Which Is Better: Face Scrub Or Face Mask? Pros, Cons, How and When To Use

which is better face scrub or face mask

Face scrubs and beauty masks are beauty staples that often have similar ingredients and benefits. In fact, some masks even claim to exfoliate (which is something we usually associate with scrubs). So, all this might leave you wondering which is better: face scrub or face mask?

Face scrubs and face masks have two different purposes. The former is meant to lift off dead skin while the latter is meant to infuse the skin with nourishing ingredients. Deciding which one is better really boils down to identifying your current skin care needs. In some cases, it may actually be best to use both products in order to improve skin health.

Now, if you’re not sure if you should be using a scrub or mask, this article is going to help you make sense of it all. We’re going to look at:

  • Different types of scrubs and masks.
  • Which ones to use based on your skin’s needs.
  • How to incorporate them into your skin care routine.

Let’s start off by looking at scrubs and the benefits they provide.


are scrubs good for your face

On average the skin has a 28-day renewal cycle during which it sheds old cells and makes room for new cells. Even though this process normally happens on its own, there are times when those old skin cells may not shed completely. This is where a scrub can be helpful because it helps with exfoliation.

Simply put, exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. And we want those dead skin cells gone because if they build up, they can:

  • make the skin look dull, dry or flaky.
  • contribute to clogged pores.

By exfoliating the skin, you can lift off those old cells, which can help to:

  • give your skin a healthier appearance or glow.
  • smooth out rough patches of skin.
  • assist with fading dark spots.
  • prevent the clogging of pores (which can result in fewer pimples).
  • provide additional cleansing for your face.

In addition, it’s also been suggested that regular exfoliation could even stimulate collagen production. This can occur with scrubs that contain ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids, which seem to support collagen production (1, 2).

Now, in terms of types of scrubs, there are two main categories: manual (aka physical) scrubs, and chemical scrubs. Within each category, there are different types of ingredients and tools that can be used. As long as they’re used correctly, both types of scrubs can be beneficial to the skin.

Let’s take a closer look at each type of scrub.

Manual or Physical Scrubs

Manual scrubs involve actual scrubbing on your part. This category includes things like:

  • Sugar scrubs.
  • Coffee scrubs.
  • Flour scrubs (chickpea, rice or oat flour, for example).
  • Salt scrubs.
  • Loofahs.
  • Exfoliating mitts.

All of the scrubs above have their benefits….when used correctly

In the case of scrubbing the face, the best manual scrubs to use are those made from very fine particles (say, oat flour). The small particle size and powder-like consistency is less likely to be abrasive to the skin.

Chemical Scrubs

Chemical scrubs or exfoliants rely on the application of certain chemicals to melt away dead skin cells. Some of the most common ingredients for chemical exfoliants are:

  • AHA (alpha hydroxy acids) such as lactic acid and glycolic acid.
  • BHA (beta hydroxy acids) such as salicylic acid.
  • Retinoids.

Sometimes, you may find that while your skin can’t handle manual exfoliation, it does better with chemical exfoliation.

Now, in terms of the types of products that contain chemical exfoliants, you can find them in:

  • Leave-on products like creams, lotions or serums.
  • Wash-off products like cleansers.

You can also find these chemical exfoliation ingredients in masks (we’ll talk about that later).

Now, because these ingredients can be in both leave-on and wash-off products, you’ll find that the concentrations also vary.

In general, a 4 – 10% concentration is used in commercial products that contain AHAs, while a 1 – 2% concentration is used for products containing salicylic acid.

And by the way, you can check the label to see exactly what the concentration is for your product.


The worst types of scrubs to use on the face are the ones made from large, rough or grainy particles. This include popular scrubs like sugar or salt scrubs. Although, they perfectly fine for the body, the particle size can easily rip the delicate face on the skin.

In addition, loofahs and mitts can be quite abrasive and are best avoided when it comes to the face.

Furthermore, please keep in mind that if you have very sensitive skin, even the most “gentle” scrub – be it manual or chemical – may still be too much for your skin. You may find that scrubs are simply not helpful or necessary for your beauty routine.

NOTE: a quick way to test a manual scrub is to apply it to the back of your hand. If it feels even a tiny bit too rough, gritty or grainy, then it might be better to keep it away from your face.


