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Should facials cause breakouts? Our expert panel squeezes out the truth

It’s easy to blame the facialist for flubbing your just-cleansed gorgeousness. But it may not be her fault. Here are six common causes of post-facial breakouts.

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If you get a facial and your skin breaks out the next day, it’s easy to blame the facialist for flubbing your just-exfoliated gorgeousness. (And investment.) But it may not be her fault. Just what makes skin breakout after a facial treatment—and who’s to blame?

To find out, I asked leading aestheticians—Caitlin Conn, skin care director of Exhale spas, and Elena Rubin, the facialist-founder of Ethos Wellness in Soho—for their take on the most common causes of post-facial breakouts.

1. The Chinese Cure

Elena Rubin says that two things are equally true: The skin should not break out after a facial. Yet it’s normal if it does. The latter she attributes to the “Chinese cure,” a term used in acupuncture, which means sometimes the skin (in this case) gets worse before it gets better. “Skin can take the treatment as a sign to detox. And some people have three years of built-up sebum, dead skin cells, and sunscreen in their pores,” says Rubin.

facial breakout
Exhale's Caitlin Conn

2. Poor Pore Prodding

As a facialist, “you have to be really careful that you finish what you start,” says Caitlin Conn. “A facial stirs up bacteria, and leaving it behind after extractions can absolutely cause a post-treatment breakout.” Conn likes to use anti-bacterial gadgets like light therapy (looks like a Lite-Brite panel or a glowing paddle) and high-frequency wands (sounds like a bug-zapper) immediately afterward. “These technologies are very quick and healing,” says Conn.

3. Over-Reacting Skin

“Some skin reacts to steam, facial massage, new products, or to the very potent drawing power of clay,” says Conn, and it can cause a breakout. “Clay draws out impurities almost too quickly. I’m cautious about using it and may just apply it across the nose in a thin layer, while using a hydrating mask on the cheeks…”

4. Over-Eager Extractions

A good facialist should allow plenty of time preparing skin for extractions—not just with steam, but with exfoliants and pore-opening oils and massage, says Rubin. “It’s about luring out the contents of the pores, not forcing them out,” she explains, a cosmetic courtship with your skin. “Then, maybe I’ll make a second pass over the skin after the oils have helped loosen them.”

facial breakout
Elena Rubin

5. Skipping the Cool Down

In addition to allowing the skin a 20-minute warm-up for extractions, plenty of time is needed for calming any blotches, inflammation, and irritation from extractions, says Conn. “No one should have welts or bleeding or blotches on their way out the door.” In other words, you should never leave the spa looking like you’ve had a deep cleansing facial, even if you have.

6. It’s Not a Makeover!

A facial isn’t a makeup application. It’s more like a workout at the gym. It doesn’t necessarily make you beautiful the first visit, says Rubin. Unless it’s a red-carpet facial (a treatment intended for immediate radiance or lifting only), “the benefits kick in after a few days, when the skin’s like, ‘Oh, wow. Now I can function better without that dead layer of skin and clogged pores.” —Melisse Gelula

More Reading
What not to do after a facial treatment
Get your beauty sleep with the overnight facial
Extraction wars: Aestheticians face off over pore pressure

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The mascara-free lash trend that will make you look instantly more awake