A good old exfoliating session can make your body look and feel as new – so here are some of the best body scrubs to do it with
You know a body scrub is an effective limb smoother – but have you considered it as a total wellbeing treatment for your body? That’s how Kate Shapland, creator of Legology and authority on getting toned, glowing body skin, says you should think about it. “When it’s done properly, its impact is far-reaching,” she says. “It treats both the skin surface and and underlying tissues, galvanising the lymph system in a way that promotes the body’s detox mechanism, all the while it smoothing and helping to regenerate the skin.” Who knew a bit of scrubbing could be so profound?
What does a body scrub do?
Basic question, but worth asking. Scrubs, which are predominantly salt or sugar-based (or sometimes have ‘buffing grains’), are a ‘physical’ way of loosening and sweeping away dead surface skin cells (as opposed to chemical exfoliants like lactic or salicylic acid, which dissolve the ‘glue’ with which the cells still stick to the skin). As a result, skin will feel a whole lot softer and less bumpy or rough.
The grains of salt or sugar are often hung up in thick oils which partly remain on skin after rinsing off your scrub, adding nourishment and locking in moisture (you don’t want a scrub that leaves your skin parched). Circulation-boosting essential oils also often feature.
And there are additional benefits:
- Lymph drainage
“The abrasive action of scrubbing promotes lymph flow, helping it to detoxify your body from within,” says Shapland. Call it a ‘double deep-cleanse for your body.’
- Better circulation
“A good scrub will bring fresh, nutrient-rich blood to the skin's surface, plumping it up and enhancing its tone,” says Shapland. She says that following your scrub with a moisturiser or mask straight after “will seal the pinkness and warmth into your skin.” And that makes you look fresh and energised.
- No more KP (keratosis pilaris)
Because scrubbing helps free up the tiny trapped body hairs that cause the bumpy ‘chicken skin’ called keratosis pilaris, regular exfoliating sessions can get rid of this problem. But it’s a good idea to choose a scrub with added salicylic acid, which will get into the pores and help dissolve trapped oils as well.
- Better results from your skincare
“Exfoliating primes skin for topical treatments such as body serums or creams because it removes the dead layer of skin which impedes absorption of active ingredients,” says Shapland. Also, in activating the circulation, treatment ingredients are encouraged to travel deeper into the skin.
Sugar scrub or salt scrub – what’s better?
As far as Shapland is concerned, salt is best. “Sea salt flakes have jagged edges so give a much deeper, more thorough scrub than rounded grains. Although, if you have a very thin and delicate complexion that extends to your body skin, she recommends a rich paste of rounded grains or exfoliating powder.
Salt scrubs, she says, also work harder than sugar or other scrubs “because salt draws impurities out of the skin.” It absorbs oil as well, so is the better option if you are prone to blocked pores on your body, for example on your shoulders, back or bum.
She loves Himalayan pink salt crystals fir supporting the lymph: “they have a diuretic ‘deep drainage’ action and are nice and crunchy for intense smoothing.”
Should body scrub be applied to wet or dry skin?
“Dry! Always!” says Shapland. Moisture on the skin, she says, creates a barrier that stops the exfoliant getting real purchase and doing its job.
She also advises you get yourself a scrub that’s seriously rich in buffing particles. “Nothing worse than playing 'chase the grain' around one thigh!” she says. In her opinion, you need lots of crunch to get the job done properly and in the most satisfying way.
How to use a body scrub – what are the best tips?
Shapland has plenty.
- Mind your feet
Sit and begin with the soles of your feet. Massage the scrub into the heels and sides and all around your toes.
- Move on up
It’s upwards from here. Work around your ankles, pushing the scrub in well and tracing around the ankle bone with your thumbs. Push the grains up your lower legs, ensuring you work the backs and sides as much as the fronts. In doing this you are encouraging the lymph network, which runs just beneath your skin, to move. Go a bit more gently over your shins where the skin is thinner and more fragile.
- Work you knee nodes
Knees are a focus point because you have lymph nodes (where the lymph network takes unwanted matter to be metabolised for the kidneys to flush it away) behind them: it’s why knees can get puffy if lymph is sluggish. Massage the grains into your skin in small circles - backs, sides and knee caps. There are more pockets of nodes near the groin and neck so don’t overwork the area but be aware that you’re activating them to perform their natural deep-cleansing duty.
