Plant abrasives

Ground cereals

Corn and wheat semolina, durum wheat semolina, rice semolina, finely ground oats are some of the ingredients used for exfoliants, which are available most often as food. These are interesting exfoliating products that are used immediately, or last for about a week. Namely, semolina is easily spoiled (it attracts mould), absorbs a lot of oil and changes the appearance and consistency of the product, and it is usually not suitable for making more permanent water gel exfoliants, because it swells and becomes more like breakfast porridge than exfoliant. Choose corn and wheat semolina that has the fine shape of particles that are more round and comfortable for the skin, without having sharp edges. You may have a problem finding the right product. Some great food products can have sharp edged particles that are uncomfortable to apply, while others are nice and round, comfortable under the fingers. You can easily see the fineness and shape of the particles yourself or try them on the skin- at least such raw materials are not expensive to play with, and the ones which are not appropriate for exfoliating you can always eat.

Some, such as rice exfoliants (INCI: Oryza sativa powder) are already specifically marketed for exfoliants, so they are ground in a way to give fine round particles. They can also be of different finesse. Rice exfoliant can be obtained in several different average particle sizes: the finest is 0.2mm in size (face exfoliants with a fineness reminiscent of powder); 0.5mm (face and body exfoliants); 1mm (body exfoliants), while 2mm is the roughest exfoliant with the effect of subcutaneous tissue massage, which is very popular as an adjunct in anti-cellulite massage. Unlike other cereals, rice exfoliant is far more resistant to swelling and can be added to gel phases, and is also suitable for more durable products that end up on the market.

Colloidal oats (INCI: Avena sativa powder) is a specially chopped and sifted integral oat rich in glucans. Although it is used mainly for dressings for skin prone to irritation, it is sometimes used as a very gentle and pleasant exfoliant. Unlike rice, it swells in water, so permanent cosmetics are made in oils, and only freshly prepared in aqueous solutions.

Ground kernels and other hard parts of plants

They are very popular in commercial cosmetics. They are superior for several reasons- they are incredibly stable, swell poorly in both oil and water because of the woody (cellulose) structure, unlike the structure of cereals (starch), dissolves and changes poorly in any matrix. These are most often ground apricot, peach and olive kernels/pits, and walnut shells. Their structure allows us to grind and sieve them to precisely defined dimensions (precisely determined granulometry). So you have variants of very fine particles, extremely gentle, suitable for exfoliating sensitive skin of the face and neck. Larger particles, which also have a satisfactory shape, are usually intended for body exfoliants, and can be so large that they have a massage effect on deeper tissue, and not just an abrasive effect. For example, there is an olive exfoliant that looks like small “wheels” that massage well, in addition to being an exfoliant. Let’s see now which exfoliants are available.

Apricot kernel exfoliant (INCI: Prunus armeniaca seed powder) is brownish red, odourless. There are several granulometric variants (average particle size): 0.2mm, which is the finest and is used for facial exfoliants (sometimes body), 0.5 and 1mm, which is mostly used for body exfoliants, and the largest 2mm, which is used the feet, and less frequently for the body. In the same form come ground olive pits (Olea europea seed powder), argan pits (Argania spinosa shell powder), hard coconut husks (Cocos nucifera shell powder) and walnut husks (Juglans regia shell powder) with similar granulometrics. Coconut exfoliant, but also tamanu hard kernel exfoliant (INCI: Callophyllum inophyllum shell powder) is also offered by Pacifique Sud.

Strawberry seeds (INCI: Fragaria vesca seeds) come in only one size, as integral 1mm seeds with a pleasing micromassage effect on the face and body, and the integral shape (they are not ground) makes them especially attractive. Ground lotus seeds (Nelumbo nucifera seed powder), lychee (Lichi chinensis seed powder), grapes seed (Vitis vinifera seed powder) and kiwi (Actinidia chinensis seed powder) are found in particle sizes of 0.5mm (face and body); 1mm (body) and 2mm (body and massage effect). As they do not release medicinal substances, at least not in larger quantities, choose these exfoliants based on their aesthetic appearance and texture. Each of them has its own texture panel, but it is difficult to judge which one is better- they are all relatively hard but gentle enough exfoliants, and the advantage of such exfoliants is the more massage effect, which is less pronounced in mineral exfoliants. Make sure you think logically: a coconut exfoliant does not smell like coconut, the same goes for apricot or strawberry exfoliant- they are made of husks, kernels or seeds. Although they are also advertised for the active substances in them, let’s be realistic and need to know that we are using them for massage reasons. However, it should be expected that grape seeds will release a small part of the active compounds of oligomeric procyanidins, and the shell of walnut tannins, which can have a beneficial effect on the skin.