When it comes to most manual scrubs, you can use them once or twice a week. If your skin is very sensitive, aim for once a week. As for the time of day, some say morning is better because the skin is busy renewing itself at night while we sleep. So, the theory is that by exfoliating in the morning, you get a “fresh batch” of dead skin to scrub away.

Other experts, such as Dr. Phoenyx M.D, suggest looking at your overall lifestyle and your current skin care routine to determine what time of day is best for you.

In summary, Dr. Phoenyx’s approach boils down to this:

  • Exfoliate in the evening if you workout in the mornings and you wear a full face of makeup every day.
  • Exfoliate in the morning if you workout in the morning and you don’t wear any makeup. For those rare makeup days, switch exfoliation to the evening.
  • If you use strong ingredients like retinol, then avoid scrubbing at the same time that you use the retinol. This means if you apply a retinol cream at night, then wait till the morning to use a scrub.

You can watch this video for more details on her simple and practical approach:


Although some people scrub before cleansing, it’s generally better to scrub your face after cleansing. The advantage of following this approach is that by cleansing first, you will get rid of makeup, sweat and surface dirt. WIth those basics out of the way, you can apply your scrub to help lift off those old skin cells. 

While scrubbing your face, it’s important to follow these basic guidelines:

  • Always wet your face before applying a scrub.
  • Apply a small amount (approximately nickel-sized) of scrub to your hands.
  • Rub your hands together to help spread out the product.
  • Gently apply the scrub to your face and massage it in circular motions for 5 to 10 seconds. Don’t apply any extra pressure or use any rough/sudden motions while massaging the product onto your skin.
  • Avoid scrubbing around your eyes.
  • Rinse off the scrub with lukewarm water. It’s better not to use very hot water because your pores are open after scrubbing and therefore, the skin is more sensitive to temperature.

Once you’re rinsed off and dried your face, here are some suggestions on what to apply after a scrub:

  • face toner or an astringent.
  • a nourishing face mask.
  • moisturizer.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of face scrubs, it’s time to talk about beauty masks!


do beauty face masks work

Different experts, from dermatologists and other doctors at institutions like the Cleveland Clinic and University of Pennsylvania, all agree that face masks do in fact work (3, 45).

But what is the purpose of a mask anyway? In essence, the purpose of a face mask is to give the skin a quick and intense dose of ingredients, with the goal of achieving a specific end result, such as:

  • hydration or moisturization.
  • smoothing fine lines.
  • soothing redness.
  • shrinking acne.
  • improving hyperpigmentation.
  • reducing oiliness.

Some face masks can also deliver noticeable improvements with just one use. However, those results are often temporary.

So, it’s important to incorporate masks into your regular skin care routine, at regular intervals that work for you.

Now, here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most popular beauty masks and their intended purpose.

Sleep or Overnight Masks

  • Meant to remoisturize and re-nourish the skin. Tends to be quite thick and contains hyaluronic acid (which helps to retain moisture in the skin).
  • Ideal for dry and mature skin.

Clay Masks

  • Made from ingredients like bentonite, rhassoul or kaolin clay.
  • Ideal for oily, acne prone skin.

Korean Sheet Masks

  • Face-shaped sheet that is saturated with a very hydrating, nutrient-rich serum.
  • Usually contains hyaluronic acid, ceramides or antioxidants.
  • Generally contains more active ingredients than other topical products.
  • Although their main purpose is hydration, some also focus on exfoliation, soothing inflamed skin, balancing skin tone, reducing shine, smoothing fine lines and so on.
  • Suitable for most skin types, as long as you choose the one that matches your skin’s needs.


Gel Masks

  • Formulated to hydrate and nourish the skin.
  • Provides a cooling effect that is soothing for dry, delicate skin.
  • Suitable for normal, dry, sensitive and mature skin types.

Peel Off Masks

  • Contain ingredients that can exfoliate, hydrate and clean pores.
  • Applied in a liquid or wet form and then allowed to dry to a thin film that is peeled off.
  • Suitable for most skin types, except for very sensitive skin.

Cream Masks

  • Quite heavy in texture and rich in ingredients like oils (and other moisturizers) that rehydrate the skin.
  • Ideal for normal to dry skin, as well as mature skin.

