We all know the basic rules of healthy skin: cleanse daily, moisturize and slather on the SPF. But no matter our best intentions, the truth is that the perfect combo of stress, pollution, sweat and makeup (hey, we've all skipped that nighttime wash a time or two) can leave our faces looking a little ... dull.
The right facial can cleanse your face, clear up skin problems and help you moisturize your way into a healthy (sun-free) glow. But the bottom line is that turning your most precious skin over to a stranger can be intimidating. What on earth are extractions, anyway? How much should a facial cost? What's normal? And what's not?
With Spa Week -- offering discounted salon services, including facials, across the country -- just around the corner, we turned to the experts to take the mystery out of your first facial, transforming it into an easy and relaxing experience. Read through the tips, then tell us: what do you wish you had known before your first facial?
Booking your first facial can be intimidating, with an incredible amount of options (wait, <em>what</em> kind of peel?!). For first timers, ask for a basic facial, suggests Holly Byerly, Senior Skinstructor-Esthetician for VMV Hypoallergenics. Once you settle on a place (check with friends and read reviews to steer yourself in the right direction), be sure to check that the facility is fully licensed. "In most all states, a license is required to perform a facial, and a copy of the license should be at the spa as well," Byerly says. "If the spa cannot provide this to you, I would book an appointment elsewhere." And if you're opting for a procedure that actually breaks the skin, such as a chemical peel, you should see a medical professional, like a physician, a nurse or a physician's assistant, who is trained in that field, explains Jeffrey Benabio, M.D., a Kaiser Permanente dermatologist in San Diego.
There's actually not much you need to do to prep for a facial -- skip any at-home, do-it-yourself facial treatments at least one week before your appointment and, for men, shave your face the night before instead of the morning of to avoid irritation, says Byerly. Feel free to leave your makeup on -- the facialist will remove it during the first part of the facial. And you may want to take a few notes before you head in: "If you have specific skin questions, be sure to jot them down prior to your appointment so that you don't forget them," Byerly says. "Your esthetician is there to answer all of your skin questions, so ask away!"
Facials are a great time for relaxation -- so be sure to arrive a little early to avoid killing the mood by rushing in. (Plus, being tardy could mean a truncated facial if there's an appointment booked after you.) When you check in, the spa should always give you an intake form asking a few medical questions (if they don't, book your facial somewhere else). This is your chance to speak up about any allergies, concerns or medical conditions, explains Nadia Dekhkanova, an esthetician and co-owner of Tribeca Beauty Spa in New York City.
No need to wear anything special to your appointment. According to Byerly, most spas ask you change into a robe or remove your shirt and slip under the covers. "During the treatment," she says, "if you are undressed and under covers, most all estheticians have gone through proper draping and you will not be uncovered."
A basic facial typically has four steps: cleansing, exfoliating, massaging of the neck, face and shoulders and applying a mask for your skin type, Byerly says. The cleansing portion (not surprisingly) consists of removing any makeup and dirt from the skin to prep it for the facial -- even if you come without makeup, the facialist will still do this step to make sure every last bit of your face is squeaky clean, Dekhkanova says. The exfoliation process helps to slough off any dead skin sells -- it preps the skin for extractions (see slide 7). The massage can be done for simple relaxation, Byerly explains, or, at some spas, to help with lymphatic drainage, lifting or pressure points. (As Dekhkanova explains, "It's really exercise for skin.") As for the mask portion? "The mask helps to drive more nutrients into the skin and can help to soothe and calm the skin as well. The mask is generally something that is done to leave you with a nice glow," Byerly says. And don't forget the final steps: "Your facial should always be completed with a moisturizer, eye cream or serum, and sunscreen if it is still daytime."
Depending on your esthetician, you may experience hot steam during the exfoliation process to help open your pores. Some people love the feeling, while others get a little suffocated -- if you're in the latter group, speak up.
Depending on the type of facial and the amount of time booked, extractions may be part of your facial experience. During an extraction, the esthetician removes whiteheads and blackheads from the skin using either fingers wrapped in gloves or a tool -- either way, he or she should always wear gloves. Extractions do hurt a bit, Byerly cautions, and your esthetician should check in about pressure or pain. If not? You should still speak up. "Remember, it is your time and you should be comfortable," she says. If you're not sure you want to try extractions, ask to try just a few -- perhaps on the nose or forehead -- she suggests, so you can see how you feel later. "If you are fine with these extractions, then you can let the esthetician know you would like more." And if you're not into this part, you can request that it be skipped altogether.
A facial is on your time and money -- so feel free to communicate with your esthetician in order to make it a better experience. If you're curious, ask questions about the procedures, or what different products are used for. (Many facialists will share this info even without you asking.) And definitely pipe up if something hurts, burns or stings, especially if the esthetician didn't give you a warning first. "Do not wait to speak up either, as it could be a reaction to a product or ingredient," Byerly says. "Your esthetician needs to know, in case they need to remove whatever is causing discomfort."
A typical full-service, 60-minute facial can run anywhere from $75 to $100 -- a more advanced, medical facial can hit $250 or more, according to a spokesperson for Spa Week Media Group. Tipping is just like restaurants -- 15 to 20 percent is customary for good service, and you should always calculate based on the original amount (not the discounted amount).
Depending on what type of facial you have, you might experience a bit of redness or irritation immediately after -- if that happens, ask your esthetician how to handle. If possible, enjoy the rest of your day makeup free. "Give your skin space and relax," Dekhkanova says. If you do need to apply cosmetics, ask your facialist if there's anything you shouldn't use immediately after. "I have many guests that come in for facials before an event and want makeup applied," Byerly says. "This is fine, but you should make sure to clean your skin and apply a moisturizer before you go to bed!"
If you enjoyed your facial, book another one! Over time, facials can help to keep your skin clean and healthy. If you're ready to become a regular, space your appointments anywhere from two weeks to a month (or more) apart. Too often (more than once every other week or so) can damage the skin, Benabio says. "People get a little bit too aggressive," he cautions. "You need to set some boundaries to give your face a chance to heal." Even infrequent visits, tailored to your budget and schedule, can have skin-healthy benefits. And no matter how often you get a facial, the real key to healthy skin is taking care of it every day. "Homecare is the most important thing," Dekhkanova says. "Prevention is much easier than correction." That means daily cleansing and moisturizing, plus regular exfoliation. And yup, you still have to wear sunscreen. No matter what.