Natural Beauty: Microbead Alternatives for Scrub & Re-Thinking Exfoliation

September 27, 2016

Natural Beauty: Microbead Alternatives for Body Scrub

Wilderness Soap Co.–A conscious brand that avoids the use of environmentally harmful microbeads. Read on to learn more about microbead alternatives!

  • A version of this article previously appeared on

I was 19 years old when I used what I thought was my first natural face scrub. I can’t remember the exact brand, but I can recall the faint smell of florals infused into the scrub from some skin-benefiting ingredient meant to transform my complexion. I had little clue as to how the scrub got its exfoliating power, but it never concerned me to look at the ingredient list closely. I would never have guessed, for example, that the scrub was so “effective” thanks to the addition of barely-there beads used to exfoliate and scrub the skin.

Then, I noticed the hype surrounding microbeads really take off.

The minuscule beads–aka microbeads–are typically made of plastic and other synthetic materials. Used in body scrubs, facial exfoliators, soaps, and other personal care products, microbeads have in recent years been condemned for their harsh impact on the environment; specifically, our oceans. See, microbeads wreak such devastating havoc because of their size. They are tiny enough to pass through generic filtration systems, making their way into major water ways and into our oceans, where marine life consume them and begin a cyclical process called biomagnification. To simplify that fancy term, small aquatic species eat the microbeads and, as larger and larger mammals consume the smaller ones, the microbeads become more concentrated, eventually making their way to land through larger predators.

Humans are also affected by microbeads due to the nature of their makeup. According to ENN, microbeads often contain harmful chemicals like PCBs and can cause issues to our personal health. And, according to NPR, microbeads have even made their way into Great Lakes, fueling the negativity surrounding the tiny orbs of destruction.

The good news is that since I’ve grown older and the years have passed, more awareness surrounding the negative impacts of microbeads has spread, with brands, organizations, and large charities doing their part to help the public avoid using products which contain the beads. But if you’re looking for an alternative to the once-cherished scrubs and soaps that utilized microbeads for exfoliating power, it can be difficult to ditch the bead. I’ve had my own trials and errors with finding better alternatives, which may be helpful when looking for replacement products. Here’s a how-to guide to help you charter the waters of bead-free beauty.

Look for Natural Scrub Ingredients

Sound simple? Okay, maybe not. But finding natural exfoliants isn’t as difficult as it sounds. More natural brands are cropping up, using exfoliants that are safe for both your skin and the environment. For instance, you may stumble across more brands adding oats, almond meal, coconut flakes, sugars, and salts (such as pink or sea salt) to their scrubs and soaps as a replacement for manufactured beads. Not only are these natural exfoliants safer, but they are also more gentle on your skin, and have their own skin-benefiting properties. Plastic beads? Well, they won’t help nourish your skin.

Recommendations: Urb Apothecary Matcha Sugar Scrub // Palermo Body Detox Body Scrub // Two Blooms Whipped Face/Body Polish // Bocca Body Shop Rose & Bamboo Scrub

Rethink your Idea of “Scrub” 

Typically, when we think of facial and body scrubs, we likely don’t think about grains. Surprisingly, however, grains are having their hay-day in the world of beauty thanks to their gentle cleansing and exfoliating properties sans harsh ingredients. They’re called cleansing grains, and the process behind them is simple: use grains (like oats), turn them into a powder, and add nourishing ingredients like activated charcoal, powdered honey, coconut milk, clays, etc. to make a lightly exfoliating cleanser that scrubs away dirt, oil, bacteria, and dead skin. A scrub doesn’t have to look like the “typical” scrub in order to do the trick. Think outside the scrub!

Recommendations: Whole Apothecary Cleansing Grains // Wilderness Soap Co. Activated Charcoal Cleansing Grains // [M]Botanicals Gentle Enzyme Cleansing Grains // Urban Oreganics ‘Bare’ Cleansing Grains

Natural Beauty: Microbead Alternatives for Body Scrub

Give Coffee Grounds a Chance

We already consume the liquid crack on a daily basis, so why not incorporate it into our beauty routines? I’ve been using coffee as part of my daily skin and body care regimen for a year now, and I’ve never been more impressed by a DIY-esque ingredient. Among its many benefits, coffee can help decrease puffiness in the face (especially the eyes), plumps the skin, helps boost collagen production and can exfoliate away dead skin and bacteria just as effectively as any exfoliator. It can also brighten your skin, which is awesome for anyone looking to eliminate a dull complexion.

Recommendations: Skin Food Coffee Scrub // BirchRose & Co Coffee + Mint Body Scrub // Palermo Body Cofee + Lemon Body Scrub // Fable Soap Co. Coffee + Cardamom Body Scrub // Naked Skincare Coffee Scrub

Use a Different Scrub Altogether

Sassy, I know. But if you want to really ditch the harmful face/body scrubs for something better, start by using something different! You’d be surprised how easy it is to find natural, more kind alternatives to nasty, bead-laden scrubs. You could try, for example, masa-based scrubs, which utilize corn flour as an exfoliant, or a salt-based scrub. Some scrubs even use rice or coconut powder as an alternative. Many include florals (such as rose, hibiscus, geranium and more) to help nourish and heal the skin. Because so many brands are developing natural products now, sourcing an alternative to scrubs which utilize harsher ingredients could not be more simple.

Recommendations: Fat and the Moon Masa + Olive Face Paste // Wilderness Soap Co. Luxe Bath Soak // Goddess Verda Skin Glow

Natural Beauty: Microbead Alternatives for Body Scrub

Here’s a closeup of the cleansing grains and soak currently adorning my bathroom shelves.

Natural Beauty: Microbead Alternatives for Body Scrub

Wilderness Soap Co. Luxe Bath Soak & Activated Charcoal Cleansing Grains

Have you tried any of these microbead alternatives? 

Also by Jacalyn: 7 Vegan and Palm-Free Beauty Brands

Related: DIY Coffee Body Scrub

DIY Spicy Warming Foot Scrub

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Photos: Jacalyn Beales

After several years spent traveling the world, Jacalyn settled back in her native home of Toronto, Canada to earn her Degree in Classical Studies. A dedicated wildlife advocate, she has for the past three years written on the issues and conflicts threatening the world’s wildlife and advocates for the conservation of Africa’s lions. Jacalyn’s dedication to and involvement in wildlife activism inspired her to join the global movement of conserving wildlife and living an ethically conscious, eco-friendly lifestyle. As a writer, she has had many opportunities to report on wildlife conflict and, through her writing, raise awareness and become a voice for conservation. In 2014, Jacalyn founded the social media community called PACH, through which she works with global NGOs and NPOs whose efforts are helping to save Africa’s lion. Read Jacalyn's work on


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