Exfoliating Masks

  • Designed to remove dead skin and clean pores. Uses ingredients like AHA, BHA and fruit enzymes.
  • Ideal for oily and normal skin. Can be quite drying. 


Although you can apply a mask at any time, you may want to favor a particular time of day depending on the ingredients in your mask.

  • Morning: this is ideal for a hydrating mask because this type of mask plumps up the skin, gives it a natural glow (perfect for starting your day) and basically preps the skin for everything else you might apply (such as moisturizer or makeup).
  • Evening: this is a great time of day for detoxifying or exfoliating masks. These types of masks tend to use ingredients that can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. So evening is a good time for these types of masks.


what should i do before and after applying a mask cleanse moisturize tone serum

If you’re using a rinse-off mask, follow these steps:

  • Cleanse your face.
  • Use a scrub (optional).
  • Apply the face mask.
  • Follow up with a toner (optional).
  • Apply serum (optional).
  • Finish off with a moisturizer.

On the other hand, if your mask is supposed to be left on overnight, then:

  • Skip the moisturizing step and apply the mask as the last step in your routine – if you have normal to oily skin.
  • Apply the mask after moisturizing step – if you have very dry skin.


is it okay to use a face mask every night

By default, masks are an intense treatment and therefore, it’s not necessary to use them every single night. This is particularly true for clay masks, as well as detoxifying or exfoliating masks. For most people, it’s safer to use these masks no more than once a week.

That said, it is possible to use some masks more frequently. But it all depends on your skin type and the type of mask. 

Here are some general guidelines to help you determine if you can use a mask every night:

  • Oily skin: you can get away with using clay masks one to three times a week.
  • Oily and sensitive skin: you might be able to use a bentonite clay mask once a week. For gentler clays like kaolin, you can try upping to twice a week. Be careful when it comes to potent ingredients like AHAs, BHAs or retinol. They could be too much if you’re very sensitive.
  • Dry and sensitive skin:  use a hydrating mask once a week. If you want to try clay, stick to kaolin since it’s the most gentle.
  • Dry and not particularly sensitive: consider using a hydrating mask several nights a week. As for clay masks, you can try kaolin once a week. Be mindful when it comes to strong ingredients like AHAs, BHAs or retinol.
  • Mature skin: mature skin tends to be dry and will follow the same general guidelines as for dry skin.


Are DIY face scrubs safe?

As long as they include ingredients that are either clinically proven to be safe for face, or have enough anecdotal evidence for their safety, most DIY scrubs can be quite safe. Also keep in mind that many DIY scrubs use foods or herbs. So, if you’re allergic to those when you eat them, then you want to avoid putting them on your skin.

Can I use lemon and sugar on my face daily?

It all depends on whether your face can handle the grittiness of sugar. For some people sugar can still feel rough and lead to redness. So, it’s not the type of scrub that you’d want to use on your face every day.

Can I use a DIY mask everyday?

Whether or not you can use a DIY mask daily depends on the ingredients you use. For example, if you’re making a hydrating mask out of honey and/or fresh aloe vera gel, you can get away with using it daily. 

However, if you’re making a mask with citrus essential oils that increase sun sensitivity, then you’re better off using those less frequently.


Whatever your skin type, there are plenty of scrubs and masks to choose from. And as we’ve seen, there’s even some crossover between scrubs and masks.

This is particularly true for masks that contain AHA or BHAs. Both of these ingredients are chemical exfoliants. 

So, you could very well decide to use a mask that has one of these exfoliating ingredients.

It would mean one less step in your skincare routine!

No matter how you choose to go about it, I hope this article has helped you better understand the world of scrubs and masks.

which is better face scrub or face mask - oatmeal and clay

You Might Also Enjoy:

What To Do Before And After Steaming Your Face: A Complete Guide

The Difference Between Rose Water and Micellar Water: A Complete Guide

How to Exfoliate Sensitive Skin Naturally: 8 Amazing Ingredients and How to Use Them

Honey Mask vs Clay Mask: Benefits, How To Use and Recipes

5 Things To Know Before Using Clay for Dry Skin (+ Bonus Recipe)

Kaolin Clay Mask for Dry Skin: Benefits and Tips For A Healthy Glow

Sharing is caring!