The Best Natural, Physical Exfoliants

There are a lot of good things about the American ban on microbeads in beauty products. One of those things is that we can start working on eliminating the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic—most of it microplastic—we’ve dumped into the world’s water. (If you’ve got some time, go over to the 5 Gyres Institute’s website for more on how they figured out that scrubs were the root of the problem.) Polyethylene and polypropylene are designed to keep that tiny round shape for forever. That stat only gets worse when you realize that a single tube of facial scrub can contain more than 300,000 plastic microbeads. So, all those microbeads end up in our lakes and rivers, funnel into our oceans, absorb more harmful chemicals while in the water, then they get eaten by fish, we eat the fish, and all those chemicals along with it. Let’s not do that. Hooray for the Microbead Free Waters Act!

So that’s the big really good thing about the ban. But another nice windfall is that you have the opportunity to consider new products to add to your medicine cabinet on the off chance you were still using products that weren’t totally plastic-free (buh-bye St. Ives Apricot Scrub). Lucky for everyone (fish included) there are a fresh ton of great physical exfoliants that are all natural, biodegradeable, and not at all bad for our planet.

A quick aside: The Microbead Free Waters Act might be just the push you needed to give up your scrub and walk over to the chemical exfoliant darkside. You’re free to go. If you do, read up on your standard AHAs and BHAs this way…

But maybe you like a physical scrub—that’s totally cool. “It’s just a matter of preference,” says Jessica Richards, founder of natural product Mecca, Shen Beauty. “I use a physical scrub when I’ve had a lot of makeup on or been using heavy sunscreen. It’s really good for getting product buildup off.” Be careful, though, because scrubbing too hard can leave you with tiny tears in the skin. Not necessarily a huge concern with any of these products, just something to be wary of.

Now, here are your new scrubs:

Goldfaden MD Doctor's Scrub: Why use plastic anything when you can use literal ruby crystals to massage your face? So fancy. And also rough—in a good way. While you’re removing all your dead skin cells, the scrub also delivers hyaluronic acid and red tea extract to nourish and hydrate the skin. Jessica recommends diluting with a little lotion if the rubies are stronger than you’re used to.

Pai Kukui & Jojoba Bead Skin Brightening Exfoliator: Jojoba beads are the new microbeads. They’re similar in shape and size, but the water and heat of your skin melts them. Then you get all the benefits of jojoba oil—double whammy. Jessica’s take: “Pai are some of the best products on the market. The price point is great, they’re organic, they’re specifically for sensitive skin… Very hard to beat.”

Aurelia Refine and Polish Miracle Balm: Very similar deal here. Aurelia’s got a lock on the probiotic skincare thing. Think of it this way: Probiotics in your gut fight bad bacteria that screws with your digestion; probiotics on your face fight bad bacteria that fights with your complexion. You’ll find jojoba beads in this scrub, too, plus some enzymes that get at that chemical exfoliation as well. You’re completely covered.

May Lindstrom Skin The Clean Dirt Cleansing Clay: This one’s a super fine powder (in a super chic jar) that you can mix with anything. A little water makes it into a traditional, gentle clay scrub. A little honey and it’s antibacterial. Some yogurt and it’s soothing and more like a mask. “I always add a little of her Honey Mud to my mix to help it move around,” says Jessica. “And I like to use it on my chest and jawline. The places I break out are usually the places I get product buildup, so I need to scrub it off.” She recommends doing this one in the shower to mitigate mess. And you don’t need to worry about it going down the drain. Good for your skin; good for your conscience.

Photographed by Tom Newton.

You've got the tools, here's how to use them: learn how exactly to exfoliate your face right here.