Have you ever used baking soda to exfoliate your face?
Everyone on the internet’s recommending it. For starters, it’s natural, so how could it be bad? Plus, it’s so cheap. Why spend a fortune on acid exfoliants when this will do?
Because it could destroy your skin. Turns out, baking soda ain’t as harmless as it seems…
Here’s why using baking soda as an exfoliant is NOT a good idea:
Baking Soda pH… And Why It Matters
Before I start preaching why exfoliating with baking soda is a bad idea, here’s a little anatomy lesson (I’ll try to make it fun, I promise).
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 has a pH of 8.3. You don’t have to be a math genius to see that’s way out of the acid mantle range. What does this mean for your skin?
Baking Soda To Exfoliate Skin: Why It’s A Bad Idea
Baking soda has a high pH 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.
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 8.3, 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?
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How To Exfoliate Your Skin The Right Way
If baking soda as an exfoliant is out of the question, what should you use instead? I recommend exfoliating acids, like Glycolic, Salicylic, and Lactic.
They work by dissolving the glue that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off without the irritation (unless you overuse them).
But which acid to choose? It depends on your skin type:
OILY + ACNE-PRONE SKIN
Use salicylic acid every other day. This oil-soluble exfoliant gets into the pores, removing all the excess oil + dead cells that’s clogging them up and making you breakout.
- Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion ($27.00): available at Feel Unique and Paula’s Choice
- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($29.00): available at Dermstore, Look Fantastic and Paula’s Choice
- The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution (£4.25): available at Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay and Cult Beauty
Use glycolic acid two or three nights a week. It exfoliates and hydrates skin at the same time.
- Alpha Skincare Enhanced Renewal Cream ($16.99): available at Ulta
- Paula’s Choice Resist Daily Smoothing Treatment With 5% AHA ($33.00): available at Dermstore, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges
- The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£6.80): available at Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay and Cult Beauty
Use lactic acid once a twice a week. It exfoliates and hydrates skin at the same time, but it’s much gentler than glycolic acid.
- Sunday Riley Good Genes ($105.00): available at Anthropologie, Net-A-Porter and Sephora
- The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% (£5.50): available at Adore Beauty, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
Related: How To Choose The Best Exfoliator For Your Skin Type
The Bottom Line
I love a good home remedy, but using baking soda to exfoliate skin is just asking for trouble. Don’t do it!
Do use baking soda as an exfoliant? Share your experience in the comments below.
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!
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.
Never used it for this, but good to know in case it comes to my mind one day:)
Helena, glad you never use it. 🙂
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?
Bunnee, the ph of baking soda, when mixed with water, is still too high for skin, so it’s best to avoid it.
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
Stavroula, I made the same mistakes too. 🙁 Thank goodness we know better now. And chemical exfoliants are the best indeed. 🙂
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.
Sage, glad you found it useful. Skin is very sensitive after a peel, so baking soda could be more damaging than usual.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
What about hair? Is it ok to wash hair with baking soda? My husband does it, he thinks that it prevents baldness…
Sara, I wouldn’t use baking soda anywhere. And, unfortunately, there is no proof it can prevent baldness. 🙁
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.
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. 🙁
I developed an allergic reaction to a natural deodorant that has baking soda. Hadn’t previously realized that seemingly harmless baking soda might cause allergies, and I appreciate the additional information in this article. Thank yoiu.