Use one to manually exfoliate dead skin.
Even if you don’t own a pumice stone, chances are you’ve used one of those handy tools without even knowing it—when you receive a pedicure, for instance, someone might rub one of them along your calluses (or perhaps a steel file, a riff off the all-natural option).
But there’s something to be said about using those stones at home, especially if your cracked, dry feet are screaming for a little T.L.C. Here’s what you need to know about pumice stones, plus a step-by-step guide to using them at home. It’s time to take soft, supple skin into your own hands (and feet).
What is a pumice stone?
Pumice stones form when lava and water mix together—when the lava cools rapidly, it creates a porous, foamy-looking texture that can help remove dry and dead skin. And because of their natural makeup, no surprise pumice stones have been used as an ancient remedy for exfoliation—even as far back as 100 BC. There’s a good reason pumice stones have left their mark for more than 2000 years; they’re super light, yet abrasive enough to lift dead skin and smooth out the texture.
Today, you might use one to manually exfoliate dead skin and calloused areas; however, you don’t want to rub the stone on the delicate skin on your face. According to board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, Purshiva Patel, M.D., “The uneven, sharp, abrasive nature of the stone could create microabrasions on the surface of thinner skin.”
To reap the benefits of a pumice stone without scratching up your skin, it’s best to stick to thicker areas, like the soles of your feet, elbows, and knees—areas vulnerable to some roughness. If you have sensitive skin, however, you might want to stick to just the feet: “It can be abrasive on the rest of the body,” explains board-certified dermatologist and founder of MMSkincare Ellen Marmur, M.D.
What are the benefits?
As mentioned, pumice stones are great for manually exfoliating the skin. Especially for your hands, feet, elbows, and knees, as those areas naturally thicken in response to trauma (i.e. friction from running, lifting weights, too-tight shoes, and the like). Those calluses form as “a way of protecting the skin from bumps and dings,” Patel explains, but their appearance isn’t so cute. Enter, pumice stones: the all-natural remedy to soften those rough patches of skin. Consider those calluses buffed smooth.
How to use a pumice stone: 4 steps.
For soft, crack-free skin, pumice stones can work wonders. Just be sure to use them correctly, as improper use can quite literally rub your skin raw. Here’s the step-by-step guide, according to derms:
Step one: Prep the skin.
First thing’s first: You’ll want to start with as smooth of a canvas as you can. That means loosening the top layer of skin with some exfoliation; we’re partial to gentle chemical exfoliants like AHAs (lactic acid remains a fan-favorite) to gently slough dead skin cells and smooth out the texture.
You may even go so far as soaking the skin, especially those rougher areas that may require a little more love. “When washing thicker skinned areas (such as your feet), it may be better to soak in warm water for five minutes before using the stone,” Patel says. That way, the water can penetrate the skin, making dead cells easier to remove. As board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo M.D., FAAD, once told us about lukewarm baths, soaking can actually swell up the surface area of the skin, which allows for more penetration of good-for-you ingredients (applicable especially if you add soap or an oil to your water for an extra-softening boost, as Marmur suggests).
After the soak, skip the towel-dry. You always want to use the pumice stone on clean, wet skin, says Patel.
Step two: Exfoliate.
Here comes the fun part: Rub the stone in circular motions over the area; a medium pressure is more than enough to remove the dead skin. When you’re exfoliating, you might even see dead skin visibly accumulate on the stone (gross, but strangely satisfying).
Be sure to stop when you’ve reached a desired smoothness (about two to three minutes does the trick, says Marmur), or when the dead skin stops clinging to the pumice stone’s pores.
Step three: Dry and moisturize.
After all that exfoliating, you’ll want to lock in some moisture. After towel-drying your skin, be sure to apply a thick cream to seal in any micro-cracks. “Since the manual exfoliation of the stone can cause microabrasions on the skin, it’s important to apply moisturizer to help repair the small cracks in the skin from the pumice exfoliation,” explains Patel.
Step four: Clean your stone (!!!).
Don’t skip this step; “Clean the pumice stone after every use,” Patel advises. Just a rinse with soap and water can ensure bacteria and fungus won’t grow inside the stone’s pores. Just be sure to let the stone dry completely before storing, as any leftover moisture can quickly become fertile breeding ground for bacteria.
Tips and warnings.
Curious about buying your own lava stone? While browsing, check the pore size: “The pore size of the stone determines how exfoliating the stone will be,” explains Patel. Smaller pores mean gentler exfoliation, which is best for elbows and knees. On the flipside, larger pores are great for calloused hands and feet, as those tough areas may require rougher exfoliation. Some market options are even double-sided, with one abrasive side for rougher skin and one softer side for more sensitive areas. All-natural stones may also have different-sized pores along the surface (like this eco-friendly option).
In terms of the actual stone’s size, they vary—the best one for you should fit comfortably in your hand, says Patel. Not too big, not too mini—the Goldilocks of pumice stones, if you will.
But pumice stones aren’t for everyone; that said, check in with yourself as you exfoliate: “Stop immediately if the skin becomes tender, sore, or starts to bleed,” Patel warns. Red, inflamed skin is not a good sign, so be sure to contact your dermatologist if you think you might be experiencing an adverse reaction.
Another warning worth mentioning: Never share your pumice stone with others, says Marmur. Even if you clean your stone regularly, dead skin and bacteria can still lie within the pores; you don’t want to be sharing those potentially contaminated tools, especially on areas where you create open microabrasions.
The bottom line.
Pumice stones may be an age-old remedy, but there’s a reason they’ve withstood the test of time; this porous stone has shown pretty effective in buffing the skin and keeping it smooth. Especially for those who get frequent calluses and painful corns, you might want to invest in your very own stone. But be mindful of your technique—use them incorrectly, and pumice stones can do way more harm than good. Nevertheless, add this to your list of beauty projects that can make your home a little more spa-grade.