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.)