13 Kinds of Facials | How to Pick the Best One for You
Read just about any skincare blog - or talk to any aesthetician. They recommend regular facials as an essential component of great skincare. They say facials will help you get a clear complexion or maintain your youthful glow. They'll leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.
BUT there are MANY, MANY different kinds of facials - and there isn't much evidence to support the claims made about many of them. Because of this, standard facials - like you'd get at a day spa - have their critics.
3 of the Most Common Concerns About Facials:
1. There isn't much regulation for day spas. So a spa facial at one day spa will be very different from a facial at another day spa. This means there's no way for you to know what procedures and protocols a spa is following. And most spas are day spas, NOT medical spas which require a doctor to oversee the services. Some nail and hair salons even offer facials. Like day spas, nail and hair salons do not have medical oversight.
2. Many of the creams applied during your facial aren't able to penetrate your skin well. Some (like Vitamin C and retinoids) break down with exposure to sunlight and oxygen. So the longer those creams sit on your skin, the less likely they are to work. “The skin is an amazing barrier, and so it takes a long time for things to get through it,” says Dr. Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology and director of translational research at George Washington University.
3. If improperly done, extractions can cause broken capillaries. People with dark skin who get extractions are at risk for hyperpigmentation (dark spots). “I never recommend this to my patients. Whenever you have darker pigmentation, and the facialist squeezes out whatever is there — pimples and the like, they can do a lot more harm than good, in the sense that you can end up with hyperpigmentation which can take months to go away,” says Dr. Adarsh Mudgil, of Mudgil Dermatology in New York City.
So are facials really worth the time and added expense? Lots of people think so. Facials are REALLY popular. They're the second most popular spa treatment after a massage. Day spa facials get a 97% "Worth It" rating on RealSelf.com based on 262 ratings over all time.
My answer to the "Are facials worth it?" question is - it depends. It depends on the kind of facial you choose, who does the facial, and the kind of results you're hoping for.
A standard facial - like you would get at a DAY SPA - will hydrate your skin and give you a temporary glow. They're a great choice when you're looking for for rest, relaxation, and short term skin improvement.
Day Spa Facials Have 3 Amazing Benefits:
1. They Hydrate Your Skin. It doesn't matter if your skin is dry or oily. Your skin needs water.
- Dehydrated skin needs more water. It feels tight and looks dull - even when you've applied moisturizer.
- Dry skin doesn't have enough oils. It feels rough, dry and is flaky. Attached to each hair follicle (in every pore), you have sebaceous glands. They make sebum, which is oily and protects, lubricates and nourishes your skin. When your sebaceous glands don't produce enough sebum, your skin gets dry and can age prematurely.
- Oily skin makes more oil when it doesn't have enough water. This can cause breakouts.
You can have dehydrated, dry, or oily skin. OR your skin may combine all of these. Whatever the case, hydrated skin is healthy. A good aesthetician will be able to help you find the right products and routine for your particular skin type.
2. They Increase Circulation & Give You a Healthy Glow.
As you age, the number of blood vessels you have decreases. Blood flow in the deep layers of your skin lessens. When this happens, your skin heals more slowly. But in 2014, a University of Illinois study showed that massage therapy improves general blood flow and vascular function. So facial massage increases blood flow, brings new nutrients to your skin, and gives your skin a healthy glow.
3. They Can Relieve Stress.
There's a Mind - Skin connection. Stress and high emotions can cause acne, eczema, hives, rosacea, vitiligo, etc. In fact, it happens so often that experts have come up with a new field of study. It's called psychodermatology. And studies have shown that relaxation training can help.
A study at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami showed that children's mood, activity levels, and all measures of their skin condition (including redness and itching) improved after massage therapy. And their parents' anxiety decreased as well.
BUT some doctors recommend facials at a MEDICAL OFFICE.
They say this because medical spas, dermatology, and plastic surgery practices can treat skin conditions, like acne, wrinkles and skin discoloration, much more effectively. They'll also be able to check for skin cancer - something you should have done every year.
“If you’re talking about a standard facial” (usually a cleaning, followed by a skin analysis, exfoliation, pimple extraction if needed, a mask, and moisturizer. There might also be a massage, a steam treatment, or a light peel.) “those are about improving the appearance of skin here and now,” says Dr. Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology and director of translational research at George Washington University.
And Ushma Neill, editor-at-large of the Journal of Clinical Investigation and vice president of scientific education and training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, agrees that facials can temporarily moisturize your skin - and that they're good for removing pimples and blemishes. "But when it comes to many of the fancier, pricier services that claim to combat aging or inflammation—everything from ozone and antioxidant treatments to stem-cell extract applications - most of that stuff is 'complete malarkey.'"
Here's what to expect with a standard facial:
- In most cases, a licensed aesthetician - someone who is trained in skincare and skincare products - will be doing your facial.
- You'll have a skin consultation. Expect to fill out forms and answer questions about your diet, how often you drink water, any medications / supplements you take, your skincare routine, which skincare products you use, and if you've had any skin reactions / allergies in the past. They'll also ask what concerns you have about your skin and your skin goals.