- Anti-cellulite massage
After doubling back over your lower legs in sweeping movements this time, take a really generous handful of exfoliant, rest one leg up with your knee bent and massage each thigh in long sweeping movements up towards your hips. Use your thumb on your outer, then your inner thighs to 'clean' out stagnated fluids that cause cellulite. Don't forget the undersides of your thighs a really good scrub: fluid often gets trapped here, leading to puff and lumpiness.
- Finish with the neck
Scrub your hips and buttocks in circular movements, then work wrists to elbows, elbows to shoulders. If you have time, extend the application (delicately) across your chest and around your neck – here again, you are activating lymph.
How do you body-scrub your back?
For most people, says Shapland, shoulders and lower back can be covered without too much difficulty, but for the middle of your back, reach for a body brush with a long handle. Boost the buffing benefits by adding exfoliating salts to the brush's bristles. Work the brush up and down and from side to side. Finally, switch on the shower or slip into the bath to rinse it all off. There’s no harm soaking in the bath with the rinsed salts; it has added detox benefits!
The best body scrubs for your skin and needs
Best anti-cellulite body scrub: Legology Exfo-lite Stimulating Salts for Legs, £42 *
Making legs feel noticeably lighter after each use, this softening and re-energising scrub helps brighten skin and senses in equal measure. Combining sea salt with Himalayan pink crystals and zesty Amalfi lemon peel, the easy-to-carry sachets come particularly into their own after a long flight to combat sluggish circulation and muscle stiffening. We’d highly recommend following the brand’s pre-shower massage routine outlined here in order to get the most out of them.
Best KP-busting body scrub: First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub with 10% AHA, £31
This is a salt-based but not-very-chunky body scrub that owes its real exfoliating power to a hefty 10% exfoliating acids: glycolic and lactic acid work together to dislodge not just dead cells but also trapped baby hairs, resulting in those pesky red bumps on your arms, legs and bum melting away with regular use. There’s anti-inflammatory ingredients such as oatmeal extract as well to off-set the power of the acids, which can bite if you use them too often.
Best-value body scrub: Superdrug Vitamin E Sugar Oil Body Scrub, £5.99
This naturally marzipan-scented scrubs leaves nothing to chance on the smoothing front: it has sugar, sea salt and walnut shell granules to polish. Add shea butter, sweet almond oil and nourishing and antioxidant vitamin E, and you get a whole lot of scrub for your buck.
Best body scrub for bacne: Nécessaire The Body Exfoliator Fragrance Free, £30
The brand and packaging may be fashionably minimalist but this scrub’s formula is not: it has 6.5% physical exfoliants in the shape of pumice powder and bamboo charcoal granules, and a 1.25% complex of salicylic, glycolic and lactic acid for added ‘chemical’ polishing. The granules are super-mild so if you like to really get in there with your scrub, you may not be quite satisfied. But you may also be surprised at how effective this combo of actives nonetheless is; with its oil-mopping charcoal and salicylic acid, it’s particularly good for oily body skin prone to breakouts.
Best vegan body scrub: The Body Shop Luscious Lychee Body Scrub, £18
A creamy paste with walnut shell powder to polish skin, this is juicily fruity, features soothing, fair-trade aloe vera extract and nourishing shea butter and does the job without being too scratchy or harsh.
Best body and scalp scrub: Ouai Scalp & Body Scrub, £36
Sugar-based, this is a not-too-scratchy scrub that is mildly foamy, meaning it has some surfactants (cleansers, as in shampoo or body wash) in there for a super-deep clean of both your head and your limbs. There’s also nourishing oils and hydrating humectants, plus barrier-boosting probiotics and a scent that some people adore and others don’t.
Best budget Body Scrub: Q+A AHA Exfoliator Body Scrub, £7.50
This creamy scrub uses corn cob powder as its gently abrasive exfoliating agent – original. It’s assisted by lactic and glycolic acid to dissolve sticky dead cells, and has nourishing oils such as sea buckthorn and grape seed to add antioxidant protection and a pleasing glow to your limbs.
Best body scrub for sensitive skin: Neom Super Shower Power Body Polish, £28
Coffee grounds plus almond shell and olive stone microparticles hung up in a light plant oil-based lotion make for an effective polish that won’t upset delicate skins with their abrasiveness. There’s a potent mint, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oil scent that makes this a great wake-me-up or perk-me-up for body and mind.
