What Is a Sugar Scrub?

A Gentle Form of Body Exfoliation

Assorted exfoliants
Gentl and Hyers/Getty Images

Sugar scrubs are an exfoliating body treatment that are a more gentle alternative to salt scrubs. When spas were first getting started, salt scrubs were the most commonly found body treatment. They were considered more effective at exfoliating the skin because they were rougher and more aggressive. The theory was - the harder they scrub, the softer your skin, but it could actually hurt!

Then more spas began offering sugar scrubs as a substitute for salt scrubs. They are easier to manage and 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.

A sugar scrub also hydrates your skin because the sugar is combined with oil and often an aromatic and uplifting essential oil like lavender, rose geranium, or grapefruit. The sugar scrub is followed by a shower, either a stand-up Swiss shower or a lay-down Vichy shower at a spa. Once your skin is dry, the therapist applies body lotion, leaving your skin soft and fragrant

Watch Now: What's Special About a Sugar Scrub

What Happens During a Sugar Scrub?

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

As you lay on your stomach, the therapist rubs a mixture of sugar, oil, and aromatics onto your skin, usually starting with your back. Then you turn over and the therapist exfoliates the other side. Usually, your body is more exposed during a sugar scrub than during a massage, so you have to be comfortable with that. You might have a towel between your legs, like a diaper, and a folded towel over your breasts.

When the therapist is finished, he or she will leave the room and you’ll step into a shower to rinse off all the sugar. Don’t use shower gel – it’s good to keep the oil and aromatics on your skin. If the spa is doing the treatment on a special wet table, the therapist will either rinse you off with a hand-held shower, or turn on a Vichy shower, a special six-headed shower that is parallel to the table. There is something very wonderful about getting a shower laying down, or having someone bath you, and I highly recommend it.

Both of these feel fabulous!

You can get a sugar scrub on its own, but often it’s the first step in a body wrap , often a seaweed or mud wrap. That’s because exfoliation prepares the skin for products like seaweed or algae that detoxify the body by stimulating circulation through vasodilation of blood capillaries. If the body wrap calls for a salt scrub you can ask if they can substitute a sugar scrub for sensitive skin.

You can also combine a sugar scrub with a massage. I recommend getting the sugar scrub first because it is stimulating, whereas the massage calms you down. Sometimes spas have a signature treatment that combines several services, including a sugar or some other kind of scrub, a wrap and massage.

You can also make your own sugar scrub at home by combining sweet almond oil, sugar, and a few drops of a high-quality essential oil. This recipe for a salt scrub can be easily adapted to make your own sugar scrub at home.