Why You Absolutely Should Not Use Baking Soda as an Exfoliator

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Stop putting baking soda on your skin. Let me repeat that: Stop putting baking soda on your skin. Baking soda exfoliation is a total favorite of the home remedy set. I’ve seen it in a ton of places, including this article on what Emma Stone uses on her skin, and every time, it makes me cringe a little. Baking soda isn’t just ineffective, it’s actually damaging to your skin. Don’t believe me? Read below and see the science.

Baking Soda + Water is ALKALINE

Let’s start with a little chemistry lesson. Forgive me, chemistry buffs, since this will be information you already know. We’ll start with the Brønsted-Lowry concept, which says that acids are proton donators that are able to give a proton (the hydrogen cation or H+), and bases are proton acceptors that are able to receive a proton (H+). Bases neutralize acids by bonding with the acid’s hydrogen ion (General, Organic, and Biochemistry).

But, like it or not, the world is not a simple, black-and-white place of acids and bases. Thrown in there are also amphoteric molecules (ions). “Amphoteric” means that a substance has the ability to react with both acids and bases. And some of these amphoteric substances are also amphiprotic, which means they can donate and accept a hydrogen ion. Baking soda’s chemical name is sodium bicarbonate, and bicarbonate is an amphiprotic ion, so it can both take and lose a hydrogen ion. So, this means that baking soda reacts with acids and bases by either donating or accepting a hydrogen ion. But bicarbonate is a stronger base than it is an acid, so it’s more likely to accept a hydrogen.

When you’re making baking soda exfoliator, however, you’re mixing it with water, so the question is what’s the final pH of bicarbonate (HCO3-) and water (H2O). Here’s the chemical formula:

HCO3- + H2O → H2CO3 + OH-

See what happens there? Because it’s a stronger base, it tends to create HO-, rather than H3O+. What this means is that when you dissolve sodium bicarbonate in water, the solution tends to be more alkaline.

See That It’s Alkaline for Yourself

To really prove this, I decided to test it out and mix baking soda with water and test the pH to show you.

When we mixed baking soda and water (more than you’d use for a scrub) and tested it, the pH was about 8.

So Why Is Something Alkaline Bad for Skin?

The pH of the products you use is super important for maintaining healthy skin. Here’s how the pH scale works: It runs from 0-14 with 7 meaning neutral. Anything above 7 is considered alkaline, or a base, and anything below 7 is considered an acid. The skin naturally falls somewhere around 4.5 to 6.5, and is maintained by sebaceous glands, sweat glands, and normal skin flora, among others. This skin acidity is called the “acid mantle” (Exogenus Dermatology).

When you apply a product with a high pH, aka something alkaline, negatively disrupts the skin barrier. A study on skin products found that using an alkaline cleanser, even once, can do damage to the skin (Dermatology). An alkaline cleanser disrupts the skin’s acid mantle (affecting the skin barrier), and changes the bacterial flora composition on the skin and the activity of the enzymes in the upper layers of skin, as these have an optimal pH level. And the damage is cumulative: The longer you use it, the more damage it does to your skin.

So, with baking soda and water, you’re already disrupting the acid mantle, but you’re also manually exfoliating, making it even more damaging and drying.

Because of this, you want mildly acidic products, which help the skin hold moisture and also improve the skin barrier. But it’s important that they’re mildly acidic, as you can, in fact, go too low. If you go too low with products, you risk skin irritation, sun sensitivity, and hyperpigmentation (International Journal of Cosmetic Science). That’s why we don’t recommend that you use straight lemon juice on your skin, for example.

Verdict: Trick

Skip the baking soda skin exfoliating and stick to something gentler with a lower pH. This is why I highly recommend sticking to professionally formulated products for your beauty routine. It’s not that I don’t love a good home remedy, but I think it’s easy to become misinformed and misuse products like baking soda in ways that does more harm than good. 

by Natalie Bell

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24 thoughts on “Why You Absolutely Should Not Use Baking Soda as an Exfoliator

  1. Jenna R. says:

    I use baking soda as an exfoliator and my skin looks better then ever. I also use unrefined coconut oil. Do you think the coconut oil helps to reverse whatever damage the BS does? I’ve seen a range of pHs from 5 to 7.5 for unrefined coconut oil, so not sure about that.

  2. confused says:

    Ive been doing a lot of research on this and I’m now frustrated and confused on this issue. There seems to be two camps of people one half that for whatever reason is in favor of processed and chemical products and has an obvious bias against natural/diy recipes. The other half are also just as ignorant as the former and grab onto this with no research or because at first glance its natural and leave it at that. I am not satisfied with either side. This article seems to be the most coherent but it still doesnt address one thing in my mind. Why wouldn’t you use baking soda as an exfoliant but make sure you follow up with an acid restoration. the same premise as with the “no poo” method. no one under that method only washes with baking soda its imperative to follow up with an acid rinse. quality ingredients aside i dont see this addressed ANYWHERE. all i see is DONT DO IT ITS ALKALiNE, but so? with chemical peels or manual exfiolation it is intentional and controlled injury to get a certain result. even if used sparingly why wouldn’t one be able to use baking soda follower by a diluted acid?? thanks

    • Heh says:

      You shouldn’t use baking soda and then follow up with acid because the damage is already done. What you’re suggesting is akin to cutting yourself, and then thinking because you put a bandaid on it the cut will immediately heal itself and disappear. That’s not how it works.

