Sugar is a very commonly used exfoliator among DIYers and many major skin care brands. It's a natural source of glycolic acid, which makes for an effective yet gentle exfoliator to the skin. I do love to occasionally make a sugar body scrub by mixing sugar with oils as a quick and easy body treatment for soft and radiant skin. I share my recipe for that below. However, I do not suggest using sugar to exfoliate the skin of the face. It's too risky for two reasons:
Glycation is defined as the process by which sugar molecules bond to proteins and damage them, leaving them stiff and inflexible. You've no doubt seen this process during cooking. When you brown a meat or a bake something to a golden brown, you are witnessing the glycation of the food and the production of AGEs, or advanced glycation end products. It is not ideal for our health or beauty to eat browned foods on a regular basis as this can cause premature aging. But believe it or not, that same effect can occur slowly over time in our bodies to OUR proteins and connective tissues! Consuming sugar leaves our collagen and other bodily proteins open to the process of glycation and this can contribute to premature wrinkling and loss of firmness and density that contributes to sagging skin. This is yet another very important reason to totally minimize sugar consumption.
Applying sugar topically to our skin is no different. The sugar molecules may damage our skin's collagen and elastin, eventually contributing to the weakening and damage of these proteins. NOT what you had in mind for your skin, right? So although sugar is only on our skin for a short time during exfoliation, it can't be relied upon as an exfoliator for frequent use because of this potential for glycation.
The second concern with exfoliating the skin with sugar is that unless you have managed to totally dissolve the sugar granules prior to using them, scrubbing your delicate facial skin with sugar could cause microscopic tears in the skin. These are tiny scratches in the skin's surface that are not visible to the eye, yet can produce unseen scar tissue that contributes to the inflexibility of the skin. FOr this reason, sugar and other granular exfoliators are not ideal. Enzymatic and fruit acid exfoliators like the one you'll find in the upcoming Cultivate Beauty Skin Care line, or even items you may have in your fridge like raw honey, papaya, or berries can exfoliate the skin by digesting dead skin cells and debris without scratching the skin.
As mentioned, I do like to make the occasional sugar body scrub. I prefer not to do it very often to avoid the risk of glycation from frequent use of sugar on the skin. Here's my easy recipe for a scrub that leaves skin super silky and glowing:
1/2 cup of sesame oil (or another high quality unrefined liquid oil)*
1/2 cup organic cane sugar (or sea salt**)
25 drops of your favorite essential oil - or less for sensitive skin (some of my go-to's are lime, ylang ylang, lavender, or clary sage)
* I specifically recommend an oil that stays liquid at any temperature, rather than something like coconut just as a precaution. If copious amount of coconut oil make it down your drain, it has the potential to clog the drain since it can solidify below 76 degrees F. But if you love coconut oil and aren't worried about that, then coconut oil is a nice option for your skin.
** You can make this recipe with a very finely ground sea salt to get an added boost of skin-loving minerals that occur naturally in sea salt. But be forewarned! Sea salt STINGS if you've just shaved your legs or if you have sensitive skin. Sugar is more comfortable for most skin types.
As always, keep sugar for topical use on the body and avoid consuming it regularly. It is a major beauty bandit! Choose a bit of fresh organic fruit instead.