begin with wet skin.
  2. Apply the scrub and massage into the skin.
  3. Rinse with warm water.
  4. Rinse with cooler water.
  5. Towel dry completely.
  6. Apply a moisturizer.
  7. Repeat at least once per week.

Don’t worry if the above steps seem overwhelming. We will go through each of the steps in detail, as well as, everything you need to know before using a sugar exfoliant.

Benefits of Exfoliating

It is important to understand what exfoliating is and all of the amazing benefits it can provide. The easy way to explain exfoliating is any process that helps to remove excess dirt, oil, and dead cells from the skin.

Exfoliating has a number of benefits when done correctly. Some of the benefits include:

  • Unclogs pores
  • Removes buildup of skin oils
  • Helps to even out skin tone
  • Reduces ingrown hairs
  • Increases circulation to the skin
  • Prepares the skin for moisturizers

Why Sugar for Exfoliating

Sugar and salt are both commonly used for exfoliating, each having their own benefits. Sugar is especially ideal for individuals with dry skin since sugar draws moisture from the air. When you use a sugar exfoliant they help to improve the overall hydration of your skin.

Glycolic acid is found in sugars. This is one of the essential alpha-hydroxy acids that help skin cells to “stick” together and get deep into the skin layers to help repair and regenerate the skin from within, increasing cell growth and turnover.

Sugar is also made of smaller crystal-like particles than salts, allowing for a gentler exfoliation. Sugar also removes less of the skin’s natural oils that salt-based exfoliants may remove. If the option is available, you may want to choose brown sugar over traditional granular sugar. Brown sugar is even smaller, which is the best option for using on your face or more sensitive areas of the skin.

Benefits of Sugar Scrubs

Sugar scrubs as an exfoliant has some special benefits over other types of chemical and sugar exfoliants. In addition to the benefits of exfoliating listed above, here are the benefits of using sugar scrubs specifically.

  • Sugar scrubs are very gentle, making them perfect for more sensitive skin types. (Always do a small patch skin test to ensure you will have no reactions, or make your own sugar scrub from ingredients you know will not cause irritation.
  • Sugar naturally fights skin aging but improving the overall health of the skin, including a natural skin brightener.
  • Sugar scrubs can be used all over the body, even areas prone to skin irritations including ingrown hairs, razor bumps, or chafing.

When Can You Use of a Sugar Scrubs?

Sugar scrubs offer you some great benefits, there are times when the many benefits are especially helpful. We recommend using sugar at least once a week to keep your skin super soft and smooth.

Another great time to use a sugar scrub is before shaving. Individuals with sensitive skin may not want to use a sugar scrub the same day as shaving. However, this will help to exfoliate the skin, increasing ingrown hairs that can occur with shaving.

Some individuals choose to use a sugar scrub prior to getting a spray tan as well. This helps to remove excess oils and dead skin cells, hopefully resulting in a more even application. You may want to discuss this with your tanning salon to make sure they recommend using a scrub. They may request you do so at least 24 hours prior to your spray tan.

How Often to Use Sugar Scrubs?

Since you are exfoliating your skin with a scrub, you may have individual reactions to any type of scrub. Individuals that have sensitive skin may find a scrub too irritating to use more than once a week, while others can easily tolerate using a scrub every other day.

How often you can use a sugar scrub is going to depend on the following things:

  • Skin texture
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Ingredients in the sugar scrub
  • Additional products you may use on your skin
  • Sun exposure
  • Skin lesions, cuts, or scratches

Sugar scrubs tend to be very helpful for a number of skin issues. However, they can be overused. Any time your skin feels irritated, hot, or if you have any skin damage, you will likely want to wait until your skin can heal before using a sugar scrub.

Sugar Scrubs and Acne

Those of us that fight acne, especially body acne, often find that a great sugar scrub can be an amazing tool in the battle. Since sugar scrubs help to remove excess dirt and oil without completely stripping the natural oil from the skin, acne will appear less often and may even go away completely.

One thing to avoid when using a sugar scrub on acne-prone skin is overuse, or over scrubbing. All-natural ingredients will also help to reduce acne by not introducing harsh chemicals, especially preservatives, to the skin. A great combination for acne-prone skin is a simple honey-sugar scrub. (See recipes below) Honey offers anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Moisturizing Properties

As mentioned above, sugars contain elements that absorb moisture from the air. This means that using a quality sugar scrub will naturally help to retain and protect your skin’s hydration. When combined with a good moisturizer, a sugar scrub will help the moisturizer to work better, and reach deeper into the multiple layers of the skin.

