Will my face break out if I get a facial?

Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Overzealous blackhead extraction is perhaps the most common culprits for post-facial break outs. See more pictures of ways to get beautiful skin.
Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Overzealous blackhead extraction is perhaps the most common culprits for post-facial break outs. See more pictures of ways to get beautiful skin.
John Lamb/Getty Images

There are few things that can lend you a rosier outlook than the feeling that comes from a good facial. Cared-for skin has a way of making the rest of your body feel healthier and more vital. This may explain why facial treatments make up a large part of the $12 billion spa (an acronym for the Latin phrase "solus per aqua" -- to enter through water) industry [source: Women's Healthcare Topics].

As fresh as your skin feels following a facial, that sensation is often accompanied by the sense of impending dread that potentially a breakout is in your immediate future. The formation of pimples and other blemishes in the days after a facial are a common problem -- so much so that some health Web sites recommend avoiding a facial treatment in the days leading up to a big event, like a wedding day. As much as it's an accepted part of spa life by many, the necessity for a post-facial break out is also a contested topic. Some say it's not the result of a facial, but an overzealous esthetician.


How could a person make your skin break out? As it turns out, facial treatments often involve the extraction of blackhead pimples. Pimples result from a blockage of sebum, the natural oils produced in the sebaceous glands that waterproof and moisturize skin. Sebum normally is expressed to the skin's surface, usually via a hair follicle. When there's a blockage, however, sebum backs up beneath the skin's surface, where it attracts and nurtures bacteria. Blackheads are a type of pimple where the pore remains open above the blockage. This allows oxygen from the ambient air to enter, oxidizing the infected sebum that causes the black color that gives these pimples their name [source: Acne.org].

When an esthetician extracts the sebum blockage in a blackhead -- with gentle pressure using a tool or fingers -- the sebum will usually come to the skin's surface. It's recommended that a stubborn blockage should be left alone. A determined esthetician may apply too much pressure, releasing the blockage, but also bursting the surrounding follicle. If this occurs, the bacteria from the blackhead can spread to other follicles nearby, leading to infection and resulting in post-facial pimples.


Break Outs from Facial Treatment Products

Do you know what's in that mask? Some commonly-used ingredients in facials have been shown to be comedogenic.
Do you know what's in that mask? Some commonly-used ingredients in facials have been shown to be comedogenic.
Bernhard Lang/Getty Images

Moisturizing and cleansing agents can also lead to post-facial break outs. During a facial, skin is cleansed with toner, often massaged with oils and moisturized. Prior to the application of these cleansing and moisturizing agents, skin is often steamed, a process that opens pores and makes them more susceptible to an allergic reaction.

Depending on the quality and type of the external agents used on delicate facial skin, a post-facial break out can occur. Ingredients that may show up in some facial treatments can be comedogenic -- shown to produce acne by clogging pores or irritating skin.


Comedogenicity is rated on a scale from 0 to 5, and some ingredients have been shown to be more comedogenic than others. For example, algae extract, a commonly used ingredient to moisturize skin, is both highly irritating and comedogenic. On the other hand, mineral oil, commonly thought to easily clog pores, has been proven to be entirely non-comedogenic [source: Dermaxime].

Other factors, like what ingredients are combined in a certain product, how long a treatment is left on the skin and the spa visitor's skin type can all contribute to a post-facial break out. So it's clear that predicting how each individual may react to both the facial treatment and extraction processes can be difficult.

There's no guarantee that you will or won't suffer a break out after getting a facial treatment. Some spa goers are more susceptible than others. You can reduce the likelihood of a break out following a facial by going to a professional esthetician rather than treating yourself at home. Look for a reputable spa with experienced staff that undergo continuing training in their craft and use high-end products. With spa treatments, as with most things, you get what you pay for. Since you're splurging on a facial anyway, you might as well go the whole nine yards.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Acne.org. "What is acne?" Accessed December 24, 2009.http://www.acne.org/whatisacne.html
  • BellaSugar. "Facial blackhead extraction." January 30, 2008.http://www.bellasugar.com/999153
  • Daniela's Facial Studio. "All about acne." Accessed December 24, 2009.http://www.daniela.com/All_About_Acne.html
  • Dermaxime. "Cosmetic ingredients with acne forming tendencies." Accessed December 24, 2009.http://www.dermaxime.com/acne-comedogenic-ingredients.htm
  • MMed Solution. "Misconceptions, misunderstandings and downright mistruths about facial cosmetic surgeries." August 19, 2007.http://www.mmedsolution.ryeglasses.com/41/misconceptions-misunderstandings-and-downright-mistruths-about-facial-cosmetic-surgeries/
  • Rouleau, Renee. "Why does my skin break out after a facial?" October 11, 2007.http://community.thenest.com/cs/ks/blogs/beauty/archive/2007/10/11/why-does-my-skin-breakout-after-a-facial.aspx
  • Women's Healthcare Topics. "Spa treatments that spoil." Accessed December 24, 2009.http://www.womenshealthcaretopics.com/bn_bodysoul_Spa_Treatments_Spoil.htm