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St. Ives Apricot Scrub has been sold in drugstores since the 1980’s. But in January 2018, it was reported that two plaintiffs are suing the product’s parent company, Unilever United States Inc., claiming that the scrub’s exfoliating ingredients, including crushed walnut shells, are too abrasive and can actually damage skin.
Although I’m one to quickly comment on the fearmongering and ridiculousness of some of the claims in the beauty industry, I will say that apricot scrub is one product I would NEVER use on my own skin. The reason is that the apricot granules tend to have rough edges, being more angular than round. When apricot scrub is applied roughly, it can actually rip, or at the very least stretch, the pores. Dr. Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist in NYC, echoes this point: “The problem with walnut scrubs is that the scrubbing beads have rough edges, which can cause micro-tears in the skin, lead to damage, and inflame comedones” (source). And, as if you need more proof, this is further validated by a 2012 study in the International Journal on Science, Engineering, and Information Technology, in which apricot scrub was found to have a fast-decreasing thickness (viscosity), and hence more intense scrubbing effect than other standard commercial scrubbing agents.
However, this doesn’t mean that the lawsuit is an open-and-shut case. According to research published in the journal Wear, the use of a scrub containing different-sized particles, including one apricot particle, had greater effects. Specifically, the study says the varied particles removed more aged [skin], which led to a greater decrease in skin surface roughness and a greater increase in skin conductance, hydration and adhesion. Further complicating matters is the fact that the lawsuit claims the scrub is not non-comedogenic, but in reality, it is. According to Dr. Jaliman: “This scrub doesn’t have comedogenic ingredients, meaning it’s specially formulated so it doesn’t clog pores and is best for people who are acne-prone.” And, considering that non-comedogenic isn’t a true cut-and-dry distinction in skin care, meaning that it more or less has open criteria in the U.S. market, that will be a hard point to validate.
That said, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this case. As for me, I’ll be staying clear of apricot scrub, as always, and continuing to exfoliate once/week with gentle physical exfoliating products (like Kate Somerville ExfoliKate) and chemical exfoliants with AHA (like Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel Pads).