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If you came of age during the era of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, there’s an excellent chance that physical scrubs were your introduction to exfoliation—and you used them a lot. Between the rough texture and yummy smell, it felt like you were doing your skin a favor, scrubbing away whatever skin issues you had back then (hello, acne) to reveal better, brighter skin underneath.
But our beauty routines have come a long way, and now we’re well aware that a harsh, abrasive scrub certainly isn’t doing breakouts any favors, to say the least. But are apricot and walnut scrubs actually good for anyone’s skin? We tapped two dermatologists, Dr. Dendy Engelman and Dr. Orit Markowitz, to find whether or not apricot and walnut scrubs are actually bad for you.
Meet the Expert
· Dr. Orit Markowitz, MD, is a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, skin cancer specialist, and the founder of OptiSkin.
What Are Apricot and Walnut Scrubs?
“Walnut and apricot scrubs contain tiny fragments of walnut shells or apricot pits that function as a physical exfoliant,” Engelman explains. “When you rub the scrub on your face, the pieces of shell or pit scrape off dead skin cells. Unfortunately, they can also create micro-injuries in your skin, as the fragments are often too large and abrasive for the skin of the face.”
There are two types of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Though they have the same goal, they work in different ways. Physical exfoliants use something physical, such as the bristles of a brush, particles in a sugar scrub, or in the case of apricot and walnut scrubs, apricot kernels and crushed walnut shells. Meanwhile, chemical exfoliants use acids—such as lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid, and/or salicylic acid—to remove dead skin cells. “The thinking behind physical exfoliation is using these textured, grainy particles to manually exfoliate the skin surface,” Markowitz says. “What you are ultimately doing is stripping away the surface layer of your skin and are left with skin that appears and feels smoother almost instantly.”
However, while physical exfoliants are typically more affordable, quicker, and easier to use (as you simply rub the scrub on your skin and rinse it off), they can cause inflammation and small tears in the skin, and potentially even lead to infection. Apricot and walnut scrubs can also weaken the skin barrier, leaving your complexion red and irritated.
Are Apricot and Walnut Scrubs Safe?
“Walnut and apricot scrubs have a reputation for harming skin rather than helping it,” Engelman says. “I recommend that my patients avoid physical scrubs like this, as the exfoliating particles (the shells and pits) are too abrasive for skin and can actually cause small injuries, or micro-tears, as well as inflammation and infection.”
In fact, Markowitz doesn’t even suggest using physical exfoliators in moderation. “I don't recommend exfoliating with scrubs as they actually do more damage to your skin,” she explains. “There is a misconception that when you use exfoliating scrubs you are combatting dry, flaking skin because the immediate result from exfoliating is skin that is smoother. However, this smooth effect is just temporary and you are actually damaging your skin even more with more exfoliation over time. This is why I don't recommend over-exfoliating and love to put an emphasis on moisturizing.”
However, if you absolutely insist on using a physical scrub, Engelman recommends not using it more than once a week and rubbing gently in order to avoid causing irritation and injury. “If you have to use a physical exfoliant or scrub, look for products that have super fine exfoliating beads or particles (not shell or pit fragments), which are less likely to tear and irritate the skin,” she says.
Walnut and apricot scrubs, along with all other physical exfoliators, are harmful to all skin types, but especially so for sensitive and dry skin types. “Those with sensitive skin or inflammatory skin conditions like eczema or rosacea should absolutely avoid using physical exfoliants, especially walnut and apricot scrubs, as these can irritate and harm the skin and worsen existing conditions,” Engelman says.
What Is the Best Way to Exfoliate Skin?
“I really recommend chemical exfoliants for those who want to resurface their skin, promote cell turnover, and eliminate acne,” Engelman says. “When used appropriately, chemical peels are much more effective and less risky for sensitive facial skin.” Both Engelman and Markowitz agree that chemical exfoliants are by far the preferred method.
“Chemical exfoliants are acids that work to remove dead skin cells, and there are several different kinds,” Markowitz says. “The two most common chemical exfoliants are AHAs and BHAs. AHAs are water-soluble acids commonly made from sugary fruits, and they help peel away the surface of your skin. I particularly like AHAs for exfoliants as many AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid are also considered humectants. Humectants are essential in keeping your skin moisturized, therefore I find these products to be the best for your skin, particularly your face. BHAs are oil-soluble and work under the skin's surface, lifting away dead skin cells. A common example would be salicylic acid.”
But it’s important to note that even chemical exfoliants do come with a small risk. “While I like to recommend these since they do not put patients at risk of tearing their skin, they do take a little more time and effort,” Engelman cautions. “If not used properly, or for those with sensitive skin, the acids may be too harsh and cause irritation.” Her go-to is Glo Skin Beauty’s Hydra-Bright AHA Glow Peel ($85), a chemical exfoliant kit that comes with everything you need to do a professional-quality peel at home. Super easy to use, it contains lactic and ferulic acids as well as antioxidants to brighten skin, reduce signs of aging, and repair damage from external aggressors.
For oily and acne-prone skin, and for those with acne scars, she recommends Differin's Resurfacing Scar Gel ($23), an over-the-counter product that promotes cell turnover, revitalizes the skin, and reduces the visibility of acne scars. “Exfoliating, in general, is good for those with oily skin and acne, as it can help loosen buildup in pores and promote cell turnover,” Engelman says.
The Final Takeaway
Ultimately, it’s best to steer clear of apricot and walnut scrubs. “My recommendation would be to not use apricot, walnut, or any other kind of physical scrub to exfoliate your skin,” Markowitz says. “There is a misconception that because your skin feels smooth immediately after use that these products are helping, however, this is not the case. In the long term, you are damaging your skin by constantly scrubbing at the surface layer and not providing your skin with what it truly needs, which is moisture. If you want to exfoliate, I recommend a chemical exfoliator in moderation.”