Disclaimer: I am not licensed in aromatherapy, nor am I a doctor. I do have intensive and extensive experience with essential and body oils -- but should you have any serious concerns, please consult your doctor!
Let's talk body scrubs!
I love a good scrub. Your skin needs to be exfoliated at least twice a week, and moisturized almost every day. Exfoliating not only feels so good on your skin, but it gets rid of all your dead skin cells and leaves you feeling soft as a baby. The thing about scrubs, though, is that they can get super confusing and some places make it seem like you have to pay an arm and a leg for one. There are many concerns people have when facing scrubs. What is going to hold up longest? What is going to be easiest on my sensitive skin? How about my callouses? When people think of scrubs, they tend to focus only on the exfoliant, but I guarantee you that body oils are just as important, and although you can do without essential oils, those serve a purpose, too.
Scrubs usually consist of three components: body oil, raw exfoliant and essential oils. A scrub can't really exist without an oil and an exfoliant, but it can do without the essential oil. Let's start off with the base.
Your exfoliant, or base, is going to be what sloughs your dead skin off. You can use various different bases like coffee, salt, or sugar; you can use these separately or you can even mix them. I have even used ground mustard seed, which is excellent for stimulating blood flow and fights cellulite. Each base does something differently than the other, and the consistencies are quite different.
- Salt is one of the roughest exfoliants to use, especially if it is mineral sea salt. It has a rough texture and is great for detoxifying the skin. Although it may burn a little if you have a cut or knick, it cleans the wound at the same time. A plus to salt is that if you mix your scrub together all at once and have some leftover, it takes a very long time to dissolve in your oil. This base is great for knees, elbows, and feet; I recommend it for those who have medium to tough skin. Sea salt is my personal favorite. *Do not use on your face.
- Sugar is going to be best for those with sensitive skin. It is a softer grain than sea salt, but still does a good job of removing all of your dead skin. It doesn't burn if you have a cut, and it is not as drying as salt can be. The downside to sugar is that it tends to dissolve easily in your oil, so if you prepare your scrub in bulk, this may not be ideal. Granulated sugar is going to be softer than coarse sugar, so I recommend avoiding coarse sugar for the face.
- Coffee is very versatile. Firstly, caffeine is great for your skin, as it is very detoxifying and fights varicose veins. What makes it so versatile is if you have whole beans and a grinder, you can make it as rough or as fine as you want to. I don't like the mess it leaves in my tub, but it's easy to clean. I actually use coffee ground very finely for a facial scrub (you can find my review here).
- Other base options include ground mustard seed, caramelized sugar, and coarse sugar (as mentioned above). I'm not really crazy about either of these, but they are usable.
Now that you have a base picked out, you are going to venture into the realm of body oils. Here is where it gets just a little complex, as body oils do so many different things for your skin. A lot of people focus mostly on the base and tend to overlook just how important different body oils are. Is your skin dry? Oily? Mixed? Do you prefer heavier oils or oils that leave almost no residue at all? Do you have stretch marks? Is your skin losing elasticity? All of these things are important factors when determining an oil. Tip: You can use these as massage oils, too! Here are some of my favorite oils and what they do. Most of these can be found at a local Whole Foods or organic store, or can be ordered online.
- Olive oil is the most commonly found oil in households, making your scrub very affordable. Olive oil is high in vitamins A and E and attracts moisture from the air to the skin, allowing it to sweat. Once it sweats and dead skins cells are shed, it forces our skin to secrete sebum, which is the skin's natural oil. By doing this, olive oil is rejuvenating the skin and repairing broken skin cells. Pretty awesome, huh? I am not a huge fan of it, simply because it is too thick for me, but I do mix a little in with my other oils to get its benefits. Stick to "extra virgin," as others may be processed and less pure.
- Cold pressed avocado oil is one of my favorite oils of all time. It is not the easiest to find, but like olive oil, it is high in nutrients and is a thicker oil on the spectrum of oils. It is not as thick as olive oil, which I prefer, and tends to be my absolute favorite oil to use during the winter. It has a strong nutty scent to it, but I don't mind the smell and find that essential oils get rid of it immediately. It is best for mature, dehydrated skins, but everyone gets benefits from it. It is also great for fighting acne.
- Crude macadamia nut oil is probably one you recognize. It is very light, which is ideal for those who aren't huge fans of thick oils, and is found in a lot of scrubs. It leaves a small protective film on your skin and closely resembles sebum, which makes it feel even lighter. It is best for the spring and summer.
- Grapeseed oil is one of my least favorite oils. Although it's great for repairing broken skin cells and is great for rejuvenating the skin, it is incredibly thick. It feels like glue to me, personally, but if you love really heavy oils, go for it. I just hate how greasy and thick it feels and refuse to use it.
- Sweet almond oil is also another oil you probably recognize. This oil is often used in massage oils and tends to be medium-to-light in weight and texture. It is highly emollient, which helps with flaking. It also tightens the elasticity of your skin, which leaves you with a soft, smooth complexion. I actually like sweet almond oil, and it is good for any season.
- Virgin jojoba wax is technically a plant wax and not an oil, but don't let that trick you; it is highly absorbant. Its molecular structure nearly emulates sebum, which makes it incredibly nourishing and light. I love jojoba and it is easily my second favorite oil. Despite being very light, it is highly moisturizing and you can use it for your hair. I also use it on my face. If you are making a scrub for someone as a gift, I recommend using this oil as almost all skin types favor it. Unfortunately, jojoba can be very expensive, but Whole Foods definitely carries it and I encourage anyone to give it a shot.
- Rosehip oil is another one hard to find, and is expensive, but it is so worth it. It is an excellent oil for stretch marks, wrinkles, sun damage, liver spots, and scarring. This is because it works hard to repair broken skin cells. I used it when I was losing a lot of weight to help my skin "bounce back". It, too, has a strong nutty scent and is of medium thickness. Be careful, because this orange oil can stain your towels if you don't rinse off properly.
