What Is a Sugar Scrub?

A Gentle Form of Body Exfoliation

Assorted exfoliants
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Sugar scrubs are an exfoliating and hydrating body treatment that is a more gentle alternative to salt scrubs. The elements of a sugar scrub are comprised of sugar combined with oil and often an aromatic and uplifting essential oil like lavender, rose geranium, or grapefruit. After the treatment at a spa, the guest usually has a shower, either a stand-up Swiss shower or a lay-down Vichy shower. Once the skin is dry, the therapist applies body lotion, leaving the skin soft and fragrant.

The sugar scrub can remove the outermost layer of dead skin cells, without causing pain. A sugar scrub is an especially good choice if your skin is extremely sensitive or if you have had a salt scrub before and found it scratchy or uncomfortable.

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What Happens During a Sugar Scrub

A sugar scrub usually takes place in a wet room with a shower. Depending on the spa, the client might be laying on a massage table covered with a towel, sheet, thin piece of plastic, or on a wet table. Women are usually offered a pair of disposable underwear and a bra, and men are sometimes required to wear swim trunks during a scrub.

As the client lays on the stomach, the therapist rubs a mixture of sugar, oil, and aromatics onto the skin, usually starting with the back. Then the client turns over and the therapist exfoliates the other side. Typically, the body is more exposed during a sugar scrub than during a standard massage, so a customer has to be comfortable with the additional exposure. A client might have a towel between their legs, like a diaper, and a folded towel over the breasts.

When the therapist is finished, he'll leave the room and the client rinses off all the sugar in the shower. Don’t use shower gel—it’s best to keep the oil and aromatics on the skin for the full benefit. If the spa is doing the treatment on a special wet table, the therapist will either rinse off the customer with a hand-held shower or turn on a Vichy shower, a special six-headed shower that is parallel to the table.

A sugar scrub can be a standalone treatment, but often it’s the first step in a body wrap, like a seaweed or mud wrap. The exfoliation prepares the skin for products like seaweed or algae by detoxifying the body via stimulating circulation through vasodilation of blood capillaries.

A sugar scrub can also be combined with a massage. It is recommended to receive the sugar scrub first because it is stimulating, whereas the massage is calming. Sometimes spas have a signature treatment that combines several services, including a sugar or some other kind of scrub, a wrap, and massage.

Anyone can make a sugar scrub at home by combining sweet almond oil, sugar, and a few drops of a high-quality essential oil.

Sugar Scrub vs. Salt Scrub

The salt scrub is one of the most commonly found body treatment. The sugar scrub is a newer option, which spas began offering as a substitute for salt scrubs. The salt scrub treatment is considered highly effective at exfoliating the skin because therapists are rougher and more aggressive when scrubbing the body. The theory is the harder they scrub, the softer your skin, but many clients may find the treatment to be mildly painful.