For those unfamiliar with the term, extractions involve removing dead skin cells, debris, and other gunk found in the skin which tends to cause blemishes. Extractions are typically performed by dermatologists and estheticians, but if you know how to properly perform extractions, you can do it on yourself. As a general rule of thumb, whitehead extractions should be left to the pros, but it's ok to DIY blackhead extractions if you have the proper technique and tools. If you're not confident in your skills, book an appointment with your favorite skin expert. Every specialist is different, but for optimal results, you should plan on getting professional extractions done every four to six weeks, or once to twice a month, depending on your skin needs.
The case for extracting your own pores
In one corner are facialists who believe extractions are essential to getting skin clean. “I would never ever do a facial without extractions,” says esthetician Jillian Wright, owner of Jillian Wright Clinical Skin Spa. “It would be ridiculous. I’d feel like I was taking clients’ money and just pretending that their skin was healthy.”
Wright and her camp believe pores, blackheads, and a variety of small pimples impede the health of the skin, as well as radiance and clarity. And so do her clients: most facial treatment bookings are for extractions, confirms Wright.
The brass ring is clear skin. But most of us are dotted with blocked pores and bumps that we can’t fully clean ourselves—or we shouldn’t. “I don’t want my clients doing it themselves,” says Wright. “You need to know what to look for, what not to touch, and apply the right pressure. I’m good at it,” says Wright, who admits she finds the task incredibly satisfying, “like a treasure hunt.”
Congestion can be partly managed by skin-care products at home, and you can exfoliate blackheads so they’re less visible, but the contents of pores just don’t come out on their own, says Wright. “They just fill and fester and stretch pores to the size of saucers.” (Are you picturing that?)
If you're getting extractions done, your skin will typically be prepped with steam to open up your pores, making the whitehead or blackhead come out easier. Throughout the process, the esthetician or dermatologist will keep the skin moist so that your pores don't close, and they may apply a thick moisturizer to retain the heat, allowing for easier removal. A specialist will typically use an extracting tool, applying light pressure onto your skin to push the debris out of the pore. At times, they may also combine this with other tools and treatments that suck the debris out of the skin.
And lest you're afraid of looking like a blotchy mess after extractions, a good facialist will never send someone out of the treatment room that way. Wright preps the skin with steam and enzymatic masks to loosen the pores first, then uses healing and calming methods like LED light and skin-care masks that bring down redness and soothe just-poked pores. “You should leave with glowing skin, and none the wiser that you’ve had extractions. It’s a test of your facialist’s skill,” she says.
And though not every facialist is sold on the benefits of extractions, that hasn't stopped people from asking for them during their facials. “If I didn’t do them for some reason—like laziness—my clients would pay for them elsewhere. We’re both invested in the skin’s health,” says Wright. “New Yorkers like massages but they come in for extractions.”
In this camp are skin-care professionals who call extractions a “harsh, invasive practice” that can leave the skin looking worse for wear. It’s an idea shared by luxe holistic-leaning spa brands like Sodashi and many French beauty brands. (You’d be hard-pressed, ahem, to find a spa in Paris that does extractions.)
“Respecting the skin” is a cornerstone of Clarins, which frowns upon pore pressure to free the dirt and trapped sebum inside them. “We work with the skin, not against it," says Ewa Wegrzynowska, Clarin’s National Skin Spa Training Manager. “Pulling and pressing the pores weakens them and the skin fibers like collagen and elastin.”
Your skin looks good in the short term, concedes Elena Chang, an esthetician at Clarins Madison Avenue Skin Spa. “But in the long run, you’ve got damaged skin that’s lacking strength and elasticity.” And maybe an extra broken blood vessel or two, they say. This is especially true if you opt for DIY extractions. While technically you can do them yourself, you're at greater risk of messing with a blemish that isn't ready to be extracted (such as deep, painful blemishes, cystic acne, and blemishes without a head), and causing your skin to scar, or worse.
Instead, Clarins would rather use warm compresses to soften pores and lymphatic drainage massage, a technique used by many facialists, including Wright, that promotes circulation, giving skin a luminosity and a lift. “The massage helps drain toxins and impurities. And our powerful plant-based facial oils help regulate skin’s own oil production.” The theory being that oil helps facilitate the flow of oil instead of allowing the pore to trap it. Often clarifying masks with clay, which have a drawing-out action, are used to decongest the skin, as well. (That's the case with Sodashi's popular Revitalising Yellow Clay Mask.)
So while the extraction camp values its dust-busting duty to the pores, the anti-extraction group sees itself as a facilitator of the skin’s own dirt-releasing process. “It’s a beauty from within approach,” says Chang, referring to the dirty job, which someone’s got to do. Right?
For a derm's take on extractions, check out the video below.
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