Last but not least, essential oils. As I have mentioned in the past, essential oils are amazing for so many different things. They honestly need their own blog entry or two or fifteen dedicated to them, but I will do my best to make this part less confusing and to the point. You can use essential oils to clean your home, clean yourself, use for home fragrancing, and so much more. Essential oils don't just smell delicious -- they nourish you! They are used to heal both body and mind, so when you are using them in a scrub, you are actually getting so many more benefits than just a pretty scent. I used to experiment with all kinds of different oils; I mixed and matched to make unique scents, and I definitely figured out what combinations don't smell so good. I am going to list off a few of my favorites and give you some combination ideas that I have found work for me, but first, a few important things:
- Do not apply directly to skin. Essential oils come in small bottles and are highly concentrated and volatile. Because of this, they can irritate the skin and cause little rashes if used without a carrier like a body oil or water. There are some exceptions to this, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid direct contact. Some people do not have sensitive skin and can handle certain oils, but I do not recommend it for the majority.
- You only need a few drops. The great thing about essential oils is that you can control how strong your scent is. Two drops of lavender will be mild, whereas seven drops will feel like someone stuck the flower up your nostril. Use too many drops and they will become an irritant.
- Buy essential oils that come in a dark bottle. Essential oils will spoil if kept in the sunlight or any light, for that matter, if they are in a clear bottle. A dark bottle will guarantee a longer life. When you see how small the bottles are, don't be shocked. Remember, you are using drops. That tiny bottle will take you very far.
- Attention expecting mothers: neroli is one of the very few approved essential oils for those who are pregnant. In general, citrus essential oils are fine, but consult your doctor if you wish to look further into what you can and cannot use.
Now that we have those few points cleared up, here are some of my favorites:
- Lavender is very soothing and is often used to cure headaches. It is a disinfectant. It is one of the very few essential oils that can be applied to the skin without a carrier oil or water. I like to put it in a spray bottle of water and spritz on my pillows to help me sleep at night. Combine this with a coffee scrub and you have one hell of a varicose veins fighter.
- Mandarin is very awakening and perfect for those of you who love citrus scents. Sweet orange, lemongrass, and grapefruit are all good substitutes if you cannot find mandarin but crave that citrus zing. These can also be used to clean your floors, if added to a bucket of water!
- Peppermint is very awakening, but also has the power to refocus you, getting rid of anxiety and nervousness. I add just one small drop to my facial scrub and use it for foot scrubs, too. Peppermint stimulates blood circulation, which is extra important if you want a good foot scrub. Stimulating blood flow helps swollen, tired feet. Do not use if you are pregnant. Do not use this directly on the skin, and be very careful when determining how many drops to use. It is incredibly strong and can be very irritating.
- Tea tree is no doubt one you have all heard of. It, like lavender, can be used directly on the skin. Substitute immortelle if you cannot obtain tea tree. Both are anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial. These help with acne, bug bites, and any skin wounds you may have. I add at least two drops of tea tree to every essential oil blend I make, as it is a great disinfectant.
- Eucalyptus is awesome if you have a cold or sore throat. It is very medicinal and like peppermint, great care must be taken when determining the amount of drops to use. Bring a pot of water to boil and administer three drops. Put a towel over your head and let the steam heal you. I add this to my scrubs in the shower because the steam helps the eucalyptus sooth my throat and nose. Do not use if you have epilepsy or high blood pressure.
- Ginger and cinnamon are great for boosting the immune system. Seriously, they are all-mighty. You know about using them in coffee and food, but they are great in a scrub, too.
- Vanilla is an aphrodisiac that is great for massaging. Using this in a scrub on your partner amps up the steam in the shower.
- Rosemary is great for refocusing and can be used in your shampoo to stimulate hair growth. I love rosemary in a scrub because it is awakening and soothing at the same time. It activates your nervous system and relieves mental strain, making it great for focusing on projects. Do not use if you are pregnant.
Some of my favorite combinations include:
- Lemongrass and peppermint create an awesome awakening blend that smells so good and puts your mind in charge of the day. I also love rosemary and peppermint for something a little softer.
- Lavender and rosemary are soothing and help recenter your nervous system.
- Neroli and eucalyptus is a very healing blend that also has a beautiful, lingering floral scent to put you at ease. Although neroli is not listed above, I highly recommend it. It is a bit expensive, but this flower is a natural anti-depressant and deodorant. It has a beautiful, unique smell and is extremely calming.
There are hundreds of essential oils out there, and I know about many more than what I have put on this list. However, most of these oils are not only affordable, they are very easy to find and yield pleasing results. They should be anywhere from $7-$12 and you can use them for so many other things. The most effective way to use essential oils is through inhalation, so it is a bonus for you that your shower creates steam.
Possible scrub combinations:
- Sea salt, jojoba oil and lavender - with jojoba being relatively light, you can focus more on lavender's soothing effects if you're a night time scrubber
- Coffee, avocado oil and peppermint - this will wake you up! Peppermint and coffee together help fight cellulite and stimulate blood flow
- Sugar and olive oil - easy to make with at-home ingredients and works wonders for the face
- Sugar, sweet almond oil and vanilla - vanilla is an aphrodisiac, so if you're sharing a shower with your lover, this is great for a massage scrub
There is so much more to know, but this should be a strong, good guide for you when figuring out your scrub. There is truly no wrong scrub to make. Just have fun with it, figure out what feels best on your skin, and know that I am here to answer any questions you have!
Have you ever tried to make your own scrub before? What combinations did you use? Do you feel confident to whip up a homemade batch after reading this?