Why You Should NOT Use Baking Soda To Exfoliate Your Skin

by Gio
why exfoliating with baking soda is a bad idea

Once upon a time, I thought exfoliating with baking soda was a wonderful idea. It’s cheap. Natural. Does the job well. What could go wrong?

Everything. Turns out, baking soda ain’t as harmless as it seems…

The Acid Mantle – And Why pH Matters

Did you know your skin has a protective, slightly acidic layer called the acid mantle?

Made up of sweat and sebum, the acid mantle is home to thousands of harmless bacteria. Its job is to protect skin by killing BAD bacteria before they have a chance to enter your body. It also keeps moisture in, so skin stays soft and hydrated.

The acidity of the mantle is key. A healthy acid mantle has a pH between 4.2 and 5.6. Most skincare products are formulated within this range to be compatible with your skin.

Baking soda? It has a pH of 7. That’s way too alkaline for your skin. In plain English, it means it can disrupt the acid mantle, leading to all kinds of trouble.

Why you shouldn’t use baking soda to exfoliate skin

A 1997 study found that alkaline cleansers irritate “the physiological protective ‘acid mantle'”, change “the composition of the cutaneous bacterial flora and the activity of enzymes in the upper epidermis” and dissolve fats from the skin surface which may lead “to a dry and squamous skin.”

Translation: alkaline cleansers kill good bacteria, make bad ones proliferate and destroy your skin’s acid mantle. Baking soda isn’t technically a cleanser, but it’s alkaline.

Baking soda has a ph of 8, high enough to disrupt the acid mantle. This damage is cumulative. The more you use it, the worse your skin gets.

That’s not all. Baking soda is a manual exfoliant. That means it’s the scrubbing motion that gets rid of dead skin cells. Scrub away a minute too long and you can seriously irritate your skin!

Related: Manual VS Chemical Exfoliation: Which One Should You Choose?

The Bottom Line

I love a good home remedy, but exfoliating with baking soda is just asking for trouble. Don’t do it!

Do you exfoliate with baking soda? Share your experience in the comments below.

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20 comments

Lexie March 5, 2015 - 7:42 pm

I have never and will never exfoliate with baking soda for the exact reasons in this post! I’ll definitely link this to someone when they mention it. I think it’s confusing for people because some brands say right on the box that you can exfoliate with it. Argh!

Reply
Gio March 5, 2015 - 9:22 pm

Lexie, thank you for sharing it. Exfoliating with baking soda is really bad for skin. I believe that a cosmetic chemist may be able to create a formula that doesn’t damage skin (although even then I’d like to see the data), but home remedies with it are a no-no. They can do more harm than good.

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Helena March 6, 2015 - 3:27 am

Never used it for this, but good to know in case it comes to my mind one day:)

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Gio March 6, 2015 - 2:13 pm

Helena, glad you never use it. 🙂

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Bunnee March 6, 2015 - 6:14 am

I use a solution of baking soda and water (about 1:6) as a desincrustation agent before I do extractions. I read that it helps. Is that terrible?

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Gio March 6, 2015 - 2:17 pm

Bunnee, the ph of baking soda, when mixed with water, is still too high for skin, so it’s best to avoid it.

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Stavroula DrugstoreBLover March 6, 2015 - 7:47 pm

Excellent post! I’ve never used baking soda to exfoliate my face, but I’ve used other ingredients that I shouldn’t have, like sugar and lemon. Not for long and not anymore though. I prefer chemical exfoliators, they work great 🙂 x

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Gio March 6, 2015 - 8:46 pm

Stavroula, I made the same mistakes too. 🙁 Thank goodness we know better now. And chemical exfoliants are the best indeed. 🙂

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Sage March 10, 2015 - 2:55 pm

This was a very timely post! I just had a peel last week and was going to scrub with baking soda this evening to speed up the shedding process. I think I’ll opt for an aspirin mask instead.

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Gio March 13, 2015 - 4:06 pm

Sage, glad you found it useful. Skin is very sensitive after a peel, so baking soda could be more damaging than usual.

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Nirupama March 11, 2015 - 3:57 am

I have a few times but was never too pleased with the results. Thanks for the helpful info! I also use it to wash my hair, but I follow with a vinegar rinse. I wonder if hair has an acid mantle?

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Gio March 13, 2015 - 4:10 pm

Nirupama, you’re welcome. Yes, hair has an acid mantle too, and baking soda can damage that as well. It’s best not to use this ingredient at all for beauty purposes, at least not in homemade recipes.

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Ashley December 19, 2016 - 11:12 pm

I just started a salt scrub and decided to add brown sugar and baking soda to it. I only use 1 tspn of baking soda, 1 cup of salt and half a cup of sugar with an essential oil or two. Ive always had clear skin and using this has made it more clearer (even) and glow. Dr. Oz recommends baking soda for beautiful skin. Science is not that simple ph may be high but mixed with others, it’s fine and dillutes. And the skin is alot more tougher then one may think. The outer layer of the skin replaces itself every 35 days. I do a scrub using the ingredients above at least once, if not twice a month and my skin has never looked better. Eating healthy and drinking enough water will help skin as well.

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Gio December 20, 2016 - 8:16 am

Ashley, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m glad your scrub works well for you. I agree that its harshness depends on many factors, including what you mix baking soda with. But my point is, with so many gentler and more effective ways to exfoliate skin, why choose baking soda?

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Ashley December 22, 2016 - 4:21 am

Baking soda has been very effective for me and I love the gritty feeling of the scrub. When scrubbed gently I get great results. Alot of people make the mistake by scrubbing to hard which will make baking soda or any physical scrub alot harsher on the skin as well as using a physical scrub on acne prone skin. But thanks for the information with no physical evidence to show for it.

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Gio December 22, 2016 - 8:03 pm

Ashley, I did explain the science behind it. I’m sorry that wasn’t enough for you. As for physical evidence, you said it yourself that baking soda can be too harsh on the skin. That’s true for other physical scrubs too but I don’t recommend those either. But I’m glad it works well for you and that you’re aware of the risks so you can minimize them.

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Sara March 17, 2018 - 9:00 pm

What about hair? Is it ok to wash hair with baking soda? My husband does it, he thinks that it prevents baldness…

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Gio March 23, 2018 - 7:23 pm

Sara, I wouldn’t use baking soda anywhere. And, unfortunately, there is no proof it can prevent baldness. 🙁

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Natasha December 31, 2018 - 8:35 pm

I learned about the pH of baking soda when I used a homemade deodorant with baking soda and coconut oil. It worked amazingly until I developed a painful rash. Even after that, I read that it was ok to use for exfoliation because you don’t leave it on your skin. I only learned exactly how important pH is when it comes to skincare very recently, so I won’t ever put it on my skin again.

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Gio January 24, 2019 - 8:07 pm

Natasha, sorry you had to find out the wrong way. It’s appalling that so many “influencers” recommend baking soda as an exfoliant. It’s so bad for you. 🙁

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