Types of Sugar Scrubs

There is basically an infinite number of sugar scrubs available. You can buy sugar scrubs just about anywhere, including most grocery stores. Another option is to make your own.


Commercially made sugar scrubs can be found made with natural and even organic ingredients. If you choose to buy a sugar scrub, please pay attention to the ingredients to avoid any skin irritants or harsh chemicals.

Some of the ingredients to avoid include:

  • Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP): Usually used for fragrance
  • Propylene Glycol: Skin irritant
  • Parabens (BUTYL, ETHYL, METHYL, PROPYL): A preservatives associated with some types of cancer
  • Mineral Oil (liquid petroleum, paraffin oil): Clogs the pores
  • Synthetic Fragrances: Allergen for many individuals.
  • Urea and DMDM Hydantoin: Formaldehyde based preservative.
  • Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): Petroleum-based, may strip the skin of natural oils.
  • Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate: Rare in sugar scrubs, usually used in products that lather. May be found in sugar scrubs that can be used as a body wash
  • DEA, MEA, and TEA (Diethanolamine, Monoethanolamide, Triethanolamine): Not common in scrubs, except those that are also scrubbing body washes. Drying to the skin and can be extremely harmful when combined with nitrate-based ingredients.

DIY Sugar Scrubs

Making your own sugar scrub may seem a bit intimidating. However, it can be a very simple process. You can make sugar scrubs as simple or complicated as you want to in just a few easy steps.

  1. Choose a sugar
  2. Combine with one or more high-quality ingredients
  3. Mix the scrub together well
  4. Store in an airtight container
  5. Use and enjoy it!

Choosing Your Sugar

Raw Sugar (turbinado) – Raw sugar can be found just about anywhere and offers some extreme exfoliation. Raw sugar crystals are larger. You have a few options. When using raw sugar in its natural form you will not want to use it on more sensitive areas of your skin, such as your face or genital areas. Alternatively, you can use a good blender or food processor to break down the raw crystals into smaller pieces to be used on your entire body.

Brown Sugar – Brown sugar is naturally smaller than raw sugar. Most brown sugars also tend to draw more moisture from the air than raw sugar, making them great for sugar scrubs for exfoliating your face.

Ingredients to Combine with Sugar to Exfoliate

There are several ingredients that can be combined with sugar to offer your skin various benefits. Depending on which ingredients you choose, you can use the same sugar scrub over your entire body, or make different scrubs for more sensitive skin and tougher skin. Here are the most common ingredients you may want to consider.

Carrier Oils

Carrier oils allow the scrub to be applied to your skin more easily. Sugar on its own would be a mess, so mixing sugar with oil cuts down on the mess and helps is stick to the skin. There are several carrier oils that you can use, each with their own benefits.

Essential Oils

Essential oils offer a wide range of benefits. Some essential oils can be used for fragrance as well as beneficial properties. Essential oils are very concentrated, so they should be used sparingly to avoid causing skin irritation or sensitivities. While there are several options for essential oils, here are the most common added to sugar scrubs or other skin products.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil, sometimes referred to as Melaleuca oil, is one of the best essential oils you can use in your sugar scrub. Tea tree oil is a great choice for those with acne-prone skin. Here are just a few of the amazing benefits your skin gets from this amazing essential oil:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antimicrobial
  • Reduces swelling
  • Calms redness and hotspots
  • Reduces scars
  • Smooths skin

Lavender is probably one of the most popular scents and oils used in all types of skin products. Lavender is a naturally soothing agent that relaxes you in addition to a number of other benefits.

  • Boosts your bodies anti-inflammatory response
  • Antibacterial
  • Moisturizing
  • Penetrates easily into the skin and pores
  • Helps to reduce and heal acne
  • Helps to soothe sensitive skin
Peppermint Oil

Many individuals love the refreshing scent of peppermint and may be surprised to learn that there are some benefits to using peppermint oil.

