Advanced Esthetician Training in Mechanical and Chemical Exfoliation



Exfoliation is one of the most popular services offered by estheticians, so it pays to stay on top of the latest trends and processes. A solid background in exfoliation and skin polishing, both on the types of exfoliation products and the methods for applying them, will allow you to provide your clients with loads of options for creating that fresh, even complexion they covet.

Grab the latest issue of Vogue or Cosmopolitan and you’ll find a bevy of information on the latest trends in exfoliation. You’re always best served by offering your clients the exfoliation and skin polishing treatments they’re reading about it in the glossy pages of their favorite magazine:

Mechanical Exfoliation

Mechanical exfoliation techniques involve the use of a tool (brush or sponge) and/or a topical abrasive, such as oatmeal, corn cob meal, date seed powder. Natural estheticians often use rice seeds and bran, both of which have used to relieve inflammation and cleanse and soften the skin.

Skin brushing with a salt glow or a body scrub using coffee grounds or sugar are also popular methods of mechanically exfoliating. Gentler ingredients, such as spherical jojoba beads, are generally used on more sensitive areas, such as the face.

The amount of pressure applied or the amount of time spend performing the service will depend on the degree to which the skin is exfoliated and the dead skin cells are sloughed off in the process.

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Microdermabrasion is also a mechanical exfoliation process that uses abrasive crystals (usually aluminium or magnesium oxide) and a vacuum wand that simultaneously exfoliates and vacuums up the crystals and dead skin cells. Crystal-free and diamond-tip microdermabrasion methods are also used. Microdermabrasion helps improve the appearance of acne scare, refines pores, and evens out blotchy, uneven skin.

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliation involves the use of one or more of the following to slough away dead skin and encourage skin renewal. Chemical exfoliants can be gels, creams, lotions, and cleansers. However, because the chemicals basically produce a slight chemical peel, they are often labeled as chemical peels, peel treatments, or retexturing peels.

Hydroxy Acids

The hydroxy acids, including lactic acid, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid, encourage normal cell turnover of the epidermis as to stimulate the cell cycle and the growth of new skin.

There are two types of hydroxy acids: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Both work by removing the outer layer of skin and encouraging cellular turnover. However, AHAs are water soluble and therefore do not penetrate the skin as deeply, while BHAs are oil soluble and penetrate the skin much deeper.

In general, AHAs are ideal for eliminating dead skin cells and brightening skin, while BHAs are better for unclogging pores. Both AHAs and BHAs can be used in weekly exfoliants.

AHAs are acids derived from nuts, milks, sugars, and fruits. They include:

  • Glycolic Acid: Glycolic acid, one of the most common AHAs, is derived from fruit. It is often effective at controlling oil production.
  • Lactic Acid: Lactic acid, derived from milk and sugars, provides a gentler exfoliation than glycolic acid.
  • Citric Acid: Citric acid is derived from citrus fruits and corn. It is often used to brighten the skin.
  • Malic Acid: Malic acid, derived from apples and green grapes, is ideal for sensitive skin types.
  • Mandelic Acid: Mandelic acid, derived from bitter almonds, is gentle for sensitive skin. It contains antibacterial properties and is therefore ideal for acne control.
  • Tartaric Acid: Tartaric acid, derived from grapes and cranberries, is used as an antioxidant.

One of the most common BHAs is salicylic acid, which is derived from willow tree bark, sweet birch, and wintergreen oil. It penetrates the skin’s oil and clears follicles to prevent and treat acne. Salicylic acid tends to be less irritating than some of the AHAs.

Retinol (Vitamin A)

Retinol has been a fairly new offering in exfoliation formulas in recent years because the skin converts retinol into retinoic acid, a skin exfoliation and anti-aging agent. Retinol has been shown to improve the visible signs of photo-aging and normal aging when used regularly.

Enzymes (Papain, Bromelain, and protease enzymes)

Biological enzymes soften the skin, dissolve cellular debris, and slough off the top layer of dead skin cells. Activated by water, enzymes are limited in the amount of exfoliation they can achieve. Enzymes are usually derived from different fruits and plants, such as pumpkin, pineapple, and papaya.

Benefits of Exfoliation

The benefits of exfoliation are numerous. For you, offering a menu of exfoliation and skin polishing services—both mechanical and chemical—will boost your business and ensure you are offering your clients a host of options. For your clients, exfoliation affords a number of benefits:

  • A clearer complexion
  • Improved texture and tone
  • Lightened pigmentation
  • Reduced acne breakouts
  • Reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Unclogged pores

What Estheticians Should Know About Exfoliation and Skin Polishing

As an esthetician, your job is to determine your clients’ skincare needs and find a method and type of exfoliation that best satisfies their needs without over-exfoliating. Although exfoliation methods and products have evolved over the years and gentler, more effective forms of exfoliation are available, it is still quite possible to cause irritation and inflammation through exfoliation.

Any time you perform an exfoliation procedure, you must take a client history, paying close attention to cosmetic related irritants, allergic reactions, HSV (cold sores), predisposition, frequency of sun exposure/tanning bed use, and any type of oral or topical medications that may increase the client’s susceptibility to an adverse reaction. You must also check for any open cuts, core, lesions, or apparent skin irritation or sensitivity.

For clients with sensitivity issues, administering a predisposition patch 24 hours before applying chemical exfoliants is recommended.

Always keep in mind any contraindications that could affect the outcome of an exfoliation process. Questions to ask include:

  • Have you recently used any skincare products that contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or AHAs/BHAs of any kind?
  • Have you recently received an exfoliation treatment, such as microdermabrasion?
  • Do you take any prescription medications, such as antibiotics, Accutane, topical retinols, or acne medications?
  • Are you taking birth control or hormone replacement?
  • What is your current skincare regimen?
  • What are your expectations from exfoliation?

Advanced Training in Exfoliation

In most states, your esthetician license limits you to performing light or superficial chemical exfoliation. It is out of the scope of practice for estheticians to perform medium- or deep-depth peels. For example, in California, estheticians are limited to the epidermal. They are not allowed to peel, lance, or perform any procedure that disrupts the dermal layer of the skin.

Your license will also prohibit you from using specific chemicals, which usually include:

  • Unbuffered AHAs at concentrations greater than 15 percent
  • AHAs at concentrations of 10-30 percent where the pH is less than 3
  • Any formulation of AHAs greater than 30 percent
  • Any concentration or formulation of trichloracetic acid (TCA) containing phenol or resorcinol, or salicylic acid that acts on living tissue

Your initial esthetician program contained in-depth study in exfoliation methods. However, new methods of exfoliation and new products are always being developed, so advanced training in exfoliation through a certification or diploma program or through continuing education courses is always a smart bet.

Advanced training in chemical exfoliation (chemical peels) is commonplace for estheticians. Some states, such as Colorado and Wisconsin, require additional training to perform microdermabrasion or chemical peels under an esthetician license, while some states, such as Virginia, require a master esthetician license to perform microdermabrasion and chemical peels.

Advanced training in chemical exfoliation through a certificate or diploma program covers topics such as:

  • The different types of chemical peels
  • The wound-healing process
  • Treatment and options for individual skin types
  • Protocol for treating severe conditions, such as acne, textured skins, wrinkles, dull skin tones, photo damage, age spots, etc.
  • Client preparation, including pre- and post-care instructions
  • Contraindications and safety protocols


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