natural walnut scrub in a wooden next to a bowl full of walnuts on a tan towel

Your Exfoliating Face Wash is Doing More Harm Than Good

Exfoliating your skin has generally been accepted as an integral part of a well-rounded skincare routine. Among the more popular skincare products available today, exfoliating facial scrubs can assist in removing dead skin cells, allowing for healthy cell turnover and offering us that deep clean feeling that even the most diligent skincare routine seeks from time to time. 

Exfoliants can be made using a wide variety of ingredients but will primarily include a specific ingredient to help aid the exfoliation process. From microbeads to walnut shells (and even diamonds), it seems like these days, almost anything that can be ground up can be touted as an “acceptable” exfoliator for the face. But what effect are these ingredients really having on our skin? 

Harmful Ingredients in “Natural” Face Scrubs

It’s no secret that regularly exfoliating your skin can be a beneficial step for your skincare routine, but you’d be surprised to learn that there are some ingredients that can actually do more harm than good.  

Walnut Shells

Using ground-up walnuts might seem like a solid natural alternative to exfoliate the skin, but a close examination shows that it’s actually not the best product to help you achieve that soft, flawless skin you’re looking for. Long thought to be a safe exfoliating product, walnut scrubs have been on the market for years. Many of us have heard of the St. Ives Apricot Scrub, commonly found in most big-name drugstores. And at first glance, what’s not to love? This face scrub boasts a sweet peach fragrance and the brand claims that the crushed walnut shells will help you achieve “fresh skin” at an affordable price. American media personality, Kylie Jenner, even released her own skincare product line, Kylie Skin, which features a similar walnut face scrub that, for $22, is “gentle enough for every day” use. At first glance, both of these products may not raise any red flags, but the concern lies deeper in the actual damage that these ingredients are doing to our skin. 

In recent news, there’s been major concern over the walnut shells used in these scrubs. Dermatologists are raising awareness about the types of ingredients being used in exfoliating skincare products claiming that products that contain walnut shells or similar particles are usually far too abrasive and rough on the skin. Some consumers claim to have had their skin physically damaged from using these exfoliators. Two women have even filed class-action lawsuit against the St. Ives parent company, Unilever, due to the irritation and accelerated aging of the skin that they claimed to have experienced from the walnut shells in the face scrub being too harsh on their skin, causing tears and inflammation. 

But can a walnut shell really cause that much damage to our skin? 

Actually, yes. Taking into consideration how finely ground up the walnut shells are might not seem like a major concern to the everyday consumer, but skincare professionals are saying otherwise. The part of the walnut that is soft enough to use in exfoliating products without causing damage or tears to the skin is the actual nut itself. The shell is far too stiff to be used safely as an exfoliant, especially if used too vigorously or too often in your skincare routine.

There are also concerns that, during production, it’s possible that some of the actual walnut shells find their way into the product. When applied to the face and used as an exfoliant, these shells can actually cause micro-tears on the sensitive skin of your face. Over time, these tears can potentially become infected and inflamed if not properly cared for. 


Microbeads are another exfoliating additives commonly found in face scrub products that are readily available on the market. While many companies claim that these tiny balls of plastic are a great way to gently exfoliate your skin due to their lack of sharp edges, they also have a distinct downside: microbeads are polluting our oceans and aquatic ecosystems. There are over 500 different kinds of microplastics that have been used in cosmetic products from around the world. Outside of facial cleansers, you can also find them in toothpaste products, body scrubs, and even some soaps. 

But what exactly are these tiny balls of plastic? Microbeads are a small subset of a larger category of cosmetic fillers known as microplastics. Commonly found in skincare products for the last decade or more, microbeads were being advertised as a gentle way to exfoliate your skin. While that may be true, microbeads and other microplastics have been found to be detrimental to the environment and to our health. 

Microbeads are so small that water sanitation and filtration systems cannot filter them out. This has resulted in large amounts of small plastic particles being released into our oceans and waterways. This plastic soup is then unintentionally consumed by humans and wildlife alike. When we consume meat from animals who’ve ingested these microplastics, studies show that the plastic is actually being transferred directly into our bodies. Scientists are still examining the adverse effects that consuming microplastic is having on our bodies and the long term effects that they could have on our blood, internal organs, and general long term health, but it’s still hard to get away from them. These plastics are so small, they can actually be absorbed directly into our bodies through our skin (because remember: your skin absorbs everything that you put on it!) And because microbeads are made using an alarming combination of chemicals, we can only guess the potentially dangerous health effects that these tiny balls of plastic can have on the human body.    

Microbeads are so harmful that many countries have actually banned their use outright and other countries are beginning to follow suit. While microbeads have never been an ingredient we’ve used here at Bend Soap Company, you can rest easy knowing that it’s not one we’ll be picking up anytime soon. 

