Body scrubs are a spa menu staple—a trickle down from cultures that used abrasive towels (Japan), mitts (Korea, as well as Turkey and Morocco), and others tools to smooth skin and promote not just hygiene, but, it is believed, overall health.

At spas today, a treatment with exfoliating granules is usually given before a massage or body wrap, all the better to whisk away the dead, dry, thick top layer of skin. By removing this thick layer of cells—a chemist I interviewed recently compared them to roof shingles—the healthier ones beneath are revealed. These “new” cells are ones you want slathered in the hydrating, firming, or deep cleansing ingredients, since they can absorb them. Plus, the stimulating scrubbing process, which  jump-starts the cell renewal process (which grows sluggish with age), also may help the circulation and immune system function more optimally.


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Sugar and salt are the two most common types of scrubbing substances, followed by a salad bar of various plant-based ingredients. Here’s the nitty on the gritty of what you’ll likely encounter:


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Salt
It’s the most abrasive of the scrubs, and it’s often chosen for its thoroughness. Because it can be drying to skin, spas typically mix salts with oils. One of the newest at spas, including the Carlyle’s Sense Spa in New York and Miraval in Tucson, is Red Flower’s Isla das Rocas finer and flakier salt scrub.

Sugar
It’s almost as tough as salt, but because it contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), it’s also hydrating and gives back to the skin.

Plants
Sunflower seeds (featured in Carita’s Renovateur, used at many Ritz-Carlton Spas), grapeseeds (used with honey at Caudalie in Bordeaux), and bamboo (found in many scrubs from Naturopathica to USPA), are just three popular exfoliating agents used at spas around the world.

Note: Scrubs sold in drugstores often contain non-biodegradable plastic beads made of polyethylene.

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