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Physical Skin Therapy: Comparing Exfoliation Methods

Written by Lina Kennedy

It is that time of year again – when people crave those sun rays and show off their skin. Exfoliation is an important step in any skin care routine to help clients achieve that smooth, healthy summer glow.

Before getting into the mechanics and details of physical exfoliation, it is important to review the basics. The skin is the body’s largest organ and is a vital, complex system that is in a constant state of renewal. The most superficial layer of the skin is the epidermis, which is made up of five layers that are divided into two zones. The epidermis is comprised of sheets of either dead or dying skin cells and acts as a barrier from the world.

On its own, the skin sheds one surface layer of dead skin cells every 24-hours and renews itself through a process of cell division over three to four weeks. Any form of exfoliation, whether chemical or physical, is just helping to expedite this natural process of shedding and renewal.

As mentioned before, there are two types exfoliation: chemical and physical. This article will focus on physical exfoliation methods but, in the name of covering the basics, chemical exfoliation would include ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), or enzymes to provide the exfoliation.


Because skin is constantly renewing itself, buildup of dead skin cells can happen fairly easily. This can lead to a host of uncomfortable problems that can cause clients not to feel their best. Exfoliation helps remove these layers of buildup to reveal brighter, healthier skin!

It should be noted that these benefits are not exclusive to physical exfoliation but are also applicable to chemical methods, as well.

Helps Heal Dry Skin

Dry skin is basically a buildup of dead skin cells and can cause skin to appear sallow and dull. By exfoliating, those layers of dead skin cells are removed to reveal the younger, living skin underneath. Regular exfoliation is just one step in helping to keep dry skin at its most optimum condition.

Increases Blood Circulation

The mechanics behind exfoliation typically involve using slight pressure and circular motions which will help increase blood circulation to the area being exfoliated. This increased blood circulation promotes new skin cell production.

Prevents and Treats Ingrown Hairs

Ingrown hairs are unsightly and annoying to deal with. They are essentially hair trapped beneath the skin and exfoliation can help liberate ingrowns and prevent future ones by keeping dry skin at bay.

Releases Clogged Pores

Excess oil and keratin can get trapped in the skin, leading to clogged pores. In turn, this causes stubborn issues, such as blackheads and blemishes, to crop up. Exfoliating helps to release the dirt, oil, and keratin to reveal cleaner, smaller pores.

Remedies Acne

There are a ton of topical skin treatments out there for acne, but the effectiveness of these products depends on how well the client’s skin can receive them. Proper exfoliation can help pave the way for easier absorption of skin care products.


The simplest way to define physical exfoliation is the use of either a tool (brush, towel, or sponge) or a substance (salt, sugar, rice, beads, and so forth.) to loosen and remove dead or dying skin cells. It does not matter what skin type the client has – dry, oily, combination, normal, aging, or teenage – exfoliation should be a regular part of your routine one to three times per week.

Dry Brushing

This is a very simple and easy way to get exfoliation done. As the name suggests, all that is needed is an exfoliation tool of choice and the client’s body. The client should gently brush their skin, being careful not to be too aggressive with pressure and motions. If dry brushing for the first time, it might take a few sessions before the client really sees results. They should also try dry brushing before a shower or bath and should always make sure to hydrate afterwards.


This is professional exfoliation for the face. Microdermabrasion is performed by a licensed professional and involves the removal of the center most layer of the skin cells and helps promote cell growth. This method of exfoliation can be beneficial for people with wrinkles and scarring.

Dead Sea Salt

With a whole host of benefits, 21 different minerals, and a more rounded shape, Dead Sea salt is a great substance to use for physical exfoliation. This salt is ideal for the body, as it can help detoxify skin. Typically, Dead Sea salt products can be comprised of either just plain salt or combined with other essential oils or lotions.

A Dead Sea salt scrub can be used either in the shower or by itself. For shower use, just scoop out the desire amount of product onto their hands and rub into the skin in circular motions towards the heart. Then they simply rinse off while in the shower. For use by itself, it is best to exfoliate somewhere they can easily clean and rinse off, such as a bath. Like the shower, the client scoops out the desired amount and begins exfoliating. To really lock in the benefits, instead of simply rinsing the salt scrub off, the client can wet their hands and seep the product into the skin. Then, they should pat dry and apply moisturizer to finish off.

Clients should avoid using Dead Sea salt on the face and open cuts or wounds. Use on these areas can cause irritation.


Another often-used substance is sugar. Considering the havoc too much sugar in a diet can wreak on the body, it is amazing how many benefits external use can have! For one, sugar was often used as a healing aid and to help prevent infection, as bacteria cannot breed in high concentrations of sugar (hence it is use as a food preservative). Like Dead Sea salt, sugar crystals can be small and round enough to cause less skin abrasion when used as an exfoliant, while still effective for the task.

While safe for use on the whole body, sugar scrubs really separate themselves from Dead Sea salt thanks to their ability to be used on the face. Just like with any other method though, being extremely gentle when dealing with the face is key.

Body Sugaring

The last exfoliation option is to go for a professional sugaring hair removal service. While the treatment tends to focus on the hair removal aspect, the nature of the technique and the paste also provides a great skin exfoliation treatment.

There are other ingredients that can be used for physical exfoliation, but when purchasing a product, always check the ingredient list. Try not to use products that include larger sized exfoliants, such as fruit pits, nut shells, or similar substances that are more jagged. These can cause micro-tears in the skin and excess abrasion. Always look for smaller and finer exfoliants or ones with a more rounded shape.

Microdermabrasion, Dead Sea salt, and sugar are exfoliation methods that can be relatively easy to add to a salon menu. Though a shower is the optimal option for having client’s wash off, any treatment using scrubs can also be cleaned off simply using a towel. Overall, the size of the treatment room and the materials and products available will ultimately determine which physical exfoliation methods to offer clients.


Here are some quick tips to have clients consider before they begin any kind of exfoliation routine.

Find a method that fits their skin type; while exfoliation is beneficial for all skin types, not all methods work for every skin type. For instance, people with dry, sensitive, or acne-prone skin should consider using milder forms of physical exfoliation, while those who might have oily or rougher skin should try using stronger methods.

Always be gentle, regardless of skin type or method used. This includes using gentle pressure while exfoliating and rinsing with lukewarm water instead of hot. Also, pat the face dry with a soft towel instead of rubbing.

Create a routine that works for the individual. Regular exfoliation is a must for any skin care regimen but not everyone’s skin reacts the same. The recommendation is one to three times per week, but some clients might need something different. Clients know their skin the best. They should experiment and create a schedule that works for them.

Moisturizing is a must – after any exfoliating, always apply moisturizer immediately after to lock in the benefits and keep skin glowing and hydrated. Because exfoliation can be drying, this is a step clients should never miss!

Clients should also consider their existing routine, paying attention to the products and ingredients they are currently using before exfoliating as some of these might cause increases in skin sensitivity leading to breakouts or exacerbating skin dryness. Things to be especially mindful of are peels and serums, along with some medications.

As the summer season continues, exfoliation should be at the forefront of every person’s skin care regimen, if it is not already. Determining the right method and consistency is all about getting to know one’s own skin.

Lina Kennedy is a chief pioneer, collecting many feathers in her cap. An expert on professional sugaring, Kennedy regularly writes articles for industry magazines in North America and Europe. As president of Alexandria Professional, one of her personal goals is to ensure that each professional trained in the art of body sugaring learns and understands the exceptional results that they and their clients can achieve through The Kennedy Theory™ for sugaring and The Kennedy Technique Theory.™