The exfoliant obtained from the bark of Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia bark), but also from the more valued true cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum bark) has a very pleasant smell, and unlike the above, it releases active substances that increase blood circulation and leave the skin feeling smooth. This, of course, can be further emphasized by oil or gel.

Ground ginger root (Zingiber officinale root powder) has a similar effect on circulation. Apart from being raw materials, you can find them as spices in stores, although they do not have a defined particle size (about 1mm).

One of the most interesting exfoliants is obtained by grinding the dried fruit of nutmeg (Myristica fragrans seed powder). A well-known spice intended for béchamel sauce or strong vegetable and meat sauces, nutmeg has been valued for centuries because, in addition to facilitating the digestive process, it contains myristicin that lifts up the mood. In cosmetics, it gives tone to the skin, because relatively small exfoliating particles easily release active substances into the exfoliant itself. All of them also come with a granulation of 0.5; 1 and 2mm and the application rules already mentioned apply to these granulations.

Another of my favourite exfoliants are ground seeds of star anise (Illicium verum seed powder), with a pleasant scent of anise whose active ingredients have a good effect on mature skin, and the product itself gives a herbal, refreshing scent. It should be borne in mind that this class of exfoliants swells a little in water, so it is best to make them fresh in gel, but they are very stable in oils.

The king of all these aromatic exfoliants of hard parts of plants is the New Caledonia sandalwood (INCI: Santalum austrocaledonicum). From the bark of this tree Pacifique Sud produces a powder of the luxurious scent of sandalwood, a prized ingredient in cosmetics for thousands of years. Women in French Polynesia wear sandalwood masks on their face all day and it reportedly work wonders.

Guarana seeds (Paullinia cupana seed extract) are very popular in phytotherapy because their active substances, methyl xanthines, act similarly to coffee, and are popular among students when preparing for exams. But methyl xanthines are equally popular in cellulite treatments because they help “dissolve” adipose tissue and stimulate circulation. They come in particle sizes of 0.2; 0.5, 1 and 2mm.

For the same reason, ground roasted coffee seeds (Coffea arabica seed powder) and ground cocoa beans (Theobroma cacao shell powder) are also used. They contain the already mentioned methyl-xanthines and have a characteristic, much loved scent. They come in particle sizes of 0.5; 1 and 2mm. You can find coffee, although not in clearly defined particle sizes, on the shelves of stores. Stimulating circulation and drainage and “boost” effect are the main marketing assets of these raw materials.

A slightly rougher texture is the cranberry seeds (Vaccinium macrocarpon seed powder) exfoliant, which is very red and has a discreet fruit scent. It comes in the same particle sizes as coffee and cocoa beans. It is extremely stable for all types of matrices and the colour is very stable regardless of the final formulation. A similar composition has rose seed powder, available in Aroma-zone webshop.

We have already talked about the powder of tepezcohuite bark (Mimosa tenuiflora bark) in the macerat chapter, it is an excellent facial scrub because it has a hard structure and releases a number of active substances that stimulate skin regeneration.

Bamboo shoots (Bambusa arundicea stem extract) exfoliant is a small story in itself. This type of exfoliant is rich in silicon compounds (over 75%) and resembles field horsetail in its properties. It is the only one of this class that comes in 0.1mm granulometry for microdermabrasion, and is a rare example of a plant material for this application which is dominated by mineral abrasives. It also comes in sizes of 0.2 (face); 0.5 (face and body) and 1mm (feet). The fine delicate crystalline structure is my favourite- softer than rhyolite or corundum, but more energetic than most other organic exfoliants. The silicon content makes it extremely stable in all matrices.

Fibrous exfoliants

The next “hardness” or fineness of exfoliants is manifested in fibrous exfoliants. Some people love them- they are reminiscent of small pieces of cloth that gently cleanse the skin, and feel completely different from ground kernels. Fibrous exfoliants do not have round particles, but oblong ones.

Commercial exfoliants made from loofah seeds (Luffa cylindrica fruit) are well known. Loofah is the Arabic name for a plant from the cucumber and pumpkin family, and the hard seeds are rich in fibre. They come in three sizes, one of which is very tiny, 0.03 mm and it is extremely gentle, barely noticeable but a good exfoliator for fine cosmetics and sensitive skin. Slightly larger 0.2 and very large 5mm loofah exfoliants are intended for soaps and shower gels. Its natural colour is off-white to beige, although the manufacturer has it at its disposal artificially coloured variants, suitable for colourful cosmetics. However, those of you who do not like synthetics, must keep in mind that these colours are not natural. When I first got the loofah sample I was very sceptical, but the texture of this scrub is really special and a real pleasure. The loofah fibres do not swell and are very stable in any matrix.

