Electrical Exfoliation

by Annet King

Exfoliation is a necessary part of skin health. Without exfoliation, debris, sebum, impactions and excess cell build-up occur, which all clog the pores, contribute to fine lines and wrinkles and ultimately inhibit both the skin therapist and the client from being able to treat the skin properly. Regular exfoliation also stimulates cell renewal and cell turnover, which enhance the skin's appearance.

While manual exfoliants such as scrubs and masques do a great job of removing this debris and cell build-up, sometimes the client needs a little something extra to really get into the skin and clear those compactions. A variety of electrical modalities are available to assist in exfoliation, including Microdermabrasion and Ultrasonic. They enhance almost every treatment and can help to build variety in your business and attract new clients.


Microdermabrasion (an innovative approach to the technique of peeling) is a mechanical form of exfoliation. It helps to improve or correct skin abnormalities that originate in the epidermis and the most superficial layers of the dermis.

Microdermabrasion facilitates the exfoliation of the Stratum Corneum, which helps to enhance product penetration and improve the appearance of the skin. It is a quick, effective procedure with little to no downtime for the client.

When used in a professional skin treatment, Microdermabrasion takes the place of any other hydroxy acid or exfoliating substance and should not be used in conjunction with one. The most common Microdermabrasion modality uses a hand-held tube that sweeps across the face. Aluminum Oxide (Corundum) crystals or Sodium Bicarbonate crystals project onto the skin from the tube in a controlled manner by variable pressure while the therapist runs the tube across the skin. At the same time, a vacuum removes the used crystals, along with superficial dead skin particles, into another separate waste container for disposal.

Aluminum Oxide (Corundum) crystals are the second hardest minerals after the diamond. They are inert (not readily reactive with other elements) crystals that are used as abrasive agents and do not have any biological effect on the skin.

Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda), as well as sodium chloride (salt), are both water-soluble and their abrasive power is 25% less powerful than Aluminum Oxide crystals.

With today’s new technology, manufacturers have found other ways to achieve the same exfoliation without the use of crystals. Depending on the client, the following options can be great alternatives to the traditional forms of Microdermabrasion:

    • Diamond-encrusted tip: uses the same vacuum technology but has no crystals flowing through the system. It provides exfoliation by moving different hand pieces with various diamond-grit types over the surface of the skin. The removed skin is then returned to a disposable filter to be discarded after each use
    • Brush tip: attachments that “sweep” debris and dead cells from the surface of the skin. Brush tips vary in degree of abrasiveness
    • Hydra power: the use of serums, oxygen or water to blast the skin and rid it of unwanted cells and debris while at the same time delivering active ingredients, hydroxy acids or concentrated oxygen into the skin

As with all electrical modalities, always follow the procedures according to the manufacturer of the machine you use. Procedures for one modality may differ from that of another.


Ultrasonic, a cutting-edge technology, utilizes low-frequency sound waves in a three-stage system for safe mechanical exfoliation, molecular penetration and healing micro-amp therapy. The device helps to combat aging skin, reduce wrinkles, clear acne, manage rosacea and control hyperpigmentation, in addition to many other skin challenges.

An Ultrasonic device contains a crystal in the sound head that converts normal 110-volt energy from the outlet using a transformer. A scientific principle called the piezoelectric effect allows the conversion of energy to Ultrasonic by delivering an electrical charge to the crystal, creating mechanical pressure and causing the crystal to vibrate and produce sound waves.

The use of Ultrasound in skin care is different from medical Ultrasound; skin therapists use therapeutic Ultrasound as opposed to diagnostic (diagnostic uses completely different frequency than therapeutic). In the skin care industry, Ultrasound is referred to as Ultrasonic.

Ultrasonic for Penetration

Ultrasonic energy works to enhance product penetration through a process called Sonophoresis (or Phonophoresis). The device also allows for a deep cleansing treatment, the release of dead surface skin cells and the loosening of comedones. When skin is exposed to Ultrasonic, several effects can occur because the waves of the Ultrasonic increase to a certain level and assist in skin penetration. One of these effects is the formation of gas bubbles, called Cavitation. Ultrasonic pulses are passed through the skin, fluidizing the lipid-bilayer by the formation of the bubbles. The force of Cavitation causes the formation of holes in the Corneocytes, the enlarging of intercellular spaces and the disorder of Stratum Corneum lipids, which facilitates penetration through the barrier lipid layer.

Another effect of Ultrasonic energy is “heating,” which occurs mainly by means of a decrease in energy of the rising Ultrasound wave. This is due to scattering and absorption effects. As a result, the skin’s temperature will typically elevate in the range of several degrees centigrade. This temperature rise will increase the fluidity of the Stratum Corneum lipids as well as directly increase the diffusivity of molecules through the skin barrier.

Ultrasonic may be used for:

  • Cleansing
  • Exfoliation
  • Desincrustation (softens and emulsifies oil and comedones in the follicle)
  • Iontophoresis (introduces water-soluble products into the skin through electrical current)

In some instances, it is possible to over stimulate the client’s skin if incorporating Ultrasonic into all of these procedures during one treatment. Always refer back to the Consultation Card and assess you client’s skin closely, and remember never to leave a client alone when using an electrical modality.

Exfoliating Electrically

Exfoliation is an essential step in the skin treatment that can be greatly enhanced by electrical modalities. Electrical exfoliation techniques are a great add-on to any treatment, and more often than not, your client will leave feeling so pleased with the experience, he or she will be likely to book more of these services in the future.

Copyright © by The International Dermal Institute. All rights reserved.

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Electrical Exfoliation