The 411 on Facials
While many of us are pretty religious about making hair appointments, we tend to let things slide when it comes to facials. All that coddling with lotions and potions seems so indulgent, it’s easy to pooh-pooh the results of a facial. “A facial will keep your skin healthy and hydrated and also protect it from the environment,” says dermatologist Howard Murad, M.D., associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA. “And if you have specific problems, like uneven pigmentation or breakouts, the appropriate facial can really make a difference.”
What to Expect During Your Facial
A thorough facial typically consists of seven steps:
- A rigorous cleansing with a product for your skin type (normal, dry, oily, combination or sensitive)
- Skin analysis through a brightly lit magnifying lamp
- A deep steam-cleaning with a mechanical or chemical exfoliant
- Extraction of blackheads and whiteheads
- Massage to stimulate circulation and relax facial muscles
- A mask targeted to your skin type
- Application of toners and protective creams
What a Facial Does Best
- Exfoliates: When dead skin cells hang on, they prevent our skin from reflecting light, making our complexion appear rough and discolored. To remove that dull, ashy layer, the aesthetician will choose the best exfoliant for your skin type, either a gritty scrub or a smooth chemical agent, such as an alpha or a beta hydroxy acid or a papaya enzyme.
- Extracts: With the top layer of dead skin cells cleared away and the contents of the pores softened by steam, the facialist uses sterile tools to extract the debris with just the right amount of pressure.
- Lightens: If uneven pigmentation and brown spots are a concern, the facialist can apply a mask, peel or serum containing proven skin lighteners such as vitamin C, licorice extract, pomegranate extract, kojic acid or arbutin.
- Hydrates: When the top layer of skin contains its full complement of water, it looks firm, soft and supple. To max out our water-holding capabilities, the facialist uses “steam, humectants and moisturizing agents, which plump up the skin and pop out the wrinkles by infusing those receded areas with moisture,” says aesthetician Stacy Cox, owner of Pampered People spa in Valley Village, California.
When to Schedule a Facial
Book your facial a few days or even a week before a big event to allow any irritation to subside. A good facial shouldn’t irritate your skin to the point where it triggers inflammation, but there’s always the chance of residual redness from extractions or light peels.
The few days before the start of the menstrual cycle can be a tender time for some women. If you find your nerve endings are more sensitive to pain or discomfort at this time of the month, it’s best to reschedule a facial or ask your aesthetician to lay off the extractions.
Thin-skinned? Proceed With Caution
Because sensitive skin is by definition finely textured, with a thin epidermis and blood vessels that are close to the surface, an experienced facialist will follow what Cox calls the “less heat, less time, less product” rule. That translates into not over-steaming the face, using lukewarm instead of hot towels, exfoliating with gentle enzymes instead of a strong glycolic acid, performing fewer extractions and using a hydrating mask.
Laurie Drake is a former Vogue staffer who has written about beauty, health and fitness for Allure, Glamour, Self, Prevention and InStyle magazines. She was won three Gold Triangle Awards for print journalism from the American Academy of Dermatology.