Facials 101

Woman with skin treatment covering face.
Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images Facials are reported to be the third most popular spa treatment, after massages and manicures or pedicures. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
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Not many people have skin like that of a 20-year-old runway model. OK, practically no one does. Though it might be impossible to get that kind of soft, flawless facial skin without the right genes -- or, at least, some skillful photo airbrushing -- there are ways to help improve the look and feel of your skin. Increasingly, many adults and even teens are turning to facials.

Facials are a treatment for the face that's meant to cleanse, firm, smooth and moisturize the skin. Many people swear by facials not only as a way to feel relaxed and pampered, but also as a means for making their skin healthier. According to data collected by the International Spa Association, facials are the third most popular spa treatment, right behind massages and manicures or pedicures [source: Saint Louis].



Each person who gets a facial has his or her own reasons for doing so, including:

  • to deeply clean the skin and pores
  • to improve skin that is either too dry or too oily
  • to rejuvenate skin that has begun to look old or wrinkled
  • to relax and de-stress [source: Le Visage Skin].

You can certainly give yourself a basic facial at home, but many people opt to have facial treatments at a spa or salon. There, an aesthetician (which is just a fancy name for a skin specialist) applies creams, gels, serums, masks, mists and lotions meant to clean and revitalize the skin.

Can a facial cure all skin problems? Not really. Some skin problems, such as severe acne or skin cancer, require the treatment of a medical specialist, such as a dermatologist. But a facial can help your skin look and feel better -- and give your self-image a boost in the process.

Much like hairstyles and clothing, there are many types of facials, each designed for a different purpose. Keep reading to find out whether a facial is right for you.



Types of Facials

You could probably get a facial each week of the year and never have the same treatment twice. Some facials claim to do nothing more than give you a relaxing massage. Other facials treat specific skin problems, such as acne, dryness or wrinkles. Facials can be low-tech affairs, using hand-mixed pastes and compounds, or high-tech procedures, using electrical stimulation of facial muscles to temporarily tighten skin.

Simple facials are probably what you think of when you picture the treatment -- cleaning, steaming and finishing off with a nice massage. Special facials can be tailored to your specific skin type. For example, hypoallergenic products may be part of a facial for sensitive skin.


If your eyes are looking a little tired, you might want to consider a bio-lift facial, which hones in on treating that unwanted baggage. Alpha hydroxy acid facials claim to help aging skin look more youthful, as do collagen or paraffin facials.

If mature skin isn't your problem -- rather, you're on the youthful end with too much acne, you can seek out a specialized acne facial to try to clear skin. You can also try to clear up your skin with antioxidant and pollution-fighting facials that have special ingredients formulated to fight free radicals that can contaminate and damage your skin [source: Hogan].

If you want a clear mind in addition to a clear face, consider an aromatherapy facial, which focuses on specific essential oils to calm the body and the spirit.

So now you know just a few of the many different types of facials offered at many salons and spas. Want to know more about the overall experience? Just read on.


Getting a Facial

Getting a full-treatment facial often means stepping into a new world of pampering and relaxation. First, you need to choose the right facial for you based on its purpose, type and price. A pre-facial consultation will allow the aesthetician to determine your skin type, which is important when deciding which products to use and procedures to include. The consultation also would give you a chance to warn the consultant about any products you might be allergic to.

During your consultation, don't be afraid to ask questions. Good aestheticians will have no problem explaining what they plan to do and discussing the products they will use. Before the facial begins, make it clear what procedures or products you'd rather not use. Perhaps you don't want blackheads plucked out because it's too painful. Maybe you want to try only a little electric current stimulation on your face muscles, just to see what it's like. There might be a line of skin products that has made your skin break out in the past. It's your facial and your money, so you should get what you want. Let your aesthetician know what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable. Facials are meant to relax you, not to stress you out.


For the facial, which could last from 20 minutes to more than an hour, you'll likely be taken to a darkened room illuminated by low lights or flickering candles. The smell of scented candles and oils might waft through the air while soft music plays. Upon entering, you might be asked to remove your clothing and wrap yourself in a soft towel or robe. You'll lie down on a table or relax in a comfy recliner as your aesthetician applies various oils, creams, cleansers, toners and gels to your face and neck. After each application -- while the aesthetician waits for a mask to work or a cream to soak into the skin -- he or she might massage your face, neck, shoulders or feet.

