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Photography by Gabriela Hasbun

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Gommage is a French exfoliation technique that’s been gaining popularity in the United States. The word “gommage” literally translates to “erasing” or “exfoliation.”

The concept of exfoliation isn’t new in France. Marie Antoinette supposedly used a mask made of cognac, eggs, powdered milk, and lemon juice to cleanse and exfoliate her skin while ruling France in the 1700s.

Modern gommage uses a combination of ingredients that exfoliate your skin chemically through the combination of enzymes and scrubbing. Along with other exfoliating techniques, it has the potential to clear away dead skin cells and stimulate skin cell growth to keep your skin looking polished and smooth.

Keep reading to find out how gommage exfoliation works, why you may want to include it in your skin care routine, and who makes a good candidate.

Gommage products contain one of several enzymes that have proteolytic effects on dead skin cells. Proteolytic simply means they break down the proteins that make up these cells so that they can easily be removed.

The enzymes found in gommage products can be extracted from plant or animal sources. Some of the most commonly used enzymes include:

  • Papain. Papain is an enzyme extracted from the papaya plant. It’s often used in meat tenderizers.
  • Bromelain. Bromelain is extracted from the stem, fruit, and juice of pineapples.
  • Pancreatin. Pancreatin is most commonly extracted from the pancreas of pigs and cows.
  • Trypsin. Trypsin plays a role in breaking down protein in the small intestines of mammals.

Gommage exfoliants also contain sticky ingredients like xanthan gum or paraffin that mechanically exfoliate your skin by pulling away dead skin cells when the product is removed from your skin.

When performing a gommage treatment at home, you can follow the instructions on the package. Most products will instruct you to:

  1. Apply the gel, cream, or paste smoothly over your face.
  2. Allow the paste to dry until it forms a crust in 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Use your fingertips to roll the crusty paste off your skin.
  4. Finish by rinsing your skin or wiping your skin with a damp washcloth.

Exfoliants are usually divided into two categories:

  • Chemical exfoliants. These use enzymes or other chemicals to break down the proteins of dead skin cells on the surface of your skin.
  • Mechanical exfoliants. Mechanical or physical exfoliants remove dead skin cells as you gently rub or massage them into your skin with your fingers. These products often contain rough or sticky substances.

There are many types of exfoliation techniques, ranging from homemade scrubs to chemical peels. Most exfoliation products work by exfoliating your skin either mechanically or chemically, but gommage products do both when applied through gentle massage.

There’s no research available specifically comparing gommage products with other exfoliant techniques, but many products claim to be gentler on your skin than other exfoliants. Gommage formulas vary widely among products so some of these products are gentler and more effective than others.

Gommage exfoliants have the potential to have the same benefits as traditional exfoliating techniques, such as:

  • removing dead skin cells
  • improving circulation
  • promoting new skin cell growth
  • smoothing the surface of your skin
  • improving the absorption of serums and moisturizers

No matter what type of product you’re using, over-exfoliating can lead to skin that’s:

  • red
  • irritated
  • peeling
  • inflamed
  • painful

Gommage exfoliants often use plant-sourced enzymes in their formulas. If you have a known allergy to any fruits or plants, you may want to check the ingredients carefully before using a gommage product. Pineapples, papayas, and pumpkin are three common plants often used in these products.

Any time you start using a new skin care product, it’s a good idea to use it on only a small part of your skin to see how your body reacts before applying to your face or other sensitive areas.

Gommage products are gentle enough to be used by most adults. People with naturally oily skin can exfoliant as often as every day. If you have drier skin, you may only need to exfoliate once per week.

Gommage products are often marketed as gentler alternatives to traditional exfoliants. However, formulas vary among brands. If you have very sensitive skin, you may want to stick to a washcloth and mild chemical exfoliator.

If you have acne or are taking retinol or benzoyl peroxide for acne, it’s a good idea to talk to a dermatologist before using exfoliants since they can lead to worse breakouts

It’s also a good idea to talk to a dermatologist if your skin is thinning, you have open wounds, or you have another skin condition you think could be affected.

Some aestheticians in your area may offer gommage treatments. You can also buy gommage exfoliants at some pharmacies and other places that sell cosmetics.

Shop for gommage exfoliants online.

Gommage comes from the French word for “erasing.” Gommage treatment involves applying a cream or paste to your skin and waiting for it to dry. As the product hardens, enzymes in the product break down dead skin cells. When you rub the product away, the friction rubs these dead skin cells away.

Gommage exfoliation is relatively safe and may be a good option if you’re looking for a gentle exfoliant. Whenever you start using a new skin care product, it’s a good idea to use it on a small patch of skin before using it on your entire face to see how your body reacts first.