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The Nitty Gritty: Exfoliating Soaps
By Debbie Steele

Exfoliating soaps are one good way to slough off dead, flaky skin. There are lots of choices out there, from simple bars to exotic liquids. I tried several options (many of these soaps would work equally well for men or women).

One note about exfoliating soaps generally: It is possible to overdo it. My skin tends to be very dry, and although exfoliating is a good way to make it feel smoother, it can also be a little irritating.

I tested a total of seven soaps for this article. A couple times during this process, my skin seemed to be crying out: “Give me a break here!”

So, for some people, daily use of an exfoliating soap may work well, but for others (like me), once or twice a week may be more appropriate. Just listen to your skin.

Two Handmade Bars

I began with a couple of bar soaps from The Natural Bath Shop, a small operation headquartered in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. The couple who run the business have a small retail store in Charlotte, as well as an online store.

They offer a nice selection of natural products; I especially like their handmade bar soaps. For this article, I tried the Apricot Almond Scrub bar and the Loofah and Cornmeal Scrub bar.

Natural Bath’s Apricot Almond Scrub is a rich brown color, with a sweet, nutty apricot smell. It reminds me of the Aapri facial scrub I used years ago, only with much finer grains. As the bar wore down, the grains created interesting patterns in the soap. I found this soap a little too rough to rub directly on my skin, but if I lathered it up in my hands and then washed with it, it felt fine.

I definitely noticed a difference in my skin after showering with this soap just once: it really was smoother. Overall, I really like this soap. A 6-ounce bar sells for $3.95.

Natural Bath’s Loofah and Cornmeal Scrub, which they recommend for sensitive skin, is a nice, if somewhat unexciting, bar soap. It’s a creamy off-white color with no added fragrance (although it does have a very faint herbal scent). Its exfoliation comes from finely ground loofah and cornmeal. This soap is less rough than the Apricot Almond Scrub bar, and has a nice, creamy lather. Again, a 6-ounce bar sells for $3.95.

A Sweet, Spicy Gel

Moving from bars to liquids, I tried Kiss My Face Rough Thyme Shower Gel. For those of you unfamiliar with Kiss My Face, it is an all-natural body care company whose products are often sold in health food stores.

They offer an interesting and very reasonably priced selection of products. Because of the name and the green bottle, I was expecting Rough Thyme Shower Gel to have an herbal fragrance. In fact, this gel has a sweet, spicy scent that I really like. The ingredient list includes lemon, cinnamon and clove; these are the scents that came through most clearly to me.

The most noteworthy thing about this soap is its consistency: It is definitely a GEL. Unlike your typical liquid soap, this one has a sort of slimy/gooey/clingy feel, and did not make much of a lather (one nice thing about the gel consistency: it’s great for shaving).

Its “spherical jojoba wax beads” provide very gentle exfoliation. In fact, despite its name, Rough Thyme Shower Gel is the least “rough” of all the scrubs I tried. My skin felt nicely moisturized after using it. A 16-ounce bottle of Rough Thyme sells for about $9.00 at

Bitter Experience

I next used Bloom Exfoliating Body Scrub, available at ($16 for 5.28 oz.) Bloom is an Australian company whose self-described mission is "to create innovative, quirky products…for the young and young at heart." Check out Bloom’s cute, quirky website at

The scrub describes its fragrance as a "citrus sorbet" of grapefruit, lemon verbena and orange, but I found the scent to be strong and bitter. I couldn’t figure out the source of the strong aroma; the ingredient list starts out with such benign ingredients as green tea extract, rose water and sweet almond oil. The last ingredient listed is bitter orange oil; maybe that’s it.

The exfoliating action in this scrub comes from ground walnut shells, which provide a much stronger scrubbing action than Kiss My Face’s jojoba wax beads. (On a "grit" scale of 1 to 10, if the Kiss My Face gel is a 2, this scrub is about a 7 or 8.) As I used this scrub in the shower, I could feel my skin getting smoother.

Almost immediately after getting out of the shower, however, the skin on my legs began to feel dry, tight and irritated. I applied lotion as usual, after my shower and again the next morning, but my legs felt uncomfortably dry for about 24 hours.

The bottom line: If you’re looking for a serious exfoliator and you like this one’s distinctive smell, this may be a good option. If your skin is dry or sensitive, however, proceed with caution. As for me, I’m saving the rest of my tube to use as a foot scrub.

Fruity or Floral

I next used Cali Oliva Salata Moisturizing Body Scrub. The Cali product line claims a colorful history: "In the 19th century, on the outskirts of Rome by the Mediterranean Sea, the Roman nobles discovered the Cali Beauty Farm. There, based upon ancient home made recipes…the nobles enjoyed and benefited from our recipes…our philosophy has been to treat the outside and inside of our bodies with the same care while using the finest ingredients."

I felt better after just reading the package! The Cali scrub is one of two I tried that uses salt for exfoliation. (The other is the Philosophy scrub described below.) I found the salt to be a nice medium-strength exfoliator: grittier than Kiss My Face’s jojoba wax beads, but not as rough as Bloom’s ground walnut shells. It was basically the consistency of coarse table salt (I have a lingering suspicion, however, that salt is drying to the skin. Think slugs on the sidewalk).

The Cali scrub has a sweet, fruity smell that I found very nice. I would describe it as a peach-apricot-melon sort of smell. This rich, fragrant scrub made a nice lather, and left my skin feeling smooth. Overall, this was one of my favorite exfoliating soaps. You can purchase it at ($18 for 8 ounces.)

Philosophy is a company with a wide range of product offerings: makeup, skin care, bath and body products, gifts and fragrances, all with a “philosophical” element. For example, their Amazing Grace Olive Oil Body Scrub proclaims that "amazing grace is the person who lives in a state of love, forgiveness and total compassion…the humble spirit who lets others shine…who has let themselves out and the spirit in."

Wow! Am I even worthy of this soap? Like the Cali scrub, the Amazing Grace scrub uses salt for exfoliation, and the consistency is very similar. As for the fragrance, let me say upfront that I am not a big fan of florals. If you are, you might love the smell of this product, which Philosophy describes as "light, floral."

To me, though, it smells like cheap perfume (there, I said it). It has a rich, creamy feel and makes a nice lather. Overall, it was very similar in feel and effect to the Cali scrub. The primary difference between the two is the fragrance and color ($18 for 8 ounces), available from

The Grittiest

Finally, I tried a scrub from Garden Botanika, a product line with an uncertain future. (Garden Botanika sold its assets to a St. Louis-based company, Schroeder & Tremayne, in March of 2001. Schroeder & Tremayne is a privately held company whose divisions sell body care and auto care products through various retail outlets).

The company says it plans to sell Garden Botanika products through other retailers, in addition to catalog and internet sales. So stay tuned for changes sure to follow.

I tried their Exhilarating Mint Body Scrub. This stuff has a wonderful, sweet mint smell. Its exfoliating action comes from ground loofah and cornmeal.

Of all the products I tried for this article, this one was the “grittiest”, more so even than Bloom’s ground walnut shells.

For me, then, it is too rough to use anywhere but on my feet. If you’re after some serious exfoliation and you like the smell of mint, this might be a great choice. It sells for $8.50 at

Editors note: Garden Botanika has reformulated and renamed the Exhilarating Mint Body Scrub, and is now available as Exfoliating Fresh Mint Salt Scrub (9 ounces for $20.00).

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