So far, a facial might sound like it could be an enjoyable experience. But would it be a beneficial one? Keep reading to find out.


Benefits and Risks of Facials

If your goal in getting a facial is just to be pampered, chances are good that you'll find what you're looking for. there's really no downside. People who have had facials often report feeling relaxed after the treatment has finished.

For others, a facial is primarily a way to improve the look of their skin. The body's natural processes can dull facial skin. Your skin constantly sloughs off dead cells. These cells can clog pores and give the skin an aged look. Daily exposure to the sun and other elements also take a toll on the skin [source: Angier].


Facials are believed by many to fix these common skin problems. Exfoliation, with astringents, masks or peels, can reach deep into the skin's upper layer to strip away dead skin cells and reveal newer cells underneath. Treatments such as oxygen facials are said to help boost growth of new skin cells and soften the skin to eliminate lines, at least temporarily. Other procedures included in facials use electric microcurrents to stimulate facial muscles and -- again, temporarily -- give the skin a firmer, tighter look [source: Saint Louis].

Of course, a facial isn't a magic cure, and you have to be willing to take proper care of yourself to look and feel healthy. Even the world's greatest facial won't do much good if you chow down each day on greasy foods and consider channel surfing the ultimate in daily exercise. Still, many people who get facials find benefits. Skin often looks and feels better after a treatment, even if the improvement is temporary.

In addition to the potential benefits, a facial, like most other treatments, isn't without risks. For example, you might have an allergic reaction to some of the products being used or find that they increase breakouts on your skin. There's also the chance that an accident will occur, such as getting burned by a dripping steamer or getting sick from equipment that wasn't properly sanitized. You might not be able to avoid all risks, but doing your research and speaking with the spa or salon staff beforehand is always a good idea.

You now know what a facial is, and you know what to expect. So how much will the whole thing set you back? That's up next.


The Price of Facials

The average price for a facial might range from about $75 to $150, but it can vary according to the service, the spa and the area in which you receive it [source: The Cost of Facials]. If you crave the experience of a luxury spa in the heart of the city, be prepared to pay hundreds of dollars. But if you're on a budget, you may be able to find good cleansing and toning facials for less than $20.

One of the more expensive facials might be a three-hour, $750 Grand Luxe Facial offered at a spa in California [source: Sherman]. At the other end of the spectrum, students at cosmetology schools offer facials for rock-bottom prices as part of their training. You probably won't be treated like royalty, but the facial itself will contain all the essentials and might be just the ticket if you don't have a lot of money to spend.


Before you book your first facial, do your research. Talk to friends, family and colleagues to find out about spas you're interested in. If you find a couple of spas, salons or even cosmetology schools that seem promising, visit before setting up an appointment to check out what they have to offer and talk to the staff. Look at cost and the types of facials offered, but also consider the "vibe" of the place. Since facials aren't medical treatments and aren't typically regulated by the FDA, it's up to you to make the decision that's right for you.

To learn more, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Angier, Natalie. "Protecting the skin, the body's fragile armor." The New York Times. Sept. 4, 2007. (Accessed 7/23/2009)http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/04/health/04iht-snskin.1.7373703.html
  • Buzzle. "Different Types of Facials." (Accessed 7/23/2009)http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/1-13-2005-64090.asp
  • Hogan, Shanna. "Facials good enough to eat latest trend at spas." East Valley Tribune. November 29, 2006. (Accessed 7/23/2009)http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/story/79760
  • International Spa Association. "Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Spa Guest." (Accessed 8/19/2009)http://www.experienceispa.com/spa-goers/spa-101/code-of-conduct/
  • Le Visage Skin. "Ten Reasons to Get a Facial." (Accessed 8/19/2009)http://levisageskin.com/ten-reasons-to-get-a-facial/
  • Kite, Jamie. "Do It Yourself Facial." PhoenixWoman.com. January 2009. (Accessed 7/24/09)http://www.phoenixwoman.com/articles/detail/95
  • Mayo Clinic Health Letter online. "Skin Care." (Accessed 7/24/2009)http://healthletter.mayoclinic.com/editorial/editorial.cfm/i/231/t/Skin%20care/
  • Oprah.com. "Age-Defying Facials." (Accessed 7/23/2009) http://www.oprah.com/article/style/makeovers/health_beauty_facial
  • Saint Louis, Catherine. "An Expression of Doