Am I Clean Yet? How to Scrub Your Face Without Destroying It

A new breed of face scrubs for men offer exfoliation without destruction

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Paul Tuller

I’m paralyzed by the competing threats of the skincare industry. Use this petrified sea plant cleanser to eradicate dirt and dead skin cells. Okay. Actually, take this refrigerated probiotic supplement, eat literal dirt, and use this $130 bio-fermented toner. Got it. Get that filthy oil off your face. K. Put this oil on your filthy face. Wait... Don’t shine, damnit, glow. What. Even on first blush, the noise is overwhelming.

And so, I do nothing. I shower, soap my body with my hands, which I imagine are coarse enough to carry exfoliating powers of their own, rinse, repeat. I’m in the middle of a standoff and, governed by laziness and no severe skin problems, have yet to pick a side. I know this can’t be ideal, but what’s the solution?

The most recent trend in skin hygiene is marked by the thesis that some filth is good. Our bodies have microbiomes, festering legions of microorganisms, hosted inside and out, that we actually need in order to have healthy, dewy skin. According to this new paradigm, it’s possible to bathe too much, to scrub too hard, to use too much soap, to be too clean. And, of course, there’s a new onslaught of (expensive) products that mimic the live biology of our skin to directly encourage that coveted natural look.

So, what about that old guard of cleansers and exfoliants that still make up the lion’s share of the skincare market, the standard orange face soaps and the plastic beaded, take-no-prisoners scrubs; have they been lying to us this whole time? Not entirely. Those face washes can do wonders to prevent zits, balance skin tone and brighten your complexion. But used too often or aggressively, they can quickly become too much of a good thing, literally throwing our bacterial babies out with the bathwater and leaving our skin vulnerable to all sorts of impurities our microbiomes are there to block. And who wants to be left needing an expensive biome-building product when your biome was already there doing just fine in the first place?

Commercials will have you believe that our complexions are like raw lumber that requires all but a belt-sander to become presentable, so it makes sense that many men go overboard with their face wash. But giving up exfoliation altogether, though common, is far from the only option. Turns out there are plenty of gentler cleansers out there, not presented like facial napalm, that use natural ingredients and fine-grain exfoliants capable of cleaning your face while letting your microbiome blossom. Do yourself a favor and invest in one. Then use it sparingly and with a light hand. In skincare, as in life, doing too much poorly is almost bad as doing nothing at all.

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Courtesy of Clinique

Clinique for Men Face Scrub, $21

This scrub has that clean, cooling sensation you love, without taking your face off in the process.

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Courtesy of Baxter of California

Baxter of California Facial Scrub, $20

This combination of walnut shell powder, honey, and botanical extracts give you a fresh-from-Kauai glow.

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Courtesy of Kiehl’s

Kiehl’s Facial Fuel Energizing Scrub, $20

This cult-favorite cleanser wakes up skin without being too harsh to use once or even twice a day.

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Courtesy of Marlowe

Marlow No.122 Facial Scrub, $9

This 9-buck scrub is a one-two punch; natural pumice buffs away dead skin cells, then aloe comes in with the cooling effect.

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Courtesy of Olivina

Olivina Men All-in-One Scrub, $5

This bourbon cedar-scented scrub is proof that gentle botanical skincare can be manly, too.

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