Best body scrub that’s also a wash: Bloom & Blossom Scrubs Up Nicely Polishing Body Cleanser, £14
Mild surfactants make this a body wash, but the sugar crystals and salicylic acid give it polishing power. Will deal with rough skin as well as blemishes and breakouts oin your body, and has a pleasingly tropical-holiday scent thanks to its monoi and jasmine oils.
Best body scrub if you feel under the weather: Olverum Body Polish, £39
All the muscle-soothing, mind-calming, tissue-toning benefits of Olverum bath oil in a uniquely-texture, soufflé-like scrub. The clay, bamboo and pumice powders gently polish while the fermented papaya enzyme nibble away at dead skin without causing irritation. The fennel and grapefruit oils promote circulation while the lavandin and patchouli make for better sleep. It’s GTG’s Jemma Thompson’s favourite.
Best age-fighting body scrub: Dr Barbara Sturm Anti-Aging Body Scrub, £90
This has plenty of sturdy sea salt and sugar crystals for intensive scrubbing action, delicious mango and coconut oils to nourish, and plenty of anti-ageing skincare favourites such as essential fatty acids, antioxidant CoQ10, firming sea fennel and soothing purslane to leave skin a little tauter and more even-toned. At that price, it had better.
Most mouth-watering body scrub: Sol de Janeiro Bum Bum Body Scrub, £39
If you love the unmistakable pistachio and salted caramel scent of Sol de Janeiro's Bum Bum Cream, you'll fall head over heels for this scrub too. It has the same tropical island fragrance but also harnesses the power of crushed cupuacu seeds, sugar crystals and guarana caffeine extract to rid the body of flaky skin, ready to tan.
Best derm-grade body scrub : Goldfaden MD Doctor's Body Scrub, £65
This is the body edition of Goldfaden MD's cult face scrub – and it's just as high-performing as its facial counterpart, packed with gentle polishers to exfoliate, refine and treat. it promises keep skin looking vibrant and healthy while helping to prevent signs of premature ageing. Ruby crystals, bamboo extract and fruit enzymes for a not-too-gritty but deep-penetrating complex to rid skin of dead cells while red algae, jojoba oil, seaweed extract and hyaluronic acid help to prevent moisture loss and boost glow. GTG's editorial director Victoria Woodhall puts it on dry or damp skin before showering to give the enzymes time to gobble away dead cells and loves it for the fact that it's not at all oily.
Best body scrub for travel: Ishga Hebridean Sea Salt Scrub, £20
Unscrewing the lid of this spa-scented scrub instantly transports you to the windswept beaches of the Scottish highlands – without catching the customary chill. Made from mineral-rich sea salt from the Isle of Lewis, combined with jojoba oil and soothing, antioxidant thistle oil, this gets to work on dry skin, buffing and calming it. The pot is small, but it sure is mighty.
Best multi-action body scrub: Beauty Pie Soul Providers Dry Oil Sugar Scrub, £16 for members, £55 for non-members*
Beauty editors love this zesty grapefruit, lemongrass, black pepper and apricot oil scrub, obsessing over how it leaves the skin so soft, you can do away moisturiser. Ideal if you're feeling lazy of a morning! It uses chunky demerara sugar as well as 'lemon exfoliator' - that'll be citric acid from lemon peel to act as a cell-loosening chemical exfoliant. There's detoxifying holy basil and well, as well as nourishing oils. Not a member of Beauty Pie? Join using code GTGSENTME and get an extra £50 to spend.
Best before-bed body scrub: REN Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium Salt Anti-fatigue Exfoliating Body Scrub, £34
With magnesium deficiency having been shown to be widespread , this bath-time boost with a high concentration of magnesium sulfate acts as a blissful way to top up supplies. Also containing cobweb-busting essential oils and mineral-rich kelp , use it to exfoliate (it's sea salt-based for an intensive polish) then let sink back into the tub to transform the scrub into a bath soak instead. Sufficient magnesium levels are associated with better sleep, more energy during the day and relief of sore and twitchy muscles.
Best organic body scrub: Bamford Botanic Sugar Polish, £40
Certified organic by the Soil Association, this sea salt and brown sugar scrub (not many polishers mix salt and sugar) brings some serious spa factor to any bathroom shelf. Its rich, thick texture makes for the ideal fit for those looking for a more pampering polish. Its base of shea butter, essential oils and sesame and olive oils, meanwhile, makes it a perfect nourishing and revitalising treatment for tired skin.