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What Is A Facial?

The Basic Steps of A Professional Facial

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Facial

Regular facials by a skilled esthetician can help keep your skin clear and beautiful.

Photo by The Equinox in Manchester, Vt.

A facial is one of the best ways to take care of your skin, especially when it's given by an experienced, knowledgeable esthetician. A facial cleans, exfoliates and nourishes the skin, promoting a clear, well-hydrated complexion, and can help your skin look younger.

A facial is the second most popular spa treatment after a massage. A facial works best when it is part of an on-going program of skin care. Watch a video of a professional facial.

The Basic Steps of a Facial

  • Consultation. A facial should begin with a consultation. The esthetician might have you fill out a form that has questions about your skin concerns, your diet, how much water you drink, drugs and supplements you take, and products you are currently using. This can affect your skin and what kind of treatments she recommends.

  • Cleansing. After wrapping your hair with a towel or headband, the esthetician begins a facial with a thorough cleansing, using cotton pads, esthetician wipes or sponges.

  • Skin Analysis. The esthetician covers your eyes and looks at your skin through a brightly lit magnifying lamp. He or she is determining your basic skin type (dry, oily, combination, sensitive or normal) and skin conditions (acne, blackheads, whiteheads, aging, sun-damage, dehydration, etc.) The esthetician then chooses the appropriate products and treatments, and consults with you about what he or she sees and recommends.

  • Steam. Most facials use a machine that directs a thin vapor of warm steam to your face. This is relaxing and helps softens up any blackheads and whiteheads to be extracted. If you have very sensitive skin, the esthetician may not use steam.

  • Exfoliation using a mechanical or chemical exfoliant. Mechanical exfoliants have a gritty texture that rubs away the surface dead skin cells. This type of exfoliation usually happens during the steam. Chemical exfoliation uses enzymes and acids to loosen the bond between skin cells. A gentle enzyme treatment can be done during the steam. Stronger chemical peels, which vary in intensity, can be a stand-alone treatment or part of the facial. It is not generally an "upgrade" and done in a series. It is not done with steam.

  • Extractions. This is the removal of blackheads or whiteheads if you want it and need it. People have different pain tolerance for extractions. They can be uncomfortable, especially on thin or ruddy skin. Extractions can cause broken capillaries and discoloration if done improperly. Watch a video of extractions being performed.

  • Facial massage using classic strokes like effleurage to both relax you and stimulate your skin and facial muscles.

  • A facial mask targeted to your skin type (dry, oily, combination, sensitive, mature) and condition. During the facial, the esthetician should stay in the room and give you a scalp massage or some other service. If they leave the room to let you "relax," don't go back.

  • Final application of toner, serums, moisturizer and sunscreen if it's daytime.

  • Advice on home skin care. The esthetician will tell you how she thinks you can take better care of your skin and recommend products. Some people feel uncomfortable with this step because it involve product recommendations, but it is part of her job. You aren't obligated to buy anything, and he or she shouldn't be too pushy or make you feel bad about your skin.

  • Who Gives A Facial?

    A professional facial should be given by a licensed esthetician with special training in skin care. They are sometimes also called aestheticians or facialists.

    A cosmetologist is legally allowed to give facials, but their primary training is in hair, so, in my opinion, they aren't the best choice. You also want to find an esthetician who is knowledgeable, fastidious, and passionate about their work.

    How Much Does a Facial Cost?

    A facial usually starts around $75 at a day spa in a smaller city. Prices will be higher at destination spas, resort and hotel spas. Special masks and serums also make the price go higher.

    How Often Should I Get A Facial?

    It varies from person to person. Ideally, get a facial monthly because that's how long it takes the skin to regenerate. Try to have a facial at least four times a year, as the season changes. You may need it more frequently if you are trying to clear up a case of acne, especially at the beginning. Otherwise, once a month is plenty. You can overdo it, especially if you have sensitive skin.

    Variations on the Classic European Facial

    You might look at all the different facials offered at on a spa menu and feel confused about which one to pick. Do you want an anti-aging facial, an oxygen facial, a collagen facial or a deep-cleansing facial? Don't worry too much. They are all variations on the classic European facial. The names are usually determined by the different skin care lines. If you pick the wrong facial for your skin, a good esthetician will advise you in the treatment room and change the treatment to something suited for your skin.

    Variations on the classic European facial include the mini-facial (a 30-minute treatment that usually skips extractions). Use a line formulated for mature skin, with ingredients like vitamin C, and you have an anti-aging facial. It's an oxygen facial when a mist of pure oxygen is part of the treatment, or the products are formulated to deliver oxygen to the dermis. It's a collagen facial (also anti-aging) when special collagen sheets are placed on the skin. An acne facial will pay special attention to extractions. A photo facial is a separate light treatment to achieve specific results like boosting collagen or treating acne.

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