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Booking A Facial? This Is The Only (& We Mean Only) Guide You’ll Ever Need

mbg Associate Beauty & Wellness Editor By Jamie Schneider

mbg Associate Beauty & Wellness Editor

Jamie Schneider is the Associate Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.

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January 26, 2022 — 11:04 AM

Welcome to our ultimate facial field guide: If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed and/or confused by the sheer number of skin treatments (been there), allow us to help you wade the waters. See, facials are an investment–of both time and money. So before booking just any treatment, it’s important to know which option is best for your skin type and concern. Granted, there are a ton of spa services out there, but this guide will help you navigate any menu.

6 types of facials

All facials will follow a similar form–steam, exfoliate, extract, massage, hydrate, etc.–with some added treatments or tools thrown in, depending on your skin’s individual needs. For example, an esthetician performing an acne facial might spend more time on extractions, whereas a lymphatic facial would involve more massage work. See below for each of the highlights:

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1. Classic facial

Here, we have your standard facial. Every esthetician has their own unique order and products, but here’s the gist:

Skin analysis: “The esthetician will begin by chatting with you and asking you questions so they can determine the best treatment plan for your skin,” says celebrity esthetician Ren?e Rouleau.
Cleanse: To create a clean canvas for all treatments to follow.
Exfoliation: “This can take many different forms, but a gentle exfoliating acid or enzyme peel, ultrasonic exfoliation, microdermabrasion, or bio-brasion are the most common,” notes Rouleau.
Steam: To increase blood flow and make it easier for the esthetician to perform extractions.
Massage: Arguably the best part of the treatment (IMO). Techniques and timing may vary, but most estheticians will perform some sort of facial massage to promote better product absorption, encourage circulation, and sculpt the facial muscles.
Manual extractions: If you’re facing congested skin, an esthetician might perform some extractions to clear out the clogged pores. The specific order here varies: “Unlike most estheticians, I always perform extractions after the massage,” notes Rouleau, but it typically comes after the steam and exfoliation steps.
Mask: Options vary, depending on your skin’s needs (hydrating, pore refining, etc.).

2. Hydrafacial

A hydrafacial combines exfoliation and hydration by using a microdermabrasion-like device that simultaneously sucks all the gunk out of pores and infuses them with nutrient-rich serum “boosters” to rejuvenate the skin.

Hydrafacials are non-invasive, and they’re gentle enough for most sensitive and acne-prone skin types to handle. Although, “it’s best not to use on any active, open acne,” says board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D., founder of SKINFIVE. “This is often best for a patient with very dehydrated, dull, flaking, or otherwise tired, sallow skin that needs a deeper clean and overall replenishing refresh,” she adds.

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3. LED facial

There are still some questions about how exactly low-level light therapy works, but it’s been praised by many for healing scars, promoting collagen production, and fighting bacteria. And different colors may provide different benefits, notes Shamban, as they represent different wavelengths that enter the skin at different depths–which means they can help treat different skin concerns.

For example: Red light supports healthy elasticity in the skin, which plumps and firms, helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says celebrity esthetician Shani Darden. “Blue light helps to minimize blemish-causing bacteria which helps to heal current breakouts and prevent new ones from forming.”

Typically, LED technology is used in combination with other treatments or added to classic options: “All of my facials end with 20 minutes under a professional LightStim LED face panel,” says Darden.

4. Firming or sculpting facial

Also called a “workout facial,” this treatment is meant to sculpt and tighten the skin. Again, many professionals will add a few minutes of facial massage to lift and tone the muscles, but a firming facial will typically involve more time with tools and perhaps devices. “Think about it as an added bonus by going to the gym for your face,” says Nina Carla, medical esthetician at Motykie Med Spa. (Hence, workout facial). “[It] lifts, sculpts, and firms the skin to help prevent sagging, using tools and devices with current and energy as well as by hand.”

For example, this type of facial might involve a microcurrent device or vibration therapy tool (like Darden’s famous sculpting wand). “I have microcurrent gloves that I’m obsessed with and use in all of my facials,” Darden adds. “They allow for a more evenly dispersed, deeper treatment. You can literally scoop up the cheek muscles for more lifted and sculpted cheekbones!”

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5. Lymphatic facial

You can read all about lymphatic massages here (including how to perform your own at home), but generally, this centuries-old technique helps aid the body’s natural detox process. “This unique massage technique stimulates lymph flow and enhances the clearance of accumulated waste in the body,” says Ivonne Boujaoude, DNM, health coach at Modern Holistic Health.

And because you have a high concentration of lymph nodes in your face and neck, specific movements can help encourage flow–an esthetician or licensed acupuncturist might use their hands, a gua sha stone, or facial cupping tools (although, professional facial cupping treatments will likely follow an acupuncture session).

“Unlike the circulatory system, your lymphatic system doesn’t have its own pump. That’s where lymphatic massage comes in,” adds Rouleau. “For the skin, conditions like puffiness, acne, dryness, dullness, and even skin sensitivity can be improved and even resolved by simple lymphatic stimulation, because it helps the body do what it’s meant to do: heal.”

6. Acne facial

Also called a “decongesting facial” or “deep cleaning” facial, this treatment will often include extractions and a high-frequency device to kill acne-causing bacteria on contact. “The former removes clogged pores and the latter targets active blemishes,” says Rouleau.

Of course, treating acne takes balance–you don’t want to simply overwhelm the skin with peels and extractions. “The goal is to remove the excess surface sebum, dead skin cells, and build up in pores while eliminating bacteria without inducing a sebum response,” says Shamban. So the esthetician might throw some hydration into the mix, like a cooling mask to soothe inflammation.

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Benefits of facials

Think of how you might treat your overall health: You’ll have annual checkups with a physician to address any concerns, but you might enlist the help of a dietitian and/or personal trainer to meet specific nutrition and fitness goals. With skin care, you can see a dermatologist for regular check-ins, but you might also see an esthetician to help manage the upkeep.

And estheticians manage that upkeep in a very meaningful way: Appointments are usually an hour or more, so the expert can really spend time with your skin and address any concerns or goals you have. “Not only do [facials] clean out the pores and balance the skin, but your esthetician will also talk to you about how to care for your skin at home and what foods to avoid if you are having acne,” says Rouleau. Plus, they treat a vast range of skin types every single day, so estheticians have a repertoire of knowledge that can help you along your skin care journey. “Getting professional skin care advice early will give your good habits for a lifetime,” Rouleau adds.

Of course, like nutrition and fitness, it’s also up to you to put in the work. After all, you can’t completely ignore your diet and workout regimen at home and expect any miraculous changes from your dietitian or trainer. Same with skin care: “If you’re not using the right products for your skin consistently, the results of a facial won’t last as long,” says Darden.

How often should you get a facial?

Generally, the pros recommend opting for a facial once a month, if you can. “The skin regenerates about every 28 days. The skin cells come back and accumulate,” says Shamban. “Therefore, it’s best to treat the skin at the end of the skin-life cycle just about every month.” On that note, you don’t want to get more than one facial per month, lest you overwhelm your skin. Remember: It’s a pretty deep clean.

A monthly cadence is also great for people with specific skin concerns–like acne, scarring, dryness, etc.–as you’re able to regularly check in with your esthetician and discuss results. “Your esthetician will also be able to analyze your skin to determine the perfect routine for your skin, and monthly facials are a great way to see what’s working and what isn’t,” adds Darden.

If that time-frame doesn’t seem realistic for your budget or schedule, experts recommend getting a facial whenever the seasons change–so two to four times a year. And at the end of the day, the right esthetician for you will work with you on an individual schedule and honor any constraints you may have: “A good esthetician should be able to curate your home care routine around how often you can or want to come in for a facial and still help you achieve your skincare goals,” says Rouleau.

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What facial is best for your concern.

Before booking a facial, it’s important to understand what you want to get out of the treatment (is it lift? Hydration? A deep clean?). Again, your esthetician will be able to tweak the best facial for your skin’s needs, but here’s what they’ll generally recommend for each concern:

1. Aging skin.

If skin aging is your main concern, you’ll want to seek rejuvenating facials that promote collagen production and increase cell turnover. Think firming or microcurrent facials to lift and tone, LED treatments (especially red LED light) to support elasticity, and lymphatic facials to improve circulation.

2. Dry skin.

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For drier skin types, it’s best to do treatments, like hydrafacials, that focus on a deep clean and hydrating the skin at the same time,” says Carla. “This treatment infuses a lot of calming ingredients like aloe, hyaluronic acid, that help calm, soothe, hydrate, and plump the skin.”

3. Breakouts.

Those with breakouts will want to seek decongesting acne facials to target clogged pores, as well as LED treatments to minimize acne-causing bacteria. “Blue LED is often used in tandem for the best results,” says Shamban.

If you do have active breakouts, your esthetician might also go light on the massage work or skip it entirely: “This step might be omitted for those who are dealing with severe breakouts, since it may be too much stimulation (skipping this would also allow the esthetician to spend more time on extractions),” notes Rouleau.

4. Dull skin.

Typically, massage work is great for dull skin, as it stimulates blood flow, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to the skin cells (resulting in a brighter glow). “Estheticians are trained in facial massage to encourage brighter, glowing skin by increasing circulation,” says Rouleau. “This is beneficial if you struggle with a dull-looking complexion.”

That said, lymphatic facials (which encourage flow) are especially helpful, as are firming facials that help stimulate the muscles with sculpting tools. “The vibrations also boost circulation to increase the skin’s oxygen uptake, resulting in more glowing, youthful skin,” notes Darden. Additionally, hydrafacials can also work here, since you’re infusing the pores with antioxidant-rich serums–plus, hydrated skin appears much brighter.

The takeaway.

Skin treatments run the gamut–before booking any ol’ facial, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Whenever you’re ready to invest in a professional deep clean, feel free to reference this guide for a refresher.

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