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Photographer: Gabriela Hasbun, Hair and makeup styling: Whittany Robinson, Model: Sue Gao, Designer: Lauren Park

When you think of root vegetables, you probably think first of winter stews or sweet potato fries, not something you’d use to cleanse your face. That’s all about to change. Meet konjac sponges, a staple in many beauty routines.

These sponges are made from the soft fibers found in the root of the konjac plant. Sometimes referred to as voodoo lily or elephant yam, these sponges have origins from the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia.

The round stem of the plant, also known as a “corm,” is edible and high in glucomannan, a natural dietary fiber. While konjac may help lower cholesterol, ease constipation, and manage diabetes symptoms, this sponge isn’t for eating.

Glad you asked! The fiber from the konjac plant is extremely gentle, although the jury is still out on how it affects sensitive skin (more on that later). Using one can help with exfoliating dry, flaky skin and add radiance to skin that feels dull.

Even better? It may help with:

  • unclogging pores
  • improving texture so makeup applies easier
  • body exfoliation and skin radiance

Dr. Sonia Batra, board-certified dermatologist and co-host of The Doctors, says, “konjac sponges are widely touted in Korean beauty regimens because they are natural, compostable and gentle exfoliants. These are less abrasive than many scrubs and help leave skin smoother and brighter.”

Back on the sensitive skin bit, while they’re generally considered safe for all skin types — and extremely good for the body, especially for bumpy skin on the outer arms and ingrown hairs on the legs — Dr. Rita Linkner of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City cautions against using them on very sensitive skin.

“Konjac sponges can be very exfoliative,” Linkner says. “I recommend medical grade chemical exfoliants (professional exfoliating treatments done in a dermatologist’s office) instead, like AHA’s which are now formulated to gently exfoliate the skin and can be tolerated by all skin types.”

There are also some great over the counter chemical exfoliant options if you find that manual exfoliating, like using a konjac sponge, is too much for your skin.

1. Soak your sponge to hydrate it

Some konjac sponges will come in a moist bag, similar to the way kitchen sponges come slightly wet. Others will be fully dry.

The wet packaging may seem humid and weird-looking, but it’s actually a good thing because it means your sponge is ready to use right away — because, if you’re like me, you’ll want to try a new beauty product the second you get it.

If your sponge is dry, soak it in water for at least 10 minutes to allow it to fully saturate, then ring it out fully before use.

2. Gently scrub in circular motions

This movement will slough dry, dead skin cells without causing excess irritation. To avoid over exfoliation, stick to using it 2 to 3 times per week instead of every morning and night. Use with your regular cleanser or as a tool for washing off the soap with warm water, of course.

3. Rinse and squeeze when done

As Dr. Linkner says, “It’s important to squeeze all the excess water out of your konjac sponge after every use so it does not harbor any bacteria, and hang it up to dry.”

4. Hang it where it can fully dry

It’s a good idea to store your sponge in a cool, dry place instead of in the shower. For some people it may mean not hanging it in the bathroom at all.

“Since it is a fibrous root, it will naturally start to break down,” says Dr. Linkner. “Replace it every 4 to 6 weeks depending on how often you use it. Once a week, drop it in boiling water for a couple minutes to sanitize it.”

5. Buy in bulk and replace every 4 to 6 weeks

Most konjac sponges are made without preservatives, which is generally a good thing for your skin, but it also means the sponge will frequently need to be replaced as there is nothing in the sponge to keep bacteria from growing.

Konjac sponges are also good for the environment. The sponges are fully biodegradable and can even be thrown in with your compost when you’re done with them.

You can use a konjac sponge in tandem with your normal cleanser, or on its own. Some konjac sponges come pre-infused with other ingredients.

According to Dr. Batra, these infusions can offer added skin benefits. “White clay is thought to balance pH level, pink clay is for sensitive skin, red clay is hydrating for dry skin, green clay is for combination skin, and black sponges have charcoal to draw out oils and impurities for acne-prone skin.”

For pre-infused sponges, you’ll need to make sure they come in contact with your skin for long enough. Dr. Batra recommends at least for 30 seconds, but here we like to abide by the #60SecondRule.

Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, board-certified dermatologist, also warns against over-exfoliation, saying, “I am not a big fan of over exfoliation for the face. Our skin exfoliates itself, but for “normal” skin, [exfoliating] a few times a week is not bad. We need our skin to protect us from the elements and pollution.”

However, skin in your 30s and 40s may be able to tolerate more exfoliation. Dr. Skotnicki says, “Our [skin’s] natural tendency to exfoliate slows down with age. [But] don’t overscrub your face if you have acne-prone skin. Any scrubbing, no matter how gentle, can aggravate inflamed red acne lesions.”

Same goes for skin types that have psoriasis, eczema, or is easily sensitive to rubbing. You may want to check in with your dermatologist before using it on your skin, or test it gently on one spot before scrubbing your whole face.

Grace Gallagher is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. All of her work can be found at www.gracelgallagher.com.