      Using baking soda plus an acid is just damaging your skin, and then applying a “bandaid” but still having to wait for it to heal. If you are doing this too frequently, it probably never fully heals and at some point down the road you end up with dry, irritated skin. Instead you could just use a Ph balanced chemical exfoliator that doesn’t damage your skin in the first place, and does a better job of exfoliating.

  3. Jen says:

    I just used a baking soda and water mixture to make a paste for spot treatment. I left it on for 15 minutes and washed off. I’m a bit confused because I saw so many positive reviews on it, and now after I use it, I find a negative. :( What exactly will using it once do?

  4. Reader says:

    Before you get to alarmist about ph levels of baking soda and its effects on your skin remember that the ocean is around 8. After a day if diving or surfing it can feel a little drying but overall doesn’t seem to be all that damaging to swimmers. Is skin is tougher that you give it credit for?
    Your article briefly mentions amphoteric molecules but quickly returns to acids and bases being the issue. I am still unclear where the risk in using baking soda is.

  5. Just me says:

    well, this article fails to address that almost all soaps, shampoos, and skin cleanser except some specialty ones, are in fact alkaline. do the litmus paper test, you shall see.

  6. Beth says:

    I’ve used baking soda mixed with tea tree oil soap followed by a diluted solution of apple cider vinegar. My skin type is oily and since I started using this skin care routine my skin has looked amazing. The only time it gets irritated it when I don’t dilute the apple cider vinegar enough with water. Shouldn’t skin type be a contributing factor? Don’t use these ingredients if you have normal/dry skin?

  7. pascale says:

    I am also a fan of baking soda and like to use simple natural products like apple cider vinegar, vitamin e and coconut oil. Would you have another solution than the store bought solution to suggest? What do you think of sugar? Sugar mixed with coconut oil?

  8. Krystle says:

    I think you forget that the vast majority of soaps are alkaline, with the exception of specialty soaps. Frankly, I use baking soda once, sometimes twice a week to exfoliate. I use it mixed with coconut oil. Daily I cleanse with honey. I still have some blemishes, but my skin has vastly improved and looks far better than when using dermatologist recommended products. I also use various toners, sometimes green tea, sometimes witch hazel + apple cider vinegar, and sometimes a blend using aloe vera gel. The key is knowing your skin and know what works best with your skin.

  9. Pingback: Do NOT use Baking Soda on your Face - Beauty Skeptic

  10. Melody says:

    This may be a little off-topic but considering the science you have shared, is there also risks to brushing your teeth with baking soda?

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  13. Yuki says:

    Ermm…I recently just used baking soda mixture with water on my face and body…how long will it take to heal the skin? I wish I ran into this post before I got my hands on the baking soda. Is there anything I can do to heal my skin?

  14. Yuki says:

    I just used baking soda and water to exfoliate my face and body. Now that I know I just damaged my skin, pretty bummed. Is there anything I can do to help my skin heal and balance the pH again?

    • Nicki Zevola says:

      Hi @Yuki –

      Naturally, the skin will reset itself after some time, probably 12-14 hours.

      If you are experiencing redness and irritation, going to the far end of the spectrum and attempting to “neutralize” the effects with acid may cause exfoliation and hence more irritation.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Just stay away from this home remedy in general, is my opinion!

      All the best,
      Nicki

  15. Mary says:

    I couldn’t read the complete article you used to prove that alkaline cleansers are bad for skin. In the abstract however I read that this was a study on the effects on infants, since there ‘are already many available studies on the effects on adult skin’ .
    Furthermore, the only thing the abstract stated was that alkaline cleansers remove more grease. It also stated that every cleansing agent can affect the skin and make it dry.

    I think it’s suspicious that you used an article that wasn’t written for this purpose (infant skin is way more sensitive) and that you appear to have exaggerated what it stated.

  16. Drue says:

    Why is my skin behaving now ever since I been using baking soda. Idk about you but it’s been a while and I am not gonna let a little research throw me off. I honestly think it depends on your skin. Everyone is different.

  17. What? says:

    I was with you up until you said “this is why I highly recommend sticking to professionally formulated products for your beauty routine. It’s not that I don’t love a good home remedy, but I think it’s easy to become misinformed and misuse products”…. Just by saying THIS alone, shows your bias and makes anything you said prior hard to take serious and / or make a well informed decision. HOW can you assume just because a person uses natural / home based products they will be ignorant on how to use ALL home based remedies ???
    Advising on baking soda usage has NOTHING to do with what type of beauty products a person should use or whether they are natural or not. Learn how to leave your bias out of your report / blog next time.

    • Nicki Zevola says:

      Hi @What?,

      This is actually a part of a 22-part series on which home remedies work and which do not.

      During that series, we concluded that this home remedy was not all that beneficial, but some were:
      https://www.futurederm.com/2013/10/30/22-common-home-remedies-find-out-what-works/

      I do apologize for the line that said “This is why I highly recommend sticking to professionally-formulated products for your beauty routine.” In general, what we meant was that it is easy to formulate incorrectly on your own.

      Hope this helps,
      Nicki

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