For many facialists, extractions play a starring role in a skin-care treatment, with steaming, cleansing, and exfoliating all playing beauty-boosting backup. For others, extractions are cruel and unusual, banned by the Geneva Convention of Aesthetics.
Nothing makes a New York City facialist get on her soapbox quicker than mention of performing extractions, the act of enticing a pore or pimple to give up its impurities (a plug of dead skin and oil). It’s a topic with two opposing camps—and no middle ground. One person’s pinnacle of cleanliness is another’s trauma to the skin. We uncover the heated debate that’s popping up in the city’s treatment rooms…
Originally posted May 11, 2010. Updated May 19, 2017.
Are facial extractions good or bad? Keep reading for the verdict.
In one corner, are facialists who believe extractions are essential to getting skin clean. “I would never ever do a facial without extractions,” says Jillian Wright, owner of Jillian Wright Clinical Skin Care, who’s been a facialist for 11 years. “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?)
And lest you’re afraid of looking like a blotchy mess after extractions, a good facialist will never send someone out 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.
About 90 percent of New York spas offer extractions, because demand for them is so great. “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 massage 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 short term, concedes Elena Chang, an aesthetician at Clarins Madison Avenue Skin Spa. “But in long run, you’ve got damaged skin that’s lacking strength and elasticity.” And maybe an extra broken blood vessel or two, they say.
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, helps 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 faciliator 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?