  • Soothes and cools the skin
  • Helps natural oil production and secretions (best for fighting acne)
  • Skin brightener and increases radiance
  • Prevents clogged pores
  • Increases circulation
  • Stimulates skin regeneration
Rose Oil

Rose oil is a more premium essential oil. When looking for essential oil, you should expect to find rose oils at a higher cost than most other oils. Lower cost rose oils are likely going to be less quality. That being said the cost is definitely worth it. Not only does rose oil provide a beautiful and delicate scent, but there are also some amazing benefits.

  • Helps improve skin hydration
  • Reduces, heals, and improves acne
  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Minimizes the appearance of scars and skin tone variations
  • Helps reduce the irritations of many skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea

Many people are familiar with chamomile as a tea and the soothing and relaxing effects. Chamomile also offers some physical, or visible benefits as well.

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Natural pain reduction
  • May help to stabilize blood pressure
  • Antifungal
  • Antibacterial
  • Antioxidant
  • Decreases skin irritation
  • Least likely to cause an allergic reaction in most people

Please Note: Individuals with skin sensitivities will want to do a skin sensitivity test before using any sugar scrub that contains essential oils, or other ingredients that may irritate the skin. To learn how to perform a patch test on your skin CLICK HERE  

Citrus (Skin Brightener)

When adding citrus, usually in juice form or by zesting, caution should be used. Citrus ingredients are naturally acidic. In small amounts, citrus can be beneficial, especially as a skin brightener or lightener. In larger amounts, citrus can irritate the skin and other senses, particularly when used in a face scrub.


Lemon is rich in vitamin C, which is a strong antioxidant. Lemon does help to brighten or lighten the skin and clear acne.\

  • Antibacterial
  • Reduces and clears blackheads
  • Natural astringent
  • Reduces oily skin

Like lemons, limes are full of vitamin C, making it a great antioxidant. Limes have many of the same benefits as lemons and also offer a few of its own.

  • Reduces dark spots
  • Treats acne
  • Anti-aging properties (peel)
  • Natural astringent
  • Reduces body odor and sweating

In general, orange has many of the same properties of lemons or limes. Oranges are often less acidic feeling even though they actually contain more citric acid. Citric acid will naturally help to exfoliate the skin. Orange can be drying, which is good for acne-prone skin but balances well with the moisturizing properties of sugar. Orange peel can be blended to add even more vitamin C and additional exfoliation.

Fragrances or Aromatherapy

Natural scents can come from just about any of your favorite ingredients. You can find natural fragrance oils that can easily be added to your sugar scrub. Fragrances can also be used to add some aromatherapy properties.

For example, lavender is a great option to help with relaxation. Mint is a good fragrance for some refreshing and cooling sensations. Other common scents include vanilla, coconut, almond, peppermint, and even coffee.

DIY Sugar Scrubs

While we recognize that a simple search can provide you with several thousand recipes for DIY sugar scrubs, you will quickly find that many of them are very similar if not identical. The biggest difference is in the exact measurements.

These sugar scrub recipes can be adjusted depending on the level of exfoliation you want to achieve. In general, the higher sugar content will provide stronger exfoliation than scrubs with higher oil content.

Here are just a few of our favorite sugar scrub recipes. We have deliberately left out specific measurements to allow you to make your own adjustments to fit your needs. A great starting point is 1 cup of sugar, ½ cup carrier oil, and any additional ingredients. Start with only a few drops of essential oil, you can always add more at a later time.

Vanilla Sugar Scrub

  • Raw Sugar
  • Carrier Oil
  • Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Brown Sugar Scrub

  • Brown Sugar
  • Carrier Oil
  • Vanilla Extract

Lemon Sugar Scrub

  • Blended raw sugar
  • Carrier Oil
  • Lemon or lime juice

Milk Sugar Scrub

  • Brown sugar
  • Carrier Oil (Coconut or olive oil is a great choice)
  • Milk or Cream

** Scrubs made with milk or any type of dairy will need to be stored in your refrigerator

Honey and Sugar Scrub

  • Raw or Brown Sugar
  • Equal parts Honey and Sugar

Basic Sugar Scrub

  • Raw or Brown Sugar
  • Your choice of carrier oil

Beetroot Sugar Scrub (recommended for a lip scrub, may leave your skin with a red tint)

  • Beetroot juice
  • Blended raw sugar or brown sugar

Peppermint Sugar Scrub

  • Sugar of your choice
  • Coconut oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Vitamin E oil

These are just a few options, use them as a starting point to create your very own recipe that helps with your individual skin necessities.