Unlike bamboo shoots exfoliant rich in silicon which is a powder consistency, there is also an exfoliant made of bamboo fibres. It is available in 0.5mm particle size and is similar in its characteristics to loofah exfoliant.

Herbal exfoliants of the genus Cymbopogon, especially various types of citronella and lemongrass, also belong to the class of fibrous exfoliants, because such is the tissue structure of most herbs. Lemongrass exfoliant (Cymbopogon flexuosus leaf powder) comes in fibre sizes of 0.5; 1 and 2mm. In addition to a pleasant fibrous structure, this exfoliant contains small amounts of essential oils from the plants themselves, a pleasant lemon scent that has a good effect on circulation, but also on oily skin prone to acne.

An even gentler scrub is the Provence rose or Gallic rose (Rosa centifolia; Rosa gallica flower extract), which has an extremely pleasant rose scent and is rich in anthocyanins and mucus, which have an emollient and soothing effect on the skin, making it a favourite, especially in 0.2mm particle size, for very sensitive skin.

The only one that can stand side by side with the elegance of a rose is vanilla (INCI: Vanilla planifoila fruit). Pacifique Sud offers even several variants of this soft, heavenly scented exfoliant. It is made from whole pods, sizes 1 and 0.5mm, and, interestingly, there are exfoliants made only from seeds. The one from whole pods is fibrous but softer than loofah or bamboo fibre. The seeds are especially unusual because they are hard, but again elastic and have a completely unique texture. Theoretically, you can make them yourself- they also remain when making vanilla macerates. For some meaningful amount you will need a lot of money because vanilla is expensive.

Other ground parts of plants

The herbal kingdom is so large that there are thousands of such exfoliants. Not all plants can make such exfoliants. The main condition is that they can be ground well and that the final product is suitable for exfoliating. Some are also made at home from commercially available “teas”, such as ground chamomile flowers and yarrow. Beware, not all plants can be well ground. Marigold flower is one of the pillars of cosmetics, but it is extremely difficult to grind marigold flower which is elastic and slightly sticky, so it is useless as an exfoliator. Some plants are surprisingly good for this purpose, such as field horsetail, which makes an excellent exfoliating agent. There is a rule to use plants as exfoliants if they are stiff enough to break into smaller particles or are composed of smaller parts that break easily from the whole mass of plants, as is the case with a chamomile bloom (which consists of a series of small flowers that can be mistaken for anthers). There are also plants that do not need to be ground at all, but their whole flowers are used as an exfoliator, and the most famous example is the lavender flower.

Of the commercially available exfoliants, there is ground peel of bitter orange (Citrus aurantium amara exfoliant powder) of greenish colour, sweet orange (Citrus aurantium dulcis exfoliant powder) of pale orange colour and lemon (Citrus medica limonum peel powder) of yellowish colour). Active substances such as synephrine from orange and essential oils increase circulation in the skin and are good for exfoliating “fat deposits” and cellulite. However, one should be realistic and know that these are more discreet amounts and less active substances than the addition of essential oils or extracts. They come in a granulometry of 0.5; 1 and 2mm, and smaller particles swell slightly due to the pectin content. Their main trump card is a very pleasant scent and a very delicate texture. They are ideal for anyone who does not like strong mineral exfoliants or exfoliants of hard parts of plants, and they do not like the fibrous structure. These exfoliants have the texture of soft particles even when they are larger and have a special “soft touch”. Even in home production, they give the impression of a very professional product.

It would be very difficult to grind whole apples at home (Pyrus malus fruit extract), so this exfoliant is also produced industrially by grinding whole dried apples, which include both apple peel and seeds. Active substances like quercetin and floridzin have an anti-inflammatory effect, and interestingly, they facilitate the natural tanning of the skin. We find it in very fine 0.2mm particles (face), 0.5mm (face and body), 1mm (body) and 2mm (gentle massage effect).

We are also interested in some foods that we encounter every day. Poppy seeds are a traditional bakery ingredient. In addition to being available in every store, they also have a very pleasant scent. They can be used in integral form, which is a pleasant exfoliant because the seeds themselves are round and not rough for the skin, or they can be used ground, which is an even finer and more pleasant exfoliation for the skin. Poppy has the disadvantage that it swells quite well, so it is suitable for freshly prepared exfoliants.

Equally pleasant and fragrant exfoliant are ground hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts, the ingredients we find in the kitchen. Unlike poppy, these ground fruits have a greasy texture, very gentle on the skin. Walnuts also contain a large amount of vitamin E. They are even found in commercial natural cosmetics. They are suitable for emulsion and oil exfoliants, while in gel systems they swell relatively easily.

The exfoliant made from coconut pulp, with an exotic scent, is very similar, but be sure to buy finely ground coconut or grind it in a mixer yourself.


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