I gave up on physical exfoliators around the same time I finally ended things with my on-again, off-again college boyfriend. Like said boyfriend, I realized physical exfoliators were full of enticing, nice-sounding promises that ultimately just left me/my skin worse for the wear.
I soon discovered sleek, fancy chemical exfoliators like Dr. Dennis Gross’s Alpha Beta Peels ($16), which magically left my skin clearer, softer, and smoother with none of the abrasiveness or irritation. Harsh, grainy face scrubs and skinny jean–clad musicians became a phase I left behind, a relic of a time when I was younger and didn’t know any better. I had moved on, matured; I was a girl back then, and now I’m a woman who knows better. (Insert quick break for the opening interlude of Britney Spears’s “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.”)
But all it takes is one special something to come along and flip your haughty preconceived notions on their head. That thing was Ole Henriksen’s Pore-Balance Facial Sauna Scrub ($28). Like all good things, it came into my life unexpectedly, like the first warm breeze hinting of summer (or a more applicable comparison in my life: like when your Postmates messes up your Shake Shack order and gives you cheese fries instead of normal fries but you don’t complain because you realize cheese fries are the bomb).
The bright green tube stood out like a cheery Pollyanna among a sea of its glossy, minimalistic black-and-white counterparts. There was something about the unabashed jolliness of the color and design that spoke to me, and I immediately tucked it into my purse to try. (A few weeks later, I would go to Iceland to meet with Ole Henriksen himself, and it would all make sense; anyone who’s had the pleasure of being in the company of the sprightly, jovial, and all-around lovable Danish man will immediately understand that his brightly colored line is a direct extension of his own jocund spirit.)
It just so happened that I had been lax with my skincare regimen around this time, and my complexion was looking duller than usual. There were bumps around my forehead that seemed to mock me, and my blackhead situation was getting embarrassing and inexcusable. I wanted a gritty exfoliator in my palm, sloughing away dead skin cells like remnants of the last few weeks’ bad decisions. But still, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
First of all, though Ole’s scrub is indeed a scrub, it’s much more sophisticated that your standard drugstore version. It’s made with volcanic sand—not Earth-harming microbeads—and a blend of glycolic and lactic acids. So basically it’s a physical exfoliator that also chemically exfoliates—a true win-win. The craziest part, however, is the fact that it actually warms up when you use it.
It’s inspired by Ole’s experience in traditional Scandinavian spas, where you flit from a warm room to an ice-cold one and back again to promote detoxification and circulation (Korean spa experiences are similar). Just like that experience, this scrub warms up when you apply for about 10 seconds, then as you slough it in, it transforms into a cooling, minty tingle. A lot of skincare products promise to deliver a “spa-like” experience, but this is the only one that has ever really delivered on that claim—using the scrub in my steamy shower felt like a true luxury.
The actual experience of using the scrub aside, the one thing that truly blew me away with this product was the fact that it left my skin feeling the softest it’s ever been since I turned 13 and started my acne phase. I haven’t changed many diapers in my life, but imagine that my face felt akin to a clean, lightly-powdered baby bottom (and I’m going to stop with that analogy now before it gets creepy). It was so buttery-soft, I stood in front of the mirror for a few minutes stroking my skin like Gollum whispering “my preciousss” to the one ring to rule them all. I realized at this moment that the warming effect of the product had probably opened my pores, and thus immediately capitalized on the situation and slapped a pore strip on my nose. Sure enough, the pore strip was disgusting when I peeled it off. My nose, on the other hand, was smooth and clean.
Since then, I have proceeded to use the Sauna Scrub on my neck and chest, and even at times my elbows—anywhere on my body that I want to feel slippery-smooth and soft. I’ve shoved it into the hands of my fellow editors, who come back to me with skin like velvet, singing its praises. It’s completely made me rethink physical exfoliators and become an integral part of my weekly routine. The 5000 hearts and five-star rating on Sephora don’t lie: This product, like Henriksen himself, is a true gem.