Plant Exfoliators

Find out what natural products can be used to exfoliate. 

Amy Branum

With the signing of the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, these tiny plastic beads were promptly banned from toothpaste, body washes, cleansers, and other hygiene products in the United States. The upshot? An estimated 8 trillion beads—enough to cover 300 tennis courts—will no longer enter American waterways daily.[1] The downside? Many of us may not know how to get our exfoliation on without these textured suckers. While chemical exfoliants (like alpha and beta hydroxy acids) are often smooth in texture and do a great job of sloughing off dead skin cells, the concentrations of these acids in some skincare products may be too strong for sensitive skin types. Here are a few plant-derived ingredients equipped to exfoliate your skin naturally:


Jojoba Beads

Studies have shown jojoba wax to be skin hydrators.[2] But when used as beads in body scrubs and other products, this wax gently exfoliates skin, too.


Fruit Enzymes

Fruit enzymes, like those found in pumpkin, pineapple, and papaya, are nature’s alpha hydroxy acids, known to exfoliate dead skin cells on the uppermost layer of the skin. Look for these ingredients in at-home peels and masks, though those with sensitive skin types should be careful about introducing these ingredients in their skin care, as some are highly allergenic.[3] Not sure if you have an allergy to these ingredients? Test a spot of any new product on your skin before trying a full application.

 papaya fruit on a table

Manuka Honey

Long used in hospitals for dressing wounds, this honey is proven to be antibacterial in nature.[5] Bonus: its grainy texture works to exfoliate dead skin cells while naturally cleansing the skin.


Rice Extract and Rice Bran

The smooth, fine-grained texture of rice powder (Oryza Sativa) is being incorporated into more and more cleansing products. Its ability to exfoliate without creating micro-cuts and tears in the skin makes it preferable to sharply-cut materials, such as ground nuts.

 rice bran for use as an exfoliator

Sugar and Salt

These kitchen staples have long been used in DIY scrubs. However, because both sugar and salt grains tend to be larger and coarser than other plant-based exfoliators, they may cause tiny tears on the delicate facial skin. If you are looking to smoothen out your skin by way of sugar or salt-based scrubs, try using it on the tougher skin below the neck.

mound of sugar


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  1. Rochman CM, Kross SM, Armstrong JB, et al. Scientific Evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads. Environ Sci Technol.2015;49(18):10759-10761; PMID: 26334581.
  2. Meyer J, Marshall B, Gacula M, Jr., et al. Evaluation of additive effects of hydrolyzed jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) esters and glycerol: a preliminary study. J Cosmet Dermatol.2008;7(4):268-274; PMID: 19146603.
  3. Stremnitzer C, Manzano-Szalai K, Willensdorfer A, et al. Papain Degrades Tight Junction Proteins of Human Keratinocytes In Vitro and Sensitizes C57BL/6 Mice via the Skin Independent of its Enzymatic Activity or TLR4 Activation. J Invest Dermatol.2015;135(7):1790-1800; PMID: 25705851.
  4. Kligman AM, Grove GL, Hirose R, et al. Topical tretinoin for photoaged skin. J Am Acad Dermatol.1986;15(4 Pt 2):836-859; PMID: 3771853.
  5. Mandal MD, Mandal S. Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed.2011;1(2):154-160; PMID: 23569748.