- Your skin will be cleansed and analyzed. Your aesthetician will examine your clean, makeup free skin under a magnifying lamp, and possibly a Wood's lamp (which assists with diagnosis of pigment disorders, infections, etc.) or UV camera (which shows hidden sun damage). She (or he!) will recommend a skin care routine for you to follow at home and the best professional skin care products for your skin condition.
- Exfoliation will remove the top layer of your skin to reveal the smooth, beautiful skin below. The outer layer of your skin, called the epidermis, is made up of old, dead cells that are continually shedding. They're replaced by new cells below, which move up to replace the dead cells. As the new skin cells move up, they harden and die. This skin cycle is ongoing and takes about 30 days. But if those old, dead cells stay on the surface - instead of shedding - they can give your skin a flat, dull appearance. The buildup can also cause blemishes, and scaling. Exfoliation makes your skin more beautiful in 2 ways. It reveals the new skin below and improves the penetration of skincare products. It can be done using a machine (like microdermabrasion or ultrasound) or by using creams that have a gritty texture. Sometimes aestheticians will use enzyme or acid exfoliants to loosen the bonds between skin cells. Sometimes it includes steam; other times it doesn't.
- From here, the combinations vary widely. Often there will be a mask. There might be a face, neck, back, or hand massage. An anti-aging facial will include ingredients like Vitamin C. An acne facial will include exfoliation, followed by steam, vacuum suction, or galvanic current to soften pores with added time for pimple extractions. Chemical peels may be a part of the treatment or they can be an "add on." A good aesthetician will help you choose the best facial for your skin.
13 Different Kinds of Facials (Sometimes These Are Add-Ons to a Standard Facial):
The following is not meant to be a comprehensive list. Instead it's meant to cover the most common facials. It seems like every spa has their own signature facial. There's just no way for me to include them all.
The following descriptions are meant to do just that - DESCRIBE - the facial. These descriptions are not meant to vouch for the effectiveness of these facials. Any studies I have found to back the effectiveness of the various facials, are included. That said, most facials don't have studies to back them.
Some of the facials require additional explanation and those are linked to another page. Click the links to learn more! Thanks!
1. The Cosmetic Needling / Derma Rolling Facial
Many med spas and dermatology offices offer a cosmetic needling facial. Cosmetic needling is different from medical micro-needling because the needles don't go as deep. Instead they only reach a depth of .3 mm, and it feels like a massage. Yet 80% more nutrients reach the skin (as compared to 7 - 10% when applied to your skin normally), with no down time.
This kind of facial provides essential cell nutrients for stimulating your own collagen naturally. Skin gets thicker and turns over more quickly. Melanin becomes more evenly spread and dark spots fade.
Micro-needling uses the skin’s ability to heal itself. It makes skin healthy, and in turn, more beautiful.
To learn more read our articles about medical micro-needling for wrinkles, and scar and stretch mark reduction. To help you better understand the differences between the 2 types of needling, we created a blog post, Cosmetic vs Medical Micro-Needling.
3. The Acne Facial
If you suffer from acne, a facial can help to clear your skin. Your aesthetician will use special, sterile tools to help rid you of your pimples.
4. The Fruit Acid Facial
There are lots of acids found in fruit that can be used in face scrubs and cleansers.
A HydraFacial uses a machine to cleanse, exfoliate and extract dead skin cells. Its unique, spiral suction tip dislodges impurities and delivers a serum (full of antioxidants, peptides and hyaluronic acid) deep into your pores. Read more about this facial on our page, How the HydraFacial Exfoliates AND Hydrates Your Skin!
6. The Anti-Aging Facial
An anti-aging facial adds ingredients like collagen, antioxidants, and hyaluronic acid, that target aging skin. It will include exfoliation, masks, and antioxidant serums. Sometimes these facials are more expensive than standard facials because the ingredients are more expensive.
7. The Acupuncture Facial
Acupuncture comes from China and can be traced back at least 2,500 years. In an acupuncture facial, needles are inserted into your wrinkles. A minor skin injury like this should stimulate new growth of collagen growth and elastin to firm your skin and reduce fine lines.
8. The LED Facial
LED lights are a pain free technique that can stimulate new collagen, improve acne and redness, and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Learn more about LED light therapy in our post, LED Light Therapy | Why You Should Be Using It.
9. The Microdermabrasion Facial
Microdermabrasion uses tiny rough grains to buff away the surface of your skin. It jumpstarts new collagen production and minimizes the look of sun damage, leaving skin your skin soft and beautiful.
10. The Ultrasonic Facial
The ultrasonic facial uses ultrasound to exfoliate your skin. First water is applied to the skin to loosen surface skin cells. Then the aesthetician glides a "spatula" across your skin. It emits inaudible sound waves (about 28,000 per second) to lift the old cells off the surface of your skin. At the same time, those soundwaves push the water into your skin - leaving it plump and hydrated. It's a very gentle procedure that's great for even sensitive skin. Read more about The Ultrasonic Facial & The Ultrasonic Spatula.
11. The Oxygen Facial
An oxygen facial uses oxygen under pressure to deliver a special serum (a blend of botanical extracts, antioxidants, peptides and / or vitamins) with low molecular weights of hyaluronic acid to your skin. The key ingredient is hyaluronic acid, which is found naturally in your skin. Hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000 times it's weight in water. It makes your skin look firmer, more hydrated, and more beautiful.
12. The Microcurrent Facial
The microcurrent facial was developed to tighten your skin. Electrical microcurrents (low level electrical current) are applied to the outer layers of your skin to tone the facial muscles just below. Click through to learn more about how the microcurrent facial works!
13. The Lymphatic Massage Facial
LiveStrong.com describes lymph drainage like this: Massage moves fluid out of the tissue in your face and into your lymph nodes (where your body's immune system kills bacteria, viruses, and harmful microorganisms). The lymph nodes in your face and neck protect you from any pathogens that enter your body through your eyes, nose, or mouth. It's not your typical massage. Instead, it uses light pressure to move the skin and mimic the action of the lymph vessels.
How Much Do Facials Cost?
Facials come in a range of prices. The price is dependent on several things:
- The products used.
- Any high tech additions / devices used will really add to the price.
- The location of the spa. Facials in New York City will cost more than facials in Fort Collins. Resort facials will cost more than day spa facials.
- Day spa facials cost less than medical facials.
- The more expertise the aesthetician performing the treatment has, the more expensive the treatment.
"I would always recommend going with a reputable brand," says Caudalie's lead esthetician, Régine Berthelot. "It's going to be a bit more money, but it will pay off in the long-term because you know you're using a skin-care brand that you trust, and also bigger brands have better training because they will have a standard for conducting the treatment and interviewing and training the esthetician."
If budget is an issue, then opt for the standard cleansing facial.
So what's the cost for a standard, full-service, 60-minute facial? They run anywhere from $75 to $100. Medical facials can hit $250 or more, says a spokesperson for Spa Week Media Group.
Am I Supposed to Tip My Aesthetician?
In most cases, telling your friends or writing a positive review will make your aesthetician VERY happy. If you feel like you'd like to do more, a 15 - 20% tip on the cost of the service is standard.
How Should I Care for My Skin After the Facial?
- Some facials will leave your skin pink and sensitive to the sun for a couple of hours. Follow your aesthetician's instructions carefully.
- No direct sunlight.
- Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses when outside.
How Often Should I Get a Facial?
- If you have acne or dark spots (hyperpigmentation), your aesthetician may recommend weekly treatments initially.
- Most people get good results with a standard facial every 4 - 6 weeks.
- If you're on a budget, then ask for the standard cleansing facial.
Tips for Getting the Best Facial
- Ask everyone you know (and trust) for recommendations on an aesthetician.
- Get your facial from a place that specializes in skin.
- The spa should be VERY clean.
- If you're going for extractions, be sure to tell them when you make the appointment. Extractions may cost extra and require extra time. And you may want to schedule for the end of the week, so you look great on Monday.
- If you're getting a facial before a big event (like a class reunion or wedding), it's best to schedule the appointment about a week before. That way you're sure to look your very best.
What's the Takeaway?
Here's my 2 cents. I think the aesthetics profession would help patients tremendously by using better names for procedures. When so many treatments have "facial" tacked on the end (like the Vampire Facial - which is not a standard / day spa facial at all, but a trademarked medical treatment using PRP and fillers!), it's VERY confusing for customers.Standard facials get mixed reviews. They aren't cheap and there aren't good clinical studies to back many of the advertised claims. The one thing everyone does agree on - standard facials are great at hydrating skin and can give you a gorgeous BUT temporary glow.
If facials aren't for you, there are other things you can do - things that some doctors say are even more effective.
1. Wash your face twice a day. Your body absorbs significant amounts of pollution through your skin. Clarisonic did a study that showed pollution speeds skin aging:
"When not effectively removed by cleansing, particulate matter can penetrate the outer layers of the skin's surface and deplete its essential proteins and natural barriers, causing premature aging, dehydration, uneven skin tone, and fine lines and wrinkles. In fact, 90% of visible aging is caused by sun and pollution, and long-term exposure to these particles can weaken the skin's ability to protect against serious potential health conditions and skin disease."
Read more in our post, The Clarisonic Review | 5 Reasons You Should Be Using One!
2. Stick with big name skincare brands. Dr. Friedman sees consumers lured in by exotic ingredients and niche products. But he believes in bigger, more well-known brands because, “They have the resources to evaluate their products in clinical and preclinical settings.”
3. Use a moisturizer every day. “I think there’s very little benefit you could glean from a facial that you couldn’t get on your own from cleaning the skin twice a day and applying moisturizer,” Neill says. “I use Oil of Olay and St. Ives - that’s about it.” Learn more in our post, Why You Should Use Moisturizers Every Day.
3. Wear SPF 15 or greater sunscreen every day. Ushma Neill says, “I’m also fastidious about wearing sunscreen.” While there's very little science to back facials, there's a LOT of evidence to back sunscreen. In fact, a 2013 study found that 80% of visible facial aging was caused by UV exposure.
Following this advice will keep you looking your very best - with or without facials! Thanks for reading!
Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.