I’m not someone who usually makes her own skincare products except for the occasional body scrub from sugar and oil (you can read about my misadventures in trying to make my own beauty products here). I am very diligent about facial exfoliation though it has never occurred to me make my own facial exfoliant. Yet again and again I’ve seen baking soda recommended as a DIY exfoliant (even Arm & Hammer recommends you do this). So is it really ok to put baking soda on your face and scrub away?
Baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) falls under the category of physical exfoliants, and what makes it especially effective is that it is a fine, yet hard powder, making it highly effective at removing the dead skin cells without causing excessive irritation. Chemically speaking, baking soda is acid neutral, and acts a mild buffer which means that it has the ability to neutralize other substances it comes in contact with that are acidic (like vinegar) or basic (like soap). Many people also believe that baking soda has cleaning properties; however, scientific evidence has shown that this is due to baking soda’s physically abrasive nature, and it is not an effective anti-microbial agent.
Exfoliating with baking soda
To reap the benefits of exfoliating with baking soda, add a teaspoon of the powder to your facial cleanser, mix well, and massage into skin like you would with a commercial exfoliant. Do this 2-3 times a week or as per your regular exfoliation routine. If you notice that your skin is red or irritated afterwards, try putting in less baking soda and use the treatment at night so that your skin has a chance to get back to normal while you sleep. Remember to always moisturize afterwards!
Baking soda as an acne treatment
While there are numerous testimonials in which people claim that baking soda cleared up their acne when nothing else helped, please remember to take these statements with a grain of salt. We don’t know what else that person had changed in their skin regimen; it’s possible that besides using baking soda they also started drinking more water, switched their cleanser or moisturizer, or maybe even changed the number of times they cleanse their skin per day. Seasonal changes and stress levels also have a very strong impact on how much and how noticeable your acne may be. However, there is some evidence that baking soda may be beneficial in treating acne since just the exfoliating properties of baking soda alone lead to an increased skin cell turnover rate making your acne look less noticeable. Plus, baking soda’s neutralizing properties maybe reduce redness of the skin also reducing the appearance of acne. If you want to try using baking soda as an acne treatment, my recommendation is to use one teaspoon of it in your cleanser at night to exfoliate your skin, as well as make a thicker paste of just baking soda and water and apply it to the acne as a mask for 5-10 minutes or overnight (beware, when it dries the mixture will crumble so you might up wake up to a messy pillow).
The Beauty Brains bottom line
In summary, all signs point to baking soda being an excellent and cheap physical exfoliant. It is ph neutral and a fine powder, which means that it will be gentle on your skin. Baking soda may also be useful in treating acne when made into a paste and applied to the affected areas although there is not as much scientific evidence to back that up.
(As an aside I want to mention that I was actually taught, though I never tried it, while in esthetics school that if we didn’t have another way to exfoliate skin we could use a mixture of baking soda and water.)
I thought for the purposes of this post I should try exfoliating with baking soda. I added about a half a tablespoon of baking soda to my gentle cleanser one night and gently scrubbed away. I found the baking soda felt very harsh on my skin, too harsh almost, but my skin did feel very soft afterwards – if only for that night. Because I found the baking soda too harsh I would think twice before using it again. (I should mention that I use prescription Retin-A on a regular basis so my skin tends to be more sensitive to exfoliating products)
Bottom Line: As long as you aren’t using a lot of other exfoliating products you can try baking soda a few times a week as a mild scrub to exfoliate. Just keep in mind that a scrub will remove surface dead skin cells and will not penetrate into your pores in order to unclog pores or dissolve excess oil. I would definitely not believe the internet hype that using baking soda cures acne. Keep in mind what The Beauty Brains had to say above about that phenomena.
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