What is Gommage?

A woman with gommage on her face
••• Gommage dries on the skin before it is rubbed off, exfoliating the skin. Getty Images/Image Source

Gommage is product that exfoliates the face or body, leaving skin feeling silky soft.  (The word gommage comes from the French word that means "to erase" because the rubbing action is similar to erasing a word written in pencil.)

Gommage was a very popular form of exfoliation during facials before the advent of stronger, faster and more effective chemical exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).

 Today, most estheticians opt for the more powerful forms of exfoliation during professional facial.  

So how does gommage work? You apply a paste to the skin, allow it to dry slightly while gentle enzymes digest dead skin cells on the surface, then rub it off -- taking dead skin cells with it.  There is something very satisfying about seeing all those white flakes that come off your face, but in truth most of what is coming off is the product itself.  The dead skin cells are microscopic.  

Since gommage is a more gentle form of exfoliation for people who used to abuse their face with apricot kernels, there is a growing number of home products.  Some of the most popular include Yonka Gommage 305, Cure Natural Aqua Gel, Boscia’s Exfoliating Peel Gel, Koh Gen Do Soft Gommage Spa Gel, Peter Thomas Roth FIRMx Peeling Gel and Arcona Brightening Gommage Exfoliator.  They range in price from $35 to $50.

How Does Gommage Work?

Gommage combines chemical exfoliation through the use of enzymes with mechanical exfoliation through the action of rubbing. The enzymes in the gommage are proteolytic, which means protein dissolving.  Enzymes digest the dead skin cells sitting on the surface.  Once the paste is dried, it is rubbed off, taking dead skin cells with it.

One commonly used enzyme in gommage is papain, which is derived from papaya fruit. (Interestingly, papain is also used as a meat tenderizer because of its ability to soften tissue and dissolve protein. ) Other commonly used enzymes are bromelain, derived from pineapple, and pancreatin and trypsine, both derived from meat by-products (Vegetarian alert!).

Gommage is a cream or paste that is thinly applied to the skin and then allowed to dry and form a hard crust, which takes anywhere from a few minutes to ten minutes, depending on the product.   Then the esthetician (or you) removes it by rubbing, taking dead skin cells with it.  

The gommage rolls up off the skin as it is rubbed, picking up the skin's outermost dead skin cells with slightly sticky ingredients like xanthan gum, algae derivatives or even paraffin.   Most of what flakes off the skin is the product itself;   It is important to stabilize the skin on the face, which you can do by making a "peace sign" with one hand and rubbing between the "V" with the fingers of the other hand.

While gommage is generally gentle, there are a few caveats.  

  • Don't use gommage if you have older, thinning facial skin.
  • Don't use gommage together with other exfoliants like body polishes or AHAs.
  • Don't use gommage if you have sensitive skin, broken capillaries or pimples.

Gommage is sometimes used in body treatments, particularly if the spa doesn't have a wet room. They are highly effective, but more labor-intensive that a salt glow or body scrubs. If a spa has a wet room they will usually offer a scrub where you shower off afterwards. You don't shower after gommage.