Using Natural Exfoliants in Your Soap Recipes

Add some scrub factor

Natural exfoliants
Gentl and Hyers / Getty Images

Some people like their soap smooth and creamy.
Some like it chock full of scrubby stuff.
Most, like me, like it somewhere in between. (Actually, I tend to alternate between using a nice scrubby bar and a rich, creamy bar.)

Exfoliation is one of the most important parts of overall soap health. So a little bit of scrub is actually quite good for you!

Along with dozens of natural colorants you can add to give your soap (both cold process and melt-n-pour) color, there are many natural exfoliants you can add to give your soap some scrub factor.

Here’s a list I’ve been compiling from my own soaps, tests and other soapers who contributed their favorites.

I’ve categorized the exfoliants as:

  • Most Common – I’ve used them myself and know lots of other soapmakers that use them.
  • Unique – I’ve used many of these and/or know some creative soap makers who use these. Some of them are harder to find or harder to work with in soap - but some of them just can't be imitated.
  • Sound Interesting - Gonna Try Them Someday - I haven’t used these, but have either read about or talked to soap makers that have. But they sound interesting and are on my list of “to try some day.” (One of the most interesting attempts with an additive I heard as I was putting this list together was "I tried to embed my husband in my soap so that he would scrub my back in the shower, but he just will not sit still in the newly poured soap!")

Most Common

Calendula (chopped or ground flower petals)- retains its yellow color nicely - Tips for Using Flower Petals in Soap
Chamomile Flowers - You can also make tea from it and use it in place of your water - Tips
Coffee Grounds - Coffee Soap Recipe - coffee can tend to bleed like mint leave does - so some people brew it first
Eucalyptus Leaves (ground – can be a bit scratchy if not ground finely enough)
Lavender Buds - Grind them up a bit or they tend to look like mouse droppings (they turn brown in cold process soap) (See above link for using flower petals)
Loofah - either whole, sliced or ground - popular in melt-n-pour Super Scrubby Loofah Soap
Oatmeal - different amounts of grinding give different effects - coarse ground is very scrubby, whereas finely ground is very mild
Patchouli- Can be a little scratchy - but smells amazing!
Peppermint - Be careful of "botanical bleed" - Tips for using Mint
Poppy Seeds - probably my overall favorite exfoliant! I love a lemon poppy seed soap.
Pumice - Mechanic's Soap Recipe
Rose Hips (not the seeds) (finely ground) - great for color and for scrub
Rose Petals - nice scrub, but remember they do turn black - Tips
Sandalwood powder -(makes a really lovely purple color, but very scratchy)
Spearmint - Again, beware the "botanical bleed" - Tips for using Mint
Tea leaves - Will likewise bleed - Tips for using Tea


Almonds (ground)
Clays (rhassoul, kaolin, bentonite, pink, red Moroccan, French green etc.) - more for color, though they do give gentle cleansing/exfoliating - see Using Clays in Soap
Coconut Flakes - sprinkle some on top or incorporate in the soap - a great combination with coconut milk soap
Corn Meal - nice and scrubby - see Gardener's Soap Recipe
Fruit Seeds (cranberry, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, apricot etc.)
Jojoba Beads - I LOVE jojoba beads in melt and pour or in rebatched soap. If you use it in cold process soap, you have to make sure that your gel stage doesn't get above 160 degrees
Kelp (too much can smell fishy, though)
Oatstraw - imparts a light green color too
Rosemary - not one of my favorites - just too scratchy
Sunflower Petals - don't hold up as well as Calendula - Tips
Tapioca pearls - (seems to work best in melt and pour soap)
Walnut shells - (very finely ground)

To Try Some Day

Fruit Fibers (blackberry/raspberry) - some soap makers rave about these in sugar scrubs
Juniper Berries
Mesquite Beans
Oat Bran
Orange Peel Powder
Pecan Meal
Vanilla Specks

As you can see there are as many types of botanical exfoliants are there are types of soap makers. Add a little to one of your batches and see how you like it! As an experiment, add a little to one section of your batch...or sprinkle some on top even.