The Benefits of Exfoliating Your Skin 

The basis of any well-rounded skincare routine includes washing, exfoliating, and hydrating the skin. But figuring out the best skincare routine for your specific skin type can be challenging.

Exfoliation is a process that can be used to help people with a variety of skin conditions maintain healthy skin. When curating our collection of goat milk products for our Best for Acne collection, we discovered that many skincare products strip our skin of its natural oils, leaving it dry, brittle, and lackluster in appearance. While too much oil can cause acne breakouts, our skin does need a certain level of natural oil in order to perform and look it’s best. For some people, gently exfoliating the skin on a regular basis can actually help rebalance their natural oil production and cut back on the acne breakouts they experience.

So exfoliating can help us rebalance and tone our face, but is it necessary for everyone?

According to dermatologist Neal Schultz, MD, exfoliating is something that everyone should be doing.

"When you’re young, all of your dead skin cells fall off in a pre-programmed fashion every 28 days, but when you’re older, some of those cells hang on for 40, 60, even 80 days — and although they're too tiny to actually see, they can make your skin look dull, discolored, and broken out from clogged pores."

Individuals with skin conditions like psoriasis rely on exfoliation to help them get rid of the extra skin buildup. Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition where the skin cells build up faster than normal, causing inflammation and scaling of the skin. Symptoms range in severity for each person, but common symptoms include patches of skin that are dry, flaky, peeling, and scaly, rashes and redness, and problematic dandruff on the scalp

A build-up of your skin's natural oils can often exacerbate skin conditions such as keratosis pilaris, so it's important to give your skin a helping hand to keep it unclogged and clarified by regularly exfoliating.

And let’s not forget eczema, chronic inflammation of the skin that results in red, sensitive, irritated skin that can be itchy and painful to the touch. We’ve learned through our own experience with eczema that in order for soothing ingredients to even be able to reach the healthy skin cells, gentle exfoliation is needed to help break the bonds between the dead skin cells.

How to Naturally Exfoliate Your Skin

With proper technique and knowledge of the products you’re using, you can remove the dead skin cells without damaging your skin’s natural barrier or causing micro-tears. 

When it comes to exfoliating, opt for something natural that’s gentle to use in your everyday skincare routine. Most dermatologists and estheticians recommend exfoliating the skin 1-2 times a week and using a gentle cleanser on a daily basis. 

But microbeads and walnut shells aren’t the answer for soft, velvety skin — oats, cane sugar, and goat milk are! 


Woman Washing Face with Goat Milk Soap after Exfoliation

Natural Oats

Exfoliating with the wrong products can be a damaging process for your skin, so it’s important to use a product that’s gentle. When ground up into small pieces or finely milled into a powder, using grains of oats is a safe, natural, and effective way to gently exfoliate your entire body. Oatmeal is naturally soft and pliable, making it a great cleanser to use on an everyday basis. You’ll find us using oatmeal to make one of our best-selling bars of goat milk soap. When we use this ancient grain, we get it straight from the source and carefully add it to the goat milk soap at the optimal time to create stiff grains of oats that are still flexible to the touch. 


A diet high in sugar won’t do your skin any favors, but it sure can deliver some pretty sweet results for your skin. Sugar is a great natural ingredient to help exfoliate your skin and is known for the rich benefits it offers the skin. To start, sugar makes an excellent topical exfoliant due to its small particle makeup and ability to melt away when in contact with warm water, helping you avoid over-exfoliating your skin. Sugar scrubs are also more gentle than salt scrubs which can cause small tears in the skin if used too vigorously. 

Secondly, sugar is a natural source of glycolic acid which aids in breaking down dead, flaky skin while also supporting speedy cell turnover.

This sweet ingredient is also a natural humectant which means that it retains moisture and ensures that the skin is kept hydrated. When you pair high-quality cane sugar with natural oils (like olive oil, coconut oil, and sustainably sourced red palm oil), the result will be silky smooth skin that’s hydrated all day long. 

Goat Milk

Goat milk is a natural exfoliator as it contains lactic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid) which helps break down the bonds between dead skin cells. By removing the natural glue between the dead skin cells, they’re able to fall off naturally in the bath or shower with very little effort, allowing you to get a more effective exfoliation. 

But that’s just the beginning; goat milk is also easily absorbed into the skin, providing natural moisture that won’t disappear after a few short hours. Goat milk is comprised of medium-chain fatty acids and short protein strands allowing it to easily navigate the densely packed maze of dead skin cells and reach the layers of living tissue hidden beneath. Goat milk’s aptitude for increased absorption provides intense hydration for the skin and effectively delivers the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K to the living tissue hidden beneath this barrier.

Harsh exfoliators can often leave the skin red and irritated, but goat milk is gentle and does all of the hard work for you (without it actually feeling like work!) This means every time you use our goat milk soaps, your skin will get the mild cleansing and exfoliation it needs without any of the harsh additives you’ll find in most other products.