How to Use a Sugar Scrub to Exfoliate Your Whole Body

Finally, here is the step by step guide to using a sugar scrub for exfoliation. Each step is important to get the most benefits out of whatever sugar scrub you choose. Remember if there is any concern about skin irritation, do a small test patch first.

Exfoliating should only be done AFTER you have already thoroughly washed your skin. Exfoliating dirty skin will only push excess dirt and oil deeper into the skin.

(STEP 1) Begin with wet skin.

Using warm water, moisten your skin. This can be as easy as standing under the showerhead for a few minutes. For the best results, bump the temperature of the water up a little bit, not too hot to burn you though! Warmer water helps to open up the pores allowing you to gently remove more dirt, oil, and dead/dry skin that may have accumulated in the pores.

(STEP 2) Apply the scrub and massage into the skin.

Using your favorite sugar scrub apply a generous amount to the area of your skin you want to exfoliate. If your skin is especially sensitive, work slowly in small circles with very little pressure. Let the scrub do the work. There is no reason scrub like you are working on a dirty pan. Your skin is more delicate than you may know.

(STEP 3) Rinse with warm water.

After you have massaged the sugar scrub into the skin, rinse thoroughly with warmer water. This time the warmer water will help to keep the pores open for a cleaner rinse. You do not want to defeat the purpose of using an exfoliant only to trap some in your pores, leading to breakouts.

(STEP 4) Rinse with cooler water.

Only after all the sugar scrub is gone, rinse gently with cooler water. The water does not have to be ice cold, just below body temperature or even tepid water will do the trick. This will close the pores, helping to decrease ingrown hairs, breakouts, and irritations.

(STEP 5) Towel dry completely.

Towel dry your skin with a clean absorbent towel. Avoid using a towel that has been treated with fabric softeners. Fabric softeners not only keep the towel from being absorbent, but it may also leave behind particles of the fabric softener on your skin when used to dry freshly exfoliated skin.

(STEP 6) Apply a moisturizer.

After your skin is dry, apply a deep moisturizer. One of the best advantages of using a sugar scrub is you will be able to use less of your moisturizer and it will work better and penetrate deeper into the skin.

You will also want to make sure to use a moisturizer with sunscreen if you plan to spend time in the sun following exfoliating. Recently exfoliated skin has less protection from the sun’s harmful rays, increasing the chance of burn or irritation.

(STEP 7) Repeat at least once per week.

Follow these steps at least once a week to keep your skin smooth, moisturized, and healthy. Over time you may notice your skin is softer, with reduced ingrown hairs. Some individuals even notice an improvement in skin texture, fewer bumps, smoother scars, and less visible fine lines and wrinkles.

Storing Sugar Scrubs

Sugar scrubs, when used as often as suggested, will likely not last long enough to really worry about your scrub developing harmful bacteria or other issues. Most sugar scrubs should easily last a month, or so. However, there are some steps that will help your sugar scrub to last and work the best.

DIY sugar scrubs should be placed in an air and watertight container. Glass jars with a sealed lid is a great way to store any scrub. For scrubs that contain no preservative ingredients, such as honey, you may want to use a scoop to remove the scrub from the container for each use. This will help to reduce the number of bacteria that may be introduced to the scrub when using your hand to scoop the scrub up for use.

Store-bought scrubs will likely come in an adequate container unless purchased in bulk. For those that purchase sugar scrubs in large quantities, you may want to treat the scrub as a DIY scrub, transferring a smaller amount to a container to keep out excess water and air.

No matter which type of sugar scrub you make, or purchase, you should not share your scrub with other family members. Each person should use their own container of scrub. This will also help to reduce contamination, particularly in homemade scrubs.

Over time your sugar scrub may also separate or settle, even some commercial scrubs. As long as your scrub is not too old or out of date, you should be able to simply stir the scrub to recombine the ingredients and continue using. This is especially common when using thinner oils or ingredients that are naturally heavy, as they will settle in the container.


There are so many options for exfoliating with a sugar scrub. We hope this article has provided you with some good information to help you choose a pre-made scrub or give you the confidence to go on and make your own. Feel free to share any scrub recipes you create with us. Here’s sending you great vibes for vibrant and fresh skin!