Gleams & Notions

Shedding Light on Exfoliants

By Harvey M. Fishman, Consultant | October 5, 2009

Physical exfoliants have abrasive qualities that can be used in skin care products to remove sebum, unclog pores and slough off dead skin cells. They are also called scrubs. Natural exfoliants include:
• Ground nut shells and fruit stones from almond, coconut, walnut, apricot, avocado, olive or peach. These are rough and are suitable for hard areas of the skin such as feet and elbows.
• Plant seeds from blue poppy, evening primrose, rose hip or kiwi look natural and are used in shower gels.
• Corn cob granules exhibit mild abrasive action. Used in face and body scrubs.
• Adzuki beans are coarse milled Japanese washing beans; good for face and body washes.
• Ground luffa is used in hard skin removers.
• Jojoba wax prills are smooth, round beads with low particle size distribution for facial cleansers.
• Jojoba wax beads are irregular granules that come in various sizes and a variety of colors.They have visual appeal in shower gels.
• Microwax meal beads are jojoba seed powders incorporated in a microcrystalline wax. They appear as a beige color when used in shower gels and body cleansers.
• Hydrogenated vegetable oils such as palm and soybean have a “roll-up” action that visually collects grime. Ideal in emulsion type cleansers.
• Ground egg shells and pumice are fine ground powders. Pumice from volcanic lava contains about 71% silica (SiO2), 13% alumina (Al2O3) and small amounts of iron, potassium, calcium and other minerals.

Synthetic Variants

Of course, whatever nature makes, chemists try to improve, or at least replicate. Some synthetic exfoliants include polyethylene spheres and granules. Polyethylene spheres are smooth, round beads with low particle size distribution, which are available in different meshes and colors and can be used in shower gels and body cleansers.

Polyethylene granules and styrene granules are both available in different colors and mesh sizes for use in shower gels and body cleansers. The following scrub from Aloecorp shows the use of polyethylene beads.


Phase A
Cetearyl alcohol9.00
Glyceryl stearate5.00
Sodium laureth sulfate24.00
Apricot kernel oil0.50
Propyl paraben0.10
Polyethylene beads10.00
Phase B
Propylene glycol5.00
Imidazolidinyl urea0.30
Methyl paraben0.25
Waterqs 100
Phase C
Aloe vera gel, decolorized3.32

Procedure: Heat and mix A and B separately to 70°C.Add B to A. Cool to 40°C, then add fragrance and aloe vera. Fill at room temperature.

Chemical exfoliants are usually alpha hydroxyl acids (AHA) such as glycolic or lactic acids.They can also be a mixture of citric fruit acids as the formula below by Centerchem illustrates.

AHA Lotion

Phase A
Waterqs 100
Magnesium aluminum silicate1.00
Xanthan gum0.30
Disodium EDTA0.05
Methyl paraben0.20
Propylene glycol3.00
Phase B
Stearic acid1.00
Glyceryl stearate (and)1.00
PEG-100 stearate
Glyceryl stearate3.00
Dioctyl maleate5.00
C12-15 alkyl benzoate4.00
Cetyl alcohol2.00
Propyl paraben0.10
Phase C
Triethanolamine (TEA)0.40
Diazolidinyl urea0.3
Pronalen fruit acid AHA-355.00

Procedure: Disperse the silicate and gum in water and heat to 75°C. Add rest of A. Heat B to 75°C and add to A. Add TEA and mix for 30 minutes. Cool to 40°C and add last two ingredients. Mix and cool to 35°C.

About the Author
Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm at 34 Chicasaw Drive, Oakland, NJ 07436,, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.