Do you ever get a facial at a spa? Is this something you treat yourself to once in a while, on a regular basis, or never?

For many of us, going to a spa is a financial luxury, a special treat. Understandably, it’s not something that can work for everyone’s budget.

But if it can fit into your budget, a professional spa facial offers many benefits that you can’t get at home.

The whole idea of going to a spa can be intimidating for some people. And unless you’ve received facials before, it’s hard to know what to expect. So I’d like to explain what happens in a spa facial.

What’s Different About A Professional Facial?

Nowadays, with so many skin care products and devices of every conceivable nature for sale, you can easily give yourself a mini facial at home. Maybe you already exfoliate and mask weekly at home, in which case THAT’S GREAT!

You might be wondering, what happens in a spa facial?

For a typical, straightforward facial, it is a skin consultation, deep cleansing, skin analysis, exfoliation, extractions (if needed), and mask. There might be a massage(face, neck, back, or hands).

You can cleanse, exfoliate, extract, and mask at home. But there are a few things about a spa facial that you can’t get at home though.

#1 Reason – Extractions

In my opinion, the #1 reason you go to a spa is for extractions. Assuming you have blackheads, and a large majority of people under age 50 do.

Extractions is a method of removing blackheads. It is a two-hand technique where the plug inside a clogged pore is manually coaxed out by pinching and massaging the skin around it.

By now, you may already know what I think about squeezing (you shouldn’t do this yourself!). Here’s why squeezing and popping is a bad idea.

A professional doing extractions on you is much easier than you trying to do it on yourself.

  • First, the obvious reason – you don’t have to do any of the hard work. Just lie there. Sleep if you want 🙂
  • Second, sometimes a blackhead is lodged deep inside the skin. It may be hardened and tough to remove. Or it may be in a part of the face that is in a tough area to extract. For example, the crease of the nostrils, a soft cheek with loose skin, or the chin are more difficult areas. An esthetician can maneuver around your face much more easily than you standing in front of a mirror trying to get your hands into an awkward position.
  • Third, a professional knows how to perform the extractions with the proper technique. Incorrect technique can lead to inflamed pores. For example, when there is residual matter in the pore that isn’t completely removed, the pore can get inflamed and turn into a pimple. A heavy handed touch (too much pressure or pinching) can also leave a red mark or dark spot that lingers for weeks. On thin skin or certain skin types, post-inflammatory pigmentation occurs very easily. I am one of those people.
  • Fourth, a professional can see your skin better. Skin is viewed under a magnifying lamp that both magnifies the view and illuminates the skin with light. This is helpful for seeing the tiny blackheads. The tiny ones can be hard to see.
  • Fifth, an esthetician has products and equipment that make extractions easier. For example, there are alkaline products that when applied to skin open up pores and loosen the plugs, which makes them a lot easier to remove. Steam, vacuum suction, and Galvanic current are methods sometimes used to soften pores prior to extractions. (I’ll talk more about these methods in the future.)

Topical acne/blemish products can go only so far to deep cleanse pores. You’ll always have some stubborn blackheads that refuse to come out.

This is where professional extractions can help. An esthetician can remove the ones that your products or your hands can’t.

Side Note:

Many of you have asked me how to get rid of blackheads. The sad reality is that blackheads cannot be completely eliminated. Only reduced.

As long as you produce oil (which is a natural process of the body), you’ll be prone to blackheads. There’s no way to physically stop them from forming. Because you can’t stop sebum (oil) production. (But some ingredients can regulate oil production.)


#2 Reason – A Professional Strength Exfoliation

Exfoliants used in a spa are stronger than the ones you buy at a retail store. As a consumer, you can’t buy professional-strength exfoliants. This is because they can be quite harmful to skin if used correctly.

Because spa exfoliants are stronger, you get much more dramatic and visible results. Most people feel a noticeable difference in their skin afterward (feels smoother and cleaner), and see a big difference too (looks more radiant and even toned).

How exactly are spa exfoliants different from retail exfoliants? Spa-strength exfoliants are at a lower pH and higher concentration. The ingredients in professional products are also better – more advanced, better quality.

