I got a facial recently. It was two hours long. Yes, you read that right: Two. Hours. Long. And you know what? It was heavenly. I visited Isabelle Bellis in New York City, whose studio looks like a small, cozy apartment. She took me through a few relaxation exercises, massaged my face with products for over an hour, and even put on gloves to massage the inside of my mouth! (Totally bizarre, but oddly soothing.)
But beyond the blissful experience, there is of course always the question of whether facials are really worth the money. I mean, my skin did look amazing afterward, but was it triple-digit good? And is all that poking and prodding even healthy? Here’s what some of the top dermatologists have to say about every step of the average facial—what to indulge in, and what to skip:
STEAMING.“If pores are clogged, steaming lets you clean out dirt without excessive pressure, which can cause inflammation,” says Amy B. Lewis, a New York City dermatologist. It works on all skin types, but the facialist should do it only on clean skin. Bottom line: Do it.
EXTRACTIONS. “Attacking a pimple on your own causes redness and swelling, because your fingers carry bacteria,” explains Doris Day, a New York City dermatologist. “A comedone extractor—which is more precise than gloved fingers—can clear a pimple or a blackhead with less trauma.” If your skin is sensitive, the extractor may cause mild redness or irritation. Bottom line: Proceed with caution.
__MASKS.__Soothing and exfoliating masks tend to have the best results, but doctors are less laudatory of collagen masks: “Topical collagen cannot penetrate the skin,” says Leslie Baumann, a Miami Beach dermatologist. As for antioxidant masks, “the ingredients begin to work on the surface to neutralize environmental damage, so there may be some benefit,” says Day. Bottom line: Don’t waste your money on the collagen variety.
FACIAL MASSAGE. __”There’s no science to indicate any real gains beyond the way a face massage makes you feel,” says Day. Avoid this step if your skin tends to break out. Bottom line: It’s fine if you’re into it, but don’t expect massage to really do anything.
MICROCURRENT/ELECTRICITY. __These treatments send a painless low-level current to the skin, causing muscle contractions. “The evidence is anecdotal, but this appears to produce subtle, temporary toning,” says Day. Bottom line: “Get it done before a party, but don’t rely on it for long-term results,” Days says.
OXYGEN. Pressurized oxygen is said to drive wrinkle-fighting serums deeper into skin. But, says Baumann, the treatment can “increase free radicals, which lead to aging.” Bottom line: Skip it.
PEELS. Experts agree that any peel with glycolic, salicylic, malic, lactic, or citric acid will exfoliate skin’s top layer more effectively than will a grainy scrub. There is also evidence that a high-concentration AHA peel (20 to 30 percent) can increase collagen production. “This is where you should spend your money,” Baumann says.
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