Gommage Is the Most Gentle—and Effective—Way to Exfoliate Your Skin

And it’s sooo satisfying.

Portrait of a smiling woman with a face mask
Photo: juliememe/Getty Images

In the world of skincare, "gentle exfoliation" is often viewed as an oxymoron. If it's gentle, it can't possibly be exfoliating properly…right?

For the longest time, I fell victim to this flawed skincare notion. And because I, like everyone else in this world, crave smooth skin (I even have an excoriation disorder diagnosis to prove it), I'd turn to harsh chemical peels and microbead-infused scrubs that left my poor face stinging, red, and raw. The problem with my compulsive need for having untextured skin 24/7 is that my skin is also sensitive, and if you know anything about having sensitive skin, you know that it doesn't play well with exfoliation.

When you hear exfoliation, you probably think of chemical and physical exfoliation. Physical (also referred to as mechanical) exfoliation involves physically scrubbing dead surface skin cells with a tool or scrub, while chemical exfoliation uses ingredients like glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid to get rid of dead skin cells over time. Both techniques can come with notoriously negative side effects for sensitive skin, but what if I told you that there was a way to combine the two methods and not reap any irritation?

I'm talking about a gentle method of exfoliation that originated in France. It's called gommage, which literally translates "to erase" in French. And it's a fitting term (more on that in a moment)—the process involves sloughing off (i.e., erasing) dead skin by applying a viscous gel and massaging it into your face. Most significantly, it disproves the idea that peeling off a layer of your face is a requirement to score smooth skin.

What Is Gommage?

By applying a gommage formula and leaving it on for five to 15 minutes to dry, the product changes in consistency to something similar to eraser shavings. When massaged, the product will curl up into small balls, taking your dead skin along with it. "Gommage formulations will contain a combination of exfoliants, most commonly enzymes," says Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist in Miami, Fla. and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare. "The physical exfoliation more often comes from the actual rubbing off of the product instead of physical exfoliants, like microcrystals, that we associate with physical exfoliants."

Not only is this more eco-friendly (no plastic beads!), it's way more gentle on the skin compared to typical physical exfoliating formulations. "You can somewhat dial up or dial down the amount of exfoliation you get depending on how much you massage/rub off the product," says Dr. Ciraldo. "It is also a bit easier to use as a targeted treatment, for areas like lip lines where typical chemical exfoliants may not work as well."

Benefits of Gommage

Like all other forms of exfoliation, gommage unclogs pores, promotes collagen production, reduces acne breakouts, and allows for better product absorption into the skin. While harsh peels do this by removing dead cells from the outermost layer of the skin, it can also compromise the skin barrier and cause micro-injuries to the surface, especially for those with already thin or damaged complexions. "Gommage can do all of the above while maintaining the integrity of the skin barrier." says Dr. Ciraldo.

Another major perk is the instant gratification—although traditional anti-aging products (read: long-term) are great, there's something so satisfying about seeing dead skin rub off before your eyes. For someone with excoriation disorder, it's beauty ASMR at its best.

Side Effects of Gommage

Although there aren't any side effects to gommage (that's the beauty of it!), the only exception to the exfoliation rule are those who have psoriasis, rosacea, or are suffering from sunburn or infection. These types of conditions can be further irritated when you do any kind of exfoliation, and it's better to allow them to heal first.

Dr. Ciraldo adds that this process takes a bit of time, so it's probably best reserved for nighttime. "The process takes a good amount of time, between leave on and rub-off," she says. "Start at a time when you have a good 20 or more minutes to complete the whole routine."

How to Do Gommage Exfoliation

Taking your enzyme exfoliant of choice, apply the product to a cleansed (slightly damp) face. Leave on for approximately 10 minutes, then gently massage the formula, rolling your fingers until you feel you are actually able to "roll" the pilling product off your skin.

Once you have the formula remnants and dead skin flakes sitting on top of your face, wash everything off with room temperature water. "Do this just once a week for the first week and then you can graduate up in frequency if there is no redness or irritation from the product," says Dr. Ciraldo.

Interested in gommage? Try our favorite gommage peels below.

Best Gommage Peels

01 of 06

Peter Thomas Roth FIRMx Exfoliating Peel Gel

gommage-Peter Thomas Roth FIRMx Exfoliating Peel Gel

Don't be turned off by the peel name; this gel's formula (infused with pineapple, pomegranate, and keratinase enzymes) is hydrophilic, meaning it forms a viscous gum when hydrated. When left on for a few minutes, it balls up and takes away any lingering impurities with it. Not only will your face feel instantly softer (think: baby bottom level), it will be more hydrated, thanks to assisting glycerin and hyaluronic acid.

02 of 06

Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel

gommage-Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel

This creamy exfoliator has the texture of a rich moisturizer, but has all the benefits of a chemical peel. The delicious papaya scent is another major bonus.

03 of 06

Yonka Gommage Gentle Botanical Polish

gommage-Yonka Gommage Gentle Botanical Polish

Dr. Ciraldo recommends this non-abrasive formula for first-time gommage users. Known for being uber-gentle (the brand even says you can use it on your eyelids!), it uses natural ingredients like carob, a brown algae derivative, and white nettle to remove dead cells.

04 of 06

Avene Gentle Exfoliating Gel

gommage-Avene Gentle Exfoliating Gel

This brand features a foundation of thermal spring water that is clinically shown to have soothing properties, along with niacinamide and jojoba wax beads (don't worry—it's biodegradable).

05 of 06

Alchimie Forever Gentle Refining Scrub

gommage-Alchimie Forever Gentle Refining Scrub

If your skin feels congested, reach for the dual exfoliation technology in this refining formula. The combination of cranberry beads, jojoba pearls, and papaya enzymes effectively exfoliates the skin, both mechanically and enzymatically.

06 of 06

UMA Ultimate Brightening Rose Powder Cleanser

gommage-UMA Ultimate Brightening Rose Powder Cleanser

This glow-boosting Ayurvedic formula features potent botanicals like organic rose and calendula for an exfoliating cleanse that brightens skin with every use. When mixed with water, the powder will magically transform into a paste that peels off, taking with it layers of dirt and dead skin.

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