Exfoliant pH

In retail products, AHA exfoliants are always at a pH greater than 3.0.

deep chemical peel that you get at a doctor’s office, medispa, or day spa is typically at a pH below 3.0. This is highly acidic and potentially destructive to skin if not administered correctly. (Read this for more information about deep chemical peels vs regular exfoliants.)

Exfoliant Concentration

Spa-strength exfoliants usually go up to a 30% concentration. It can be greater for deep chemical peels in a medispa (e.g. 50-70%). These must be administered under the supervision of a doctor, since it reaches and affects living tissue. There are substantial side effects and these peels require a recovery time.

The maximum percent concentrations will vary depending on state laws. Laws are different, state by state.

Spa Equipment

In addition to stronger exfoliants, spas also offer different forms of microdermabrasion equipment. So you may get exfoliated with a small handheld microdermabrasion device, for example. Or a microdermabrasion apparatus that uses crystals.

Medi-spas offer an even more extensive menu of esthetic peels and procedures.

#3 Reason – Advice on Problem Skin

If you have a persistent problem that you can’t solve on your own – for instance acne or sensitive skin – an esthetician can help you.

A facial always begins with a skin consultation. If the esthetician is well trained, you’ll also get a skin analysis while being examined under a magnifying lamp, and potentially other instruments (Wood’s lamp, UV camera).

She or he will be able to see things on your skin that you can’t. She’ll also be able to recommend an at-home routine and some professional products (the brands sold in the spa).

Things to Know About Spas

There are many other nice benefits that I’ll save for another day.

Spas vary widely in what services they offer. Most spas are day spas. Then there are medispas (these offer invasive cosmetic procedures that require physician oversight). And some are nail or hair salons that offer skin care services.

Not all spas use electrical equipment. The more advanced and better financed spas do. Advanced equipment is a big plus!

Solo practitioners (estheticians who work on their own) are less likely to have the fancy equipment, which is expensive, than large day spas with higher volume. It’s something to consider.

A large day spa is not necessarily better than a solo esthetician. It’s just a different environment and kind of experience. A solo practitioner may be able to offer you a more personal experience.

I recommend that you go to a spa that strictly specializes in skin. Don’t get a facial at a nail or hair salon (one that tacks on skin care services to its menu). Why? The treatment room won’t be as nice. It’ll likely be a tiny room off to the side. You’ll probably hear blow dryers and talking too. Not a very pleasant or sanitary environment.

For treating skin, you want to be in a pristine, spanking clean environment, don’t you? Not in a place where there is hair on the floor or nail dust in the air.

I also recommend that you go to a day spa, not a resort spa, for your regular facials. Day spa estheticians will likely have more experience doing heavy-lifting esthetics work (skin analysis, treating problem skin, extractions, etc.).

Those who work in a resort spa or cruise ship spend the better part of their time on relaxation procedures, like body treatments and massage.

Spa Tips

Tip 1 – If you go to a spa for extractions, be sure to tell the esthetician up front that you want them. Even better if you mention this when booking the appointment. Depending on the nature of the facial, extractions may not be included.

Tip 2 – Ask the esthetician for more time on extractions ahead of time (if this is important to you.) She or he will have to cut back on something else, perhaps the massage or mask portion. If you tell her upfront, she can make adjustments to her protocol accordingly. If you wait until extractions have begun, it may be too late.

Tip 3 – Ask around for recommendations on a good esthetician. Who you like is very personal. Everyone has a different touch. And different favorite activities. Many estheticians love extractions, but not all. Some love waxing, others not so much. Some are really good at massage. If you like massage, touch may be all important to you. You can try asking the receptionist who books your appointment: “Who there is really good at ____?”

How Often Should You Get A Facial?

Assuming budget is not an issue, once every 4-6 weeks for a regular facial is ideal (if there is no special treatment plan).

Depending on your skin conditions, the esthetician may recommend you go more frequently for a temporary period of time. For example, if you are struggling with a bad case of blackheads, you might be asked to go once a week for 4 weeks.

If budget is an issue, and you’d like to go for a special occasion or only a few times a year, then save up your money and when you go, opt for the basic cleansing facial.

Facials with bells and whistles (add-ons for fancy ingredients or modalities) can get very pricey; the results are hit or miss. You’ll get the most value for your money by choosing a simple facial that deep cleans your skin.

I’ll talk more about spas and have more tips to share with you. So stay tuned!