The Best Products for Exfoliating Your Skin

With so many products available on the market, it can be difficult to find the most effective exfoliators and face scrubs that are safe for your skin and healthy to use. We’ve done our part and rounded up the best ones for soft, velvety, bump-free skin. If you're looking for a gentle exfoliation that won’t harm your skin, give these products a try.

Oatmeal & Honey Goat Milk Soap

Sloughing off dead skin cells without damaging your skin is possible, and our Oatmeal & Honey Goat Milk Soap is here to help you get the job done! This is our most popular soap and is packed with rich moisturizers, vitamins, and minerals your skin craves. Sweet notes of honey are blended with natural grains of oats to complete this extra gentle exfoliating bar. 

Our Oatmeal & Honey Goat Milk Soap is easily one of our best-sellers and can be used as a face wash, body wash, shampoo, shaving cream, and even help remove makeup. It was specifically formulated to be gentle and soothing on all skin types while also providing natural exfoliating benefits (without the harmful effects of walnut shells or microbeads!) And did we mention that doubles as an amazing massaging body bar?!

Oatmeal & Honey Milk Bath

If you loved this scent in bar form, you’re going to love soaking in it. Our Oatmeal & Honey Milk Bath helps defend against dry skin and irritation with the same natural ingredients you’ll find in the bar soap which makes it an extremely popular choice for kids with sensitive skin. As Bend Soap Company founders, Dwight and Marilee, have previously shared, this was one of the first products they not only created, but that significantly helped soothe their son’s eczema. 

They’d noticed that one of our sons, Chance, had a few itchy spots that would appear on his legs. After exploring different options to help relieve Chance of his itchy skin, Dwight learned that putting oatmeal in a bath could be helpful. After giving this a solid try, they noticed that this did help — the conditioning properties of the oats were great! The mess, on the other hand, was less than ideal. This sparked Dwight and Marilee to make their very first “milk bath” by throwing in a couple of bars of their homemade Oatmeal & Honey Goat Milk Soap into the bath and letting him play and soak for about 15-20 minutes. Fast forward to today and the rest is history! 

Lavender Blossom Goat Milk Soap

This is another one of our best selling scents of goat milk soap and it’s no surprise. The soothing lavender essential oil we use to make this scent eases restless minds and prepares you for a restful night of sleep. The real lavender buds in our Lavender Blossom Goat Milk Soap, on the other hand, awake your senses and act as little loofahs, gently buffing away dead skin cells while getting your skin clean and soft.

As with all of the bars of goat milk soap available at Bend Soap Company, you’ll also find this scent in a milk bath version.

Sugar Scrub

Anyone who’s tried our sugar scrub will tell you that it’s unlike any other sugar scrub they’ve tried before. The key ingredients we’ve focused on with our sugar scrub are the quality of the sugar granules and the oils we’ve chosen to work with. Exfoliating sugar crystals gently slough away dead skin cells with ease, creating a clean and clear pathway to the new skin cells beneath. This allows our rich blend of non GMO coconut and olive oils to effectively nourish and moisturize the new skin below. The result? Healthy nourished, silky smooth skin that stays hydrated all day long.  

And get this: our sugar scrub can be used on your entire body — face included! 

PRO TIP: Turn off the water when you use this product in the shower. It'll help you get a solid exfoliation and allow more of the natural oils from the sugar scrub to soak in and hydrate your skin. And don't forget to scrub your elbows, knees, and heels! 

Loofah Bag

Loofah bags are a great product accessory to keep on hand in the shower or bath. Simply slip your favorite bar of goat milk soap into the pouch, pull the chord, and you’re good to go! Unlike the common nylon loofahs, our All Natural Loofah Bag is made from sisal, part of the agave plant. This natural material is both exfoliating and gentle and create a rich, velvety smooth lather in just a few seconds.

These little bags are also great for using up those odds and ends pieces of goat milk soap; just put them all in the bag and forget worrying about wasting your favorite bars of soap down the drain

Back to You

If smooth, soft skin is what you’re after, exfoliation is your friend. It’s one of the few components of a skincare regime that’s backed by science and proven to help improve the health of your skin. Proper exfoliation also gives your other skincare products a fair chance at being able to work as effectively as possible. So knock yourself out — gently, of course — and only about 1-2 times a week.

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Great article. I don’t exfoliate any more with mechanical cleansers. I only use fruit acids. It gets the job done and is much more gentle in low concentration.


This was a very interesting article, and I didn’t know that walnut shells were used in some facial scrubs! I really love your oatmeal soap though!


I was so surprised by the walnut shells when I first heard about them. I stopped using

gloria patterson

Super interesting! Thanks for sharing


walnut shells i didnt know it could do all that

rana durham

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