Exfoliation Cheat Sheet: The top 3 spa methods explained

Spas offer a menu of skin-perfecting exfoliation methods. But unless your name is Elizabeth Arden, you probably shouldn't be making the call on which one's right for you.

Exfoliation Cheat Sheet Microdermabrasion Exfoliation—or sloughing off the top lackluster layer of dead skin cells—is one of the bedrocks of good skin care. Last week we touched on at-home face scrubs. But there’s a whole world of deeper exfoliation available at spas—these range in potency from a light wine spritzer of spa scrubs and a hearty glass of red to the equivalent of a stiff drink.

Tapped every few months, these spa services can make a world of long-term difference on your skin.

Only problem is, deciding on whether your skin is suited for microdermabrasion, if you should pursue a peel, or if you’re a good candidate for all-natural dermaplaning isn’t something you should do on your own.

So we consulted Oni Chaves, a top New York aesthetician at Ajune, a doctor-supervised spa on the Upper East Side, to help. Chaves’s own poreless skin speaks to her passion for exfoliation (and her Clarisonic brush). She helps us explain the three main types of spa exfoliation and which is right for you.

Lightest: Microdermabrasion
Run-of-the-mill microderm has been a day spa classic for a generation: A facialist sprays large-grain aluminum oxide crystals across your skin thereby removing your skin’s outermost (dead, dull, and lackluster) layer. But Chaves likes medical microdermabrasion even better.  “It uses a superfine salt crystal, so it delivers a smoother, more refined exfoliation,” says Chaves, who prefers it for kickstarting a new crop of skin cells, promoting new collagen, and thickening skin. This mechanical (not chemical) approach means no skin-care products are needed. But a series of treatments typically is.
Who it’s good for: Those who want to diminish the appearance of wrinkles, hyperpigmentation (sun-damage spots), and acne, though no suction should be used on skin with active breakouts, says Chaves. It’s also safe for pregnant women.

Ajune spa, oni chaves, exfoliation
Oni Chaves, Ajune spa's Empress of Exfoliation

Medium: Chemical peel (lactic or fruit acid)
Both lactic and fruid acid peels are gentle and deliver a nice, even exfoliation, says Chaves, who recommends that you ask for a patch test first, especially if you have sensitive skin. Chemical peels, which come in many different strengths, are more effective than microdermabrasion on on serious skin problems like deeper scars and wrinkles.
Who it’s good for: People with oily skin, acne, and acne scars and more serious sun damage, as well those with coarse, dry skin, or large, visible pores. “I don’t like to do peels on pregnant women, but many OB-GYNs say it’s fine,” says Chaves.

Deep: Dermaplaning
Dermaplaning literally scraps off the dry, dead skin from your face using a low-tech razor and reveals “flawless, dewy skin,” in Chaves’ words. This luddite approach even removes peach fuzz, making waxing unnecessary. It goes without saying that you want an experienced clinical aethetician performing this service. Chaves likes to follow dermaplaning with a lactic acid peel, because “the big molecules in the lactic acid add moisture to the newly exposed skin.”
Who it’s good for: Those who are sensitive to chemical exfoliation or who don’t like the idea of it. The ideal candidate has dry skin that’s not reactive (doesn’t turn red easily when products are applied to it).

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