Your Ultimate Guide to Getting a Facial (and Navigating Those Pesky Extractions)

Photo: Getty Images/Matthew Wakem
I remember my first facial like it was yesterday. I was 14, my skin was flaring up from breakouts on a regular basis, and nothing seemed to be working. As a last ditch effort, my mom booked me an appointment with an esthetician, and the experience was, let's just say, nothing like the relaxing luxury I had expected. She spent a 45 painful minutes extracting blackheads out of my nose, forehead, and upper lip. I left in tears, albeit with skin that looked clearer than it had in years. 

As the resident beauty editor in my group of friends, I get a text at least once a month that starts with "I want to get a facial" and ends with "But I don't know what to get." Over the last few years, facial bars like Heyday, Silver Mirror, and Skin Laundry have popped up to make the skin-soothing experiences more affordable, and thus more accessible to people who may not want to shell out $300 for pus to be extracted from skin. With so many options out there, I'll be the first to admit that trying to decipher the list of spa offerings can be nothing short of overwhelming. To make things easier, we quizzed the experts on exactly what people need to know before choosing—and going in for—their first ever facial.

Know that there are different facials out there

There are two different types of facials. First, there's the relaxing kind that involves chilling out on a table and having your face massaged with luxurious creams—essentially what I was expecting from my first facial experience. Then, there are those driven by results. These are meant to treat and change your skin—which they do—but they don't exactly make for the most enjoyable experience. "Most people lump all facials together, and then may not get the experience they want," says Cindy Kim, co-founder of Silver Mirror. "So choosing one of the two paths is probably the first key decision to make."

Kim notes that regardless of what type of facial you choose or what your skin concerns, there are a few key elements that should always be present. "There should be a deep cleanse, and there should be a proper professional exfoliation in there—exfoliation is the key to all successful facials," she explains. "And then  serums and any skin-healthy ingredients should be infused into the skin. If you’re going the more traditional facial route, make sure to go somewhere that’s using high-quality professional ingredients to drive hydration into the skin, and exfoliate the skin properly."

Evaluate what your skin needs

"Choosing which facial to get should be based on your skin type, condition, and needs," notes Jenna Walsh, an esthetician at Heyday Los Angeles. "However, a good rule is to get hydrating facials in the winter to give your skin extra support, and detoxing facials in the summer to help clean out the congestion that comes with sweat and spending time outdoors." With that in mind, you can use your skin type as a barometer of what elements to look for in a treatment.

For oily or acneic skin: Acne is unique to each individual, which means you're going to want to see someone who specializes in acneic skin so they know how to treat whatever specific situation you're dealing with. "Exfoliation is really key, like in the form of chemical peels or enzymes to start turning over the skin," says Kim, noting that high-frequency bacteria-killing machines, LED light therapy, and oxygen therapy can all also help in these efforts.

Then, there are extractions, aka squeezing dirt, grime, and blackheads out of your pores. "Extractions should feel relatively comfortable and light," she says. "I think for people with acne, they often think they need really harsh extractions, but that can inflame the skin further."

For dry skin: If you're dealing with dry skin, first of all, #same. Second of all, you'll want a treatment that will get rid of the top layer of dry skin while also hydrating at a deeper level. New York City-based holistic esthetician Susan Ciminelli is a fan of oxygen treatments, and notes that you'll want a treatment that involves "plenty of steam" before removing blackheads and light blemishes. Personally, I'm a big fan of dermalinfusion facials, which suck the gunk out of your pores and infuse them with hydrating serum for maximum moisturization. Read:

For balanced skin: Even if your skin has no pressing issues that you're trying to deal with, you can still benefit from a professional facial. "Just get a regular facial that includes light extractions but gives lots of massage," says Ciminelli. "Your skin will improve with just one facial. And after their first experience with a regular facial treatment, if you feel your skin has improved with the first treatment, you can return rather quickly, within a month, for another treatment with the addition of a light peel and an oxygen treatment." Oxygen therapy helps to kill bacteria and calm inflammation, and Kim notes that it does "universally good things." She's also a fan of LED light therapy, which helps reduce signs of aging.

Chat with your esthetician and stick with it

If all of that sounds like gibberish to you, don't worry—your esthetician should be able to help guide you toward exactly the right treatment for your skin. "At Heyday, we customize our facials based on what we see in the treatment room, which allows us to adapt based on your skin type and condition," says Walsh. "This is particularly important because while your skin type does not change, the condition of your skin can change based on environmental factors like stress, pollution, and diet." She points out that pretty much every esthetician out there love to talk shop, so don't be afraid to ask questions, both before the treatment starts and after you've finished. But if something feels off to you, also don't be afraid to speak up and tell your facialist that you want to skip a particularly aggressive step or that you're ready to call the game (er: the facial) off completely.

A facial may feel like a great "treat yourself" luxury every once in a while, but in order to see real results you should plan to go back fairly frequently. "A facial is just like going to the gym," says Kim. "Going to the gym once is not going to give you strong, toned muscles—you have to keep going and keep working at it. Skin is the exact same way."

With all of that in mind, regular facials are not exactly an inexpensive undertaking. Thankfully there are plenty of ways to DIY for (almost) the same results. This product will give you an at-home facial in less than 30 seconds, and here's how to give your face a spa-level workout without ever having to leave your bathroom 

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