creamy exfoliating facial scrub

While I love the wonderful facial cleansers I have on hand of my own making, I recently found myself hankering for a facial scrub without sugar, coffee, or salt that feels like the facial scrub I left behind years ago.

The name rhymes with Ain’t Hives….

I loved that scrub for years because the ground apricot kernels it contained were wonderful exfoliants and it had a lovely texture (even though I often thought it left my skin dry). While I didn’t use it every day, I did especially enjoy it in winter when I felt like I needed an especially fresh-scrubbed, clean feeling every few days. I ultimately broke up with Ain’t Hives years ago because some of the ingredients in the product were indefensible. Frankly, there was no recovering from finding sodium laureth sulfate on that original product’s ingredient panel.

Last week, I totally randomly decided to try my hand at making an imitation of that apricot scrub. I didn’t need it to be perfect or exactly like the original, but I did need it to leave me with the same fresh, exfoliated feeling.

Also, while I loved the exfoliating factor of the apricot scrub I used to use, I always needed a moisturizer afterwards. I was prepared for the fact that crafting a truly creamy scrub from a moisturizing base might leave me with a slightly greasy feeling on my face, but after pining for that old apricot scrub for weeks, I was willing to take a chance.

While I’d been contemplating how to craft an imitation scrub for some time, I didn’t flat-out run to my blending studio and make something until the moment I suddenly remembered that I actually had ground walnut shells in my cabinet.

With that realization, I figured I could probably fudge something from basic ingredients I had on hand to craft something that might approach the original scrub. I had no idea I would end up loving it SO much…

homemade walnut shell facial scrub

My Ain’t Hives apricot scrub substitute leveraged three basic ingredients as its base: a rich and thick body cream, organic Castile soap, and the aforementioned walnut shells. I figured the resulting mixture would clean, exfoliate, and moisturize at the very least.

I also added just a few drops of some of my favorite essential oils, mostly resins, to add aroma, energetics, and skin-nourishing properties to the blend. After throwing in two pinches of vanilla bean powder for good measure, I began to stir it. Within minutes, my husband walked over, sniffed the jar in my hands and cooed, “Wow. THAT smells UNBELIEVABLE.”

Good people, this was one of the best ideas I have ever randomly had. I am absolutely in love with my homemade walnut shell facial scrub — its light aroma smells like heaven on a stick and the combination leaves my face feeling positively sublime.

If you are still in bed with Ain’t Hives and trying to figure out how to break up with their apricot scrub, do I have a recipe for you!

“new day” facial scrub with walnut shells

  • 6 ounces Calendula cream (a super-thick cream of my own design — any super-thick cream should do)
  • 3 ounces organic liquid Castile soap
  • 2 ounces ground walnut shells
  • 8 drops Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) essential oil
  • 8 drops of Blood Orange* (Citrus sinensis) essential oil
  • 6 drops Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) essential oil
  • two pinches of Vanilla Bean powder (just because I love it, plus, more texture!)

*NOTE: Blood Orange is phototoxic. Since this is my winter version of this blend, I’m not out in the sun after I use it. If you’re making this in summer or expect to be exposed to sunlight or UV rays after use, go with Sweet Orange instead.

All I did was add the ingredients directly to a 16-ounce jar and whisk them with my teeny fairy whisk and, voila! Frankly, I am also positively giddy that it was so easy-peasy. At first I worried it would be a silly venture that just satisfied my desire to try and fail, but, nuh-uh.

Holycrap, y’all, it’s amazing. 

I took a shower two hours after taking a shower just so I could immediately try the danged thing because it suddenly looked much better than I’d even dared imagine and DAMN. No words…. (It’s been over a week–can you tell I’m still excited?!)

I have totally solved my fix for a refreshing winter exfoliant.

If you’re trying to duplicate my recipe to get similar results, I encourage you to work with a true cream as opposed to a lotion or your scrub will end up too soupy. Even with my super-thick base cream, my blend is thinner than the scrub it emulates.

As information, my base cream is extremely thick on its own, but leaves almost no oil or waxy residue. The main ingredient in my cream is aloe vera gel, so while it is buttery, it’s not oily like a butter. It’s too thick for a pump dispenser and has exceptional coverage as it spreads evenly over the skin. It also absorbs quickly without leaving a film. The fact that it is thick without being waxy or greasy is a big deal in how my base cream serves this blend. Also, I call my base Calendula cream because it includes a heavenly Calendula extract that helps to nourish the skin; it also contains other face-friendly ingredients like witch hazel distillate, rose hydrosol, and shea butter among other things. Hopefully, those points can help you in finding the perfect cream to substitute.

Why I Chose These Ingredients

At the base level, I chose a thick cream, walnut shells, and soap because they were the shortest distance between me and the outcomes I wanted. I knew straight-up lotion would be too runny after mixing with the Castile soap. These ingredients also happened to be things I had on hand. Before blending, I imagined they would come together to mimic the creaminess, lather, and exfoliating properties of the scrub I was trying to mirror and improve upon. And they did.

Calendula blossomAt another level, I chose these ingredients very much because of what they contributed to the resulting scrub. My Calendula butter cream delivers LOTS of nourishing, wonderful ingredients for the face from aloe vera juice and witch hazel distillate to rose water and shea butter. The Calendula (Calendula officinalis) extract in the base cream not only supports my skin’s health, it also holds a bright, sunny association for me thanks the sparkling lightness and rich color of its source flower, the marigold. Since I have also had a bit of a heavy heart thanks to missing some of the folks I’ve loved and lost in the past year, I also appreciate Calendula’s association with reverence for and celebration of the dead; marigolds are used to adorn traditional altars during Day of the Dead ceremonies. (I’ve mooned over Calendula on the blog before…)

The walnut shells are pretty straightforward — they add texture and exfoliating properties to the blend. You will, of course, want to rethink the walnut source if you are allergic to nuts.

In Frankincense and Myrrh, I have two amazing aromatic essential oils derived from resins. In nature, resins serve to heal the wounds of their sources. They are generally celebrated for their ability to heal and nourish skin. Both Frankincense and Myrrh also add an energetic element that encourages stillness and introspection. They facilitate focus without making my mind race which I just what I need in the morning!

Blood Orange, on the other hand, gets things my thoughts moving in a positive direction. It has an inimitable, sparkling fragrance that reminds me of cheerful bubbles popping against a summer sky. Its aroma is both rich and bright — and it blends perfectly with the resins in this blend by adding a delicious top note without making things feel too much like a children’s birthday party. While Blood Orange has a reputation for being phototoxic, I haven’t worried about it with this blend as the it appears here in a very low relative dilution and the product is being washed off in the shower before I head out to begin my day. (Of course, it’s also grey and fuh-reezing where I live, so I’m not exactly out in the sun all day after I’ve used it these days!) When making this again (because I will DEFINITELY be making this again!) for a sunnier season, I will shift to a different essential oil that doesn’t leave me wondering about phototoxicity to balance the resinous aromas of the Frankincense and Myrrh.

The vanilla bean powder added subtle aroma and still more texture and thickness, even though I only added a couple of pinches. Of course, it also brings all the magic of Vanilla….

Next time, I think I might add some ground Frankincense and Myrrh resins as well, just to make it even more luxurious, thick, and textured.

For now, though, I’m in HEAVEN! And I will remain over the moon even if I never change one thing.

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18 Comments

    1. the untamed alchemist

      Hi Christine–sorry for my delayed reply! I don’t know how I missed seeing your comment initially…
      I would share my Calendula cream recipe if it weren’t owned by someone else! It’s a proprietary recipe crafted for a wholesale client of mine by myself and a colleague who is gifted in blending hydrous formulas. Since my client bought the recipe, I am not at liberty to share it. 😦

  1. Bria McKinnon

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I bought walnuts from a farmers market to make banana nut bread, and wondered what the heck I could do with all those shells, and lo and behold, google led me to your wonderful site. I have browsed a little, and was excited to find a Cancer recipe to make me feel like an absolute goddess. I have since “bookmarked” you and look forward to learning more. Shucks on not being able to obtain that calendula cream recipe. Sure sounds heavenly. Thanks again!

  2. Siggy

    ok, I’m new to this, but like you am working on a facial scrub I can use daily…the Ain’t Hives GENTLE formula was a fave, then I changed to another brand which I loved til I started looking at the ingredients; I’ve made one scrub so far but it was WAY too runny so I’m still experimenting, then I looked at a body scrub that I like and saw walnut shells so I hit the internet & found you…One question: why WALNUT?? …is there something special about walnut shells, or could I use other nut shells (hubby has a bag of pistachios that’s calling my name!)

    1. the untamed alchemist

      I used walnut shells purely because I had them handy: I had some left over from an exfoliating soap I made with a friend some time ago. They were sourced from a soap making provider and so I ran with it. I don’t know enough to know if other shells could be used–haven’t had cause to look. My first thought is I don’t think I have an appliance strong enough to grind hard nut shells into appropriate pieces, so I’m not even sure I’d try… I think they’d ruin my grinders and blenders!

    1. the untamed alchemist

      I had ground walnut shells intended for cosmetic use on hand so I went for them. They were a match with the consistency I wanted, so I never looked beyond that. I know that infusions of walnut shell are astringent and that property–which could be considered desirable in a facial scrub–would likely carry over to a scrub in which the crushed hulls are used, too.

      1. Bria McKinnon

        My kitchen blender stood up against the walnut shells just fine, if anyone was too scared to try. I had a junk one so I didn’t care if I broke it, but no problems. BTW I finally made this scrub and it is even BETTER than the store brand. Thanks again.

    1. the untamed alchemist

      If you are going to the trouble of making of making one replacement element from scratch, I recommend you recreate the whole recipe together (i.e., don’t make a calendula cream replacement, make yourself a scrub from scratch that is perfect for YOU!). I can highly recommend Stephanie Tousles’ book “Organic Body Care Recipes” to provide some inspiration: she offers a whole chapter of recipes for facial care/exfoliant facial scrubs. Just be aware that many of her recipes won’t translate commercially as she doesn’t leverage stabilizers and preservatives; she does have a ton of exquisite recipes that can be made on short order in small quantities and used immediately, however.

  3. Stacy Whiston

    Would you say that using a raw shea butter in place of a calendula cream would work as well, or would you not get the same consistency?

    If calendula cream is what I truly need to use, am I able to make it using low-level comedogenic oils such as jojoba and/or hemp? All recipes I’ve seen use coconut oil and olive oil. I try to only use oils with a 2 or less on the comedogenic scale.

  4. Siggy

    sorry I had posted twice, when I looked didn’t see the first one so posted again…lo & behold got replies to both, thanks! I did try to grind/crush some pistachio shells…didn’t work well; even after I tried my mortar & pestle they just looked too large & sharp for a facial scrub; re-worked the original scrub I’d made and it’s better (used 1/2 the lemon juice it called for); I still may get some ground walnut shells to try at some point

    thanks again for the replies/info; keep up the good work!

    1. the untamed alchemist

      The vanilla bean powder I used for this batch came from Mountain Rose Herbs, but I have also made my own powder in the past by grinding vanilla beans in my herb (coffee) grinder–it really is that simple! Essential Wholesale carries a fine walnut shell powder that I understand is lovely. You can see it here: http://www.essentialwholesale.com/product/1506/walnut-shell-powder-fine-
      You can also look for your favorite suppliers in a “cosmetic walnut powder” search.

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