At the doc’s office
Crave great skin and blessed with deep pockets? Exfoliate your visage to the max under a professional’s careful supervision
What it does: A dermatologist or esthetician uses a device to blast particles (most commonly, aluminum oxide) onto the skin, physically sloughing off the outermost layer of the epidermis. Sound scary? Don’t worry. The operator can change both the speed and the grade of the crystals, enabling a lighter exfoliation, says Noah Kiani, the head skin-care therapist at cosmetic surgeon Dr. Trevor Born’s Toronto office. “And there’s no downtime after the procedure,” says Kiani.
Perfect for: A rejuvenating pre-party glow. “It’s like a deep facial,” says Dr. Hébert. It’s ideal for someone who has thick skin with very superficial blemishes or fine lines. But steer clear if you’ve got sensitive skin, acne or rosacea, as it can exacerbate those conditions.
How often: Every 1–2 weeks. You’ll need at least 8–10 treatments to see results.
Average cost: $150 per treatment
What they do: Deeper than microdermabrasion, epidermal peels chemically dissolve dead skin cells with acids such as glycolic, lactic and salicylic. “Depending on the strength and type of peel and your skin type, they can be left on anywhere from 1–5 minutes,” says Kiani. The higher the concentration, the greater your downtime; typically, peels start at 10 percent and can go as high as 70 percent after repeated treatments.
Perfect for: Skin that needs a deeper exfoliation to target specific complaints. “They can be used on sensitive skin, dry and dull skin, acne and people concerned about fine lines, texture and pore size,” explains Kiani.
How often: Every 3–6 weeks. Most people can expect results after about 4–5 treatments.
Average cost: $100–$150 per treatment
What it does: : The deepest form of exfoliation, laser resurfacing works by emitting a high-intensity ray of light that heats up water in the skin while removing the top few layers. But fear not: the ouch factor can be reduced with topical anesthetic and painkillers and, in most cases, post-treatment redness subsides within a week. Plus, the benefits can’t be beat. “It’s exfoliating by attacking the skin cells, but it also goes in and looks for water to stimulate collagen,” says Kiani. “It’s the best of both worlds.” You’ll leave with bright and firm skin.
Perfect for: Overhauling your complexion if your woes include brown spots, sun damage, deep lines, acne scars or melasma (also known as “the mask of pregnancy”)
How often: Most patients need 5–6 treatments spaced three weeks apart.
Average cost: $500–$1,500 per treatment
The Price of Bright
Your bank account won’t suffer, however don’t expect the same results you’ll find at the doctor’s office.
Polishers with skin-renewing acids
What they do: Face scrubs have evolved into full-throttle skin polishers. These cleansing scrubs remove surface skin cells thanks to a blend of alphahydroxy acids and enzymes, with many products also containing exfoliating granules or beads. While some are left on like a masque before getting scrubbed off, “usually they are activated with a bit of water and you move them around the skin,” says McCliskie.
Perfect for: A quick pick-me-up for dull skin. Resilient, oily skin types are best suited to skin polishers. “You don’t want to use scrubs if you’re on the sensitized side,” says McCliskie. Aging skins do better with leave-on masques, although they may need a deeper exfoliation method to combat lines, she notes.
How often: twice a week, unless the product is specifically formulated for everyday use
How much: Dullness and brown spots are banished with the salicylic acid in Olay Definity Pore Redefining Scrub, 150 mL, $15. Biotherm Anti-Rides Line Peel Polisher, 75 mL, $35, is also effective. Our skin was noticeably smoother and brighter due to a magic combo of glycolic acid and skin-peeling enzymes.
What they do: Polish off surface skin cells using the same aluminum-oxide crystals you’ll find at the doctor’s office. The crystals are usually mixed with an exfoliating cream, which you gently massage into the skin. Some kits also come with a sponge-head applicator system.
Perfect for: Battling sun damage or fine lines in aging skin, says McCliskie. But, as with professional microdermabrasion treatments, stay away from this method if you have sensitive skin or rosacea.
How often: Follow the manufacturer’s directions—most kits are designed for use once or twice a week. Use them any more than that and you risk overstimulating the skin, cautions McCliskie.
How much: RoC Renewex Microdermabrasion Expert System, $35, uses both a battery-powered applicator and a cream containing aluminum-oxide crystals to retexturize the skin. Vichy Rejuvenating Resurfacing Kit, $79, is a complete system that includes an aluminum-oxide scrub, an accompanying peel, a soothing lotion and a post-treatment antiaging cream.
What they do: Just like professional peels, at-home acid peels penetrate the skin to dissolve both sebum and dead skin cells. For over-the-counter products, “there is a limit in the percentage of acid that can be in the product,” says Dr. Hébert. (Most OTC alphahydroxy-acid peels, which can include glycolic, lactic and fruit acids, don’t exceed 10 percent.)
Perfect for: Battling fine lines and signs of sun damage. Take note: most skin types can tolerate an at-home acid peel.
How often: Overuse can thin out the skin and create patchiness and sensitivity, says McCliskie, so follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Some products can be used daily, while others are only once every 1–2 weeks.
How much: In two swipes, MD Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel, $110/30 applications, delivers a blend of citric, glycolic, lactic, malic and salicylic acids. With 20 percent alphahydroxy acids, NeoStrata Advanced Dermo Systems Skin Renewal Peel, $70/10 treatments, contains one of the highest over-the-counter concentrations
What they do: Provide a gentle exfoliation by dissolving the uppermost layer of the skin. However, unlike acid peels, enzymes digest protein; they munch away at skin cells, which are protein. Most use fruit enzymes such as pineapple or papaya, says McCliskie.
Perfect for: skin types that may be too sensitive for acid peels
How often: once or twice a week, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions and your skin type
How much: Kiehl’s Over-Night Biological Peel, 50 mL, $55, gently sloughs off dead skin cells while you sleep, while the three-step Fresh Appleseed Resurfacing Kit, $199, targets surface layers without irritating the skin, thanks to the gentle action of appleseed oil and apple fruit extract.