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DIY Beauty: Sugar Scrub

Long, long ago—when there was still such a thing as a giant Marshall Field’s in the heart of Chicago—a gal at the Laura Mercier counter convinced me that chemical exfoliation was meaningless without physical exfoliation. I have come to believe that she was right, and that is why I love sugar scrubs so much.

Why sugar? Rich in naturally-occurring glycolic acid and granular in shape, sugar functions as both a chemical and physical exfoliant. At the same time, sugar is a humectant: It moisturizes as it sloughs off dead skin.  

Fresh Brown Sugar Body Polish was the first commercial iteration of the sugar scrub, and it remains the most luxurious. Like every Fresh product I’ve ever used, it feels and smells delightful, and the results are terrific. I also really like Bliss Blood Orange + Black Pepper Sugar Scrub, and I recently discovered Biggs & Featherbelle Sweet Coffee Scrub.In fact, it was while I was considering the ingredients list of this scrub that I thought, “I could totally make this myself.”

So I did, and you can, too.

Here’s what you need:

Turbinado or demerara sugar. This is actually American and British for the same type of sugar.

Carrier oil. Vitamin E oil is great for cleansing and moisturizing the skin. Sweet almond oil is also nice; it’s antioxidant rich,  it has anti-inflammatory properties, and the scent is subtle and pleasant. I used both, but you have a lot of choices. This is a pretty comprehensive annotated list, and there’s a wealth of information online, so finding carrier oils to suit your specific skincare needs should be easy.

You can stop with just these ingredients—all of which are easy to find at a big supermarket or health food store—and make yourself an awesome scrub simply by mixing oil into the sugar until it’s about the consistency of a nice, fruity jam. You can also customize your scrub with essential oils or other scents, but make sure that any scent you choose is safe for cosmetic use.

I like adding coffee grounds to my scrub. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor—even when applied topically—and this can reduce the appearance of cellulite. The effect is temporary—there’s no cure for cellulite—and I can’t honestly say that I’ve noticed a difference, but, then again, I haven’t exactly been doing a close before-and-after comparison of my thighs each time I scrub. But the coffee gives my scrub an invigorating aroma, and the grounds also work as a physical exfoliant. I use the grounds leftover after making a pot of coffee.

All of these ingredients are stable, so you can make up a good-sized batch and store it in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Using the scrub on dry skin before a shower is a deeper exfoliation, since there’s no water to dissolve the sugar. Using it at the end of the shower will leave some oil on your skin for enhanced moisturizing. Either way, your skin will look and feel great. (Don’t neglect your hands—I find that a good sugar scrub is the next best thing to a paraffin dip.) I was inspired by Biggs & Featherbelle to add vetiver to my scrub (which seems like it shouldn’t smell right with coffee, but it does), and I enjoy using my homemade scrub as much as the more expensive—or much, much more expensive—products mentioned above.

NB: Using sugar scrub is messy. Using sugar scrub with coffee grounds is really messy. You will have to spend a little time cleaning out your tub, but I promise that it will be worth it.

September 14, 2011 | Permalink