Journal / Skin Care

Scrub Wisely – Tips for DIY Exfoliation

Nancy L. Belcher

Medically reviewed by Nancy L. Belcher Ph.D, MPA

Written by Winona Editorial Team

Last updated November 25, 2021

Scrub Wisely – Tips for DIY Exfoliation

Exfoliating Skin Scrub – An Overview

When it comes to exfoliation or face scrubs, more is not better. Over-scrubbing can make the skin more sensitive, irritated, dry, and you may actually be accelerating aging and UV damage. It’s best not to use a body scrub on your skin every day. 

Our medical professionals at Winona cannot recommend all do-it-yourself face scrubs, exfoliating scrubs, and especially walnut shell face scrubs. What they do suggest are gentle face scrubs that can help improve aging skin, and ways to balance hormones that naturally decrease with age.

Scientists share cautionary tales of why we need to nurture and heal our midlife faces and treat them entirely differently than we did as teens. Those face scrubs were fun when our skin was young and able to rebound from the ‘treatment.’  As teens, many of us were able to scrub away at our oily skin with impunity and were able to get that smoother skin and unclog our pores. 

Now, as we age, our skin is drier, thinner, and more prone to irritation. Scrubbing with anything – especially walnut shells – is not a good idea. We have to develop an entirely different relationship with our skin.

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How Is Menopause Associated with Skin Aging

Menopause is a part of a woman’s natural aging process and begins after you’ve gone 12 months without a period. On average menopause occurs at 51 years of age, but the variations are wide. Most women start perimenopause – the years leading up to menopause – at about 35. 

There are many symptoms of peri- and menopause including hot flashes and night sweats that affect around 75% of women. Less frequently discussed are aging skin and hair. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be used to provide relief from menopausal symptoms.

  • Anti-Aging

As you age and move into perimenopause, at about 35 years of age, your levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone drop. This drop begins long before you are thinking about menopause, but leads to the decline of hormones that accelerates aging-related changes in the skin. It’s important to recognize the changes in your skin as you age, and use the appropriate products to help keep it looking and feeling great.

The evidence surrounding how hormone replacement therapy (HRT) plays a role in anti-aging treatments is solid. For decades, there have been anti-aging creams including eye cream for wrinkles and crow’s feet that claim to be the ‘answer.’  While anti-aging face cream can help reduce fine lines, there are more effective anti-wrinkle treatments available including HRT. 

What are the Ingredients that Work Well For Face Cleaning?

While nostalgia for your skincare routine can be fun, it isn’t going to give the same benefit that is used to and can cause damage. Consider updated routines and products to nurture your sensitive skin rather than scrubs that can tear and irritate the skin.

  • A basic rule of thumb for our more mature faces is to use warm water, a soft face cloth, and creamy non-soap cleansers.

  • For make-up removal, micellar water and cotton pads are much kinder.

  • Loofahs, whether they are natural or synthetic, are also problematic as they can damage your skin. These sponges can be an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and actually trigger folliculitis (infection of the hair follicle) leading to rough, irritated skin. 

  • If you feel like you must exfoliate there are safer ways to do it. You can also think about oatmeal and yogurt. These very natural, gentle scrubs are generally safe and use ingredients you already have in your pantry. Think about using a gentle scrub of sugar or sea salt with your oil of choice (almond, olive, coconut, etc.). 

  • Be cautious using essential oils, as they can cause contact dermatitis (skin irritation or allergy). You often find essential oils used in aromatherapy, which uses plant extracts. While they may smell fabulous, they are not appropriate for your skin. We suggest using coconut, jojoba, olive, almond, or grapeseed oils or better yet, micellar cleansing water.

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What is Micellar Cleansing Water? 

This skincare product has long been popular in France. Micellar (my-sell-er) water looks and feels like regular water but it is great for removing makeup, cleansing, and toning your skin. It is made of purified water, a little glycerin to add moisture.

Some very mild surfactants work together to create ‘micelles’  that act to pull dirt and some oils out of your skin. The cleansing water is so light that you don’t need to rinse it off so the moisturizing glycerin and water can be absorbed. Regardless of your skin type, micellar water is universally friendly.

Suggested DIY Treatments

  • Oatmeal & Honey
    Ground oatmeal is a gentle ingredient that may benefit skin prone to irritation. Honey can be added for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and humectant (draws in water) properties. Not only can honey help repair skin tissue and protect against UV damage, but it may also help kill germs on the skin.1

    Some say that honey can help treat dry skin, and may help prevent wrinkles while restoring the upper layer of the skin (the epidermis).2

  • Green Tea Scrub
    Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, green tea may reduce harm to the skin caused by sun damage.


Yogurt (plain) may be used as a face mask to utilize the effect of lactic acid. It’s best to use plain, unflavored yogurt for a face mask, but not all types are created equal. Regular cow’s milk yogurt is most common, but Greek yogurt is thicker and easier to apply.2 If you have a cow’s milk allergy, try a different type of treatment. 

Other Face Cleansers

  •  Alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids
    Alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids are another option for exfoliation but should be used cautiously on the face. Examples include lactic and glycolic acids (alpha) and salicylic acid (beta). These are available in multiple strengths and a wide variety of products. 

  • Astringents and Toners
    Astringents and toners are generally unnecessary and may actually cause more harm than good. Anything that stings generally contains alcohol and is drying. Toners are designed to remove anything your cleanser left behind, balance pH, or hydrate.

    They can be problematic if any of the ingredients trigger irritation or allergy. If you choose to use a toner, aim for ingredients that hydrate and are gentle. Anything that “shrinks pores” is not a good option and you should save your money pore size is fixed and you cannot change their size. 

  • Noxzema
    Noxzema…other than sunburn, there isn’t much use for it. Listed ingredients include linseed oil, gelatin, camphor & menthol and is definitely better left in the last century. If you love it, and your skin tolerates it, it’s not dangerous…but you may want to try something a bit gentler like CeraVe or Cetaphil.

  • Clearasil
    Clearasil, or Stridex pads, is good old benzoyl peroxide, which is responsible for the bleached halo on the good towels

  • Still considered a cornerstone of acne treatment, use cautiously on adult skin due to its tendency to dry and irritate. 

  • Try low-strength washes rather than leave-on formulations.

  • Salicylic acid is a gentler alternative but doesn’t have the bacteria-killing properties of benzoyl peroxide.


When it comes to face scrubs, more is not better, and not all homemade face scrubs will be gentle enough. As we age, our skin becomes thinner and more sensitive. Over-scrubbing can make the skin irritated, dry, and you may actually be accelerating aging and UV damage with improper treatment. If you want to DIY, we recommend gentle homemade face treatments that can help heal aging skin. 

The role that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) plays in skincare treatments is a hot topic.  While anti-aging face cream can help reduce fine lines, HRT is a more effective anti-wrinkle, skincare treatment. There is no doubt that estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone exert beneficial effects on the skin.  Reach out to Winona today for your free consultation with our physicians. 

“This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.”