Have Sensitive Skin? Exfoliating Grains Are About To Be Your Savior
I’m 30 years old, but my skin never progressed past the terrible twos. It’s prone to temper tantrums, and can go from calm and clear to angry and red at the drop of a hat (or more accurately, the drop of an acid exfoliator). In an effort to minimize episodes, I’d pretty much resigned myself to my exfoliation-free fate... then, I discovered exfoliating cleansing grains. These finely-milled, soft-as-silk microparticles are gentle enough to use on even the most sensitive skin — but don’t just take my word for it. Derms love them, too.
“Exfoliating grains are typically very small grains or pieces of grains that are added to skincare products for enhanced exfoliation,” Dr. Jennifer Vickers, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Sanova Dermatology, tells The Zoe Report. “They aid in the turnover of skin cells and can leave the skin brighter and smoother.” Technically, that’s the goal of any kind of exfoliator — grains just go about it in the least invasive way possible. Where other physical exfoliants (salt, sugar, ground nut shells) tend to have jagged edges that cause tearing and broken capillaries, and chemical exfoliants (acids, enzymes) can lead to stinging and burning, these powdered particles are tiny and soft. Basically, they buff away dead cells without irritating the fresh layer of skin underneath.
Exfoliating grains are typically made from plants or food-grade materials, like rice, almond meal, and corn (I’m particularly fond of LOLI Beauty’s Purple Corn Grains), which gives the category some added benefits. “Exfoliating grains, particularly from sources such as oats, can have additional antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” Dr. Neil Sadick, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Sadick Dermatology, tells TZR. And as anyone with sensitive skin knows, the more anti-inflammatory properties in your beauty products, the better.
Another unexpected bonus for all the green beauty buffs out there: Grains are eco-friendly. “Exfoliating grains emerged in skincare after the use of microbeads was banned in the U.S.,” Dr Sadicks says. “In essence, they are a natural, environmentally-friendly alternative to microbeads that can gently exfoliate the skin and stimulate epidermal remodeling.” (Microbeads are microplastics, FYI. Since microplastics aren’t biodegradable and are too small to be filtered out in waste treatment plants, they end up in landfills and waterways, where they leak chemical pollutants into the environment for hundreds of years. So, not a cute look.)
Grains are particularly great for anyone with reactive skin or an inflammatory condition, like acne or rosacea, but really, they can work for any skin type. “Risks associated with using grains are likely very small,” Dr. Vickers says. She notes that no matter how gentle those grains are, it’s important not to over-exfoliate. “Exfoliating too much or too often can strip the skin of its natural oils and leave it overly sensitive, blotchy, and waxy,” she explains. “Aim for once or twice a week.”
Ahead, 11 micro-sized grains with major beauty benefits. (Even my temperamental skin thinks so.)
Shop Exfoliating Grains
"Our Purple Corn Grains are silky particles that delicately buff away dry spots," Tina Hedges, the founder of LOLI Beauty, tells The Zoe Report. "By massaging exfoliating grains onto damp skin, you loosen the dead skin cells without causing any skin sensitivities or damage."
Tatcha's Rice Polish gently exfoliates on two levels: Physical (with ground rice bran) and chemical (thanks to papaya enzymes).
Oat exfoliates while also reducing redness and irritation — and honestly, that's a sensitive-skinned beauty lover's dream.
Fat and the Moon just released this all-natural "polish," featuring rhassoul clay and finely-milled rosehip seeds to deep-clean pores sans irritation.
The rice bran powder inside absorbs excess oil and sloughs away dead skin cells, making this pick from Farmacy a must for the oil- and acne-prone.
Mix a touch of this Azuki bean powder with water (or your favorite cleanser) to speed up cellular turnover.
The Unscrub from Paula's Choice features a "milky-gel" texture that supports hydration and soft jojoba beads for low-key exfoliation.
Rice, rosehips, and cardamom come together to lift dead skin cells and reveal the soft, smooth skin beneath the surface.
Thanks to oat kernel and aloe vera powder, Nuori's exfoliator also soothes and reduces redness.
If your skin handles exfoliation well, reach for Eminence Organics' take on grains. Rice powder (a physical exfoliant) meets lactic acid (a chemical exfoliant) for a well-rounded slough session.