Sugar Versus Salt In Skin Care

They're as different in utility as they are in taste.
Publish date:
March 20, 2015
exfoliation, body scrub, exfoliating products, facial scrub, salt scrub, sugar scrub

Sugar versus salt. You know it makes a big difference in the kitchen, but when it comes to your beauty regimen--particularly DIY and store-bought scrubs--most people don't think twice. At a quick glance, they're roughly the same shape, size and dimension. Look more closely, though, and you'll find that the two have their differences, and, as such, serve their own skin care purposes.

I decided to go on a quest to better understand the difference between the two. My assumptions were confirmed over and over again by aestheticians and skin care business owners alike: you should restrict both sugar and salt scrubs to your body and keep them away from your pretty mug.

"Use of salt or sugar scrub on face can cause scarring and tiny abrasions," explains Megan Fincke, a certified aesthetician with Nova Medical Group. "That said, salt and sugar scrubs work perfectly for the body because skin is thicker and less sensitive."

OK, so maybe you already knew that (smarty pants). But wait! Things get more interesting.

Let's Talk About Salt, Baby

  • "Salt is a natural antiseptic and kills bacteria and fungus," says Cecilia Wong of Cecilia Wong Skincare. As such, it makes for an excellent ingredient to throw into your foot soak. Maybe King Henry VIII would have prevented his gangrenous foot if only he employed a little salt action. Kidding. He was doomed anyway (and serves him right).
  • "Depending on the type of salt--we use mineral-rich Dead Sea and Himalayan--you're nourishing skin cells with important trace minerals that recharge your skin cells," says Julia Teren of Thesis Beauty. Each type of salt has its own trace minerals and skin care manufacturers choose thoughtfully.
  • Salt is a detoxifying and purifying agent.
  • You can use salt to provide texture in your hair, hence the myriad "beach hair" recipes that incorporate salt. It adds body and that wavy effect, but it can also be drying, so take caution.

Oh, Sugar Sugar

  • Very important: "Sugar scrubs don't sting if used on freshly shaved skin," notes Teren. "We do love the detoxifying action of the salt-based scrubs, but there are days when you want to save yourself that 'ouch.'"
  • Sugar is way better for your hair, especially when compared to salt. "The sweet stuff provides control for styling hair, and when partnered with olive oil, can be used as an effective scalp scrub," explains Sandi Arensman, a master hair stylist and colorist. These sugar and oil treatments are ideal for those with parched, dry hair.
  • You will likely find that sugar provides more of a softening effect than salt does. It's also gentler due to the (typically) smaller sized granules. Use it on more sensitive areas of your body, including your lips.
  • "Sugar acts as an exfoliant on both mechanical and chemical levels," says Teren. "It mechanically removes expired dead skin cells due to abrasive action, and chemically peels due to natural occurrence of glycolic acid." FYI: Synthesized glycolic acid is one of the AHA acids used to encourage cell turnover, slough off dead skin cells, and allow younger skin to resurface, she adds.

Those are the basics. Pretty informative, no?

  • Did you learn anything today?
  • What's your favorite body scrub?
  • Would you agree that sugar and salt should never touch the skin on your face?