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Sugar-Based Exfoliators

Last week, one ZULA writer got exfoliating particles stuck in her eye for three days while washing her face with a scrub. The lodged grains moved around her eyeballs with each blink and blurred her vision.

While we love a scrub to brighten our complexion, no one wants to go viral on Facebook for getting our corneas cut or going blind from exfoliator beads.

Because we’re afraid to lose our vision permanently, we looked for alternatives that could dissolve when massaged onto wet skin. And we found 5 sugar scrubs that are gentle enough for sensitive complexions.

Why sugar is good for your skin

Sugar is a natural humectant, so it draws moisture from the environment into the skin for hydration. It’s also a natural source of glycolic acid, and an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) which dissolves the ‘glue’ that bonds skin cells to reveal a fresher complexion.

Since sugar scrubs combine the abrasive action with a chemical exfoliation, we suggest using sugar scrubs only at night, once or twice a week. As exfoliation can make your epidermis more sensitive to UV rays, remember to apply sunscreen during the day.

For best results, look for scrubs that contain brown or black sugar—they’re much softer than white granulated sugar, so they’re suitable for those with sensitive skin too.

1. Skinfood Black Sugar Perfect Essential Scrub (S$31.50)

If you’re a K-beauty junkie who loves Skinfood’s original Black Sugar Mask, you’ll know their scrub packs a punch too. The mask is made with botanical oils to tighten and nourish skin, while black sugar granules lightly exfoliate the top layer to even skin tone.

The refined rice wine (that’s sake to most of us) in the formula contains kojic acid, an ingredient which fades dark spots.

2. Fresh Sugar Face Polish (S$38)

Apart from having brown sugar to gently buff away flaky, dull skin, Fresh’s face scrub also contains wild strawberries to boost radiance. Like sugar, strawberries contain natural salicylic acid (BHA) and provide a mild chemical exfoliation.

There’s plum seed oil and grapeseed oil to moisturise the skin, so you don’t have to worry about that dry and tight after-feel.

3. Mizon Black Honey Sugar Scrub (S$20.03)

Formulated with 35% black sugar powder, this sugar scrub sloughs away blackheads, whiteheads, and dead skin cells that clog pores and make your complexion look sallow.

While glycerin, olive oil, and sunflower seed oil hydrate the skin, vitamin E increases elasticity. The added lemon and green tea extracts also calm inflammation and redness.

4. Klairs Gentle Black Sugar Facial Polish (S$31)

This sugar-based exfoliant removes dead skin cells and blackheads, and conditions the skin with cranberry oil. The anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties of cranberry oil will alleviate excess sebum from pores so your skin will feel smooth after.

The Klairs’ formula also contains shea butter, which is rich in vitamin A and E, to soften and moisturise sensitive skin.

5. Kopari Coconut Crush Scrub (S$66)

If coconut oil is a staple in your beauty cabinet, try this tropical scrub. It’s made with brown sugar and high-quality organic coconut oil to hydrate the skin and bring about vacation vibes.

Unlike the aforementioned scrubs, this one’s to be used only on your body. The product contains tiny pieces of Tahitian coconut shell to buff and exfoliate, and can be a little harsh on the face.

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What to do if exfoliating particles get stuck

If you still prefer a bead-based exfoliator, be careful not to work the product too close to your eyes, lest they get stuck under your eyelids.

Ahead, we’ll show you a few ways to get rid of them if they do get lodged. But before you attempt any of these methods, make sure you wash your hands. If you’re rubbing your affected eye as you’re reading this, please stop.

And if your eye becomes red and painful from the particle, head to your nearest ophthalmologist for a consultation.

Lower eyelid

Gently pull down your lower lid with your finger and remove the particle with a clean tissue or cotton swab. You can also flush it out with a stream of warm water.

Upper eyelid

An Ask Metafilter user, Dante Riordan, finally got a microbead out by pulling his upper eyelid and closing his eyes, so your lower lashes can sweep the bead out.

Another method is to use a liberal amount of water, contact lens solution, or eyedrops. If you can’t find eyedrops and don’t want to waste money on a bottle, do what our writer did—watch sad videos and force yourself to cry. After all, “tears are free”.

In your pores

Aside from being lodged under your eyelids, microbeads can also clog pores, leading to blemishes and infections.


According to one Redditor, a tiny microbead got stuck in his pore but he wasn’t able to remove it with a sterilised needle. After some advice, he used a comedone extractor and plucked it out using a pair of tweezers.

Sugar-Based Exfoliators Won’t Harm Your Eyes

Exfoliating particles in facial scrubs can get lodged under your eyelids or stuck in pores, so to rid ourselves of that potential problem, try these gentle sugar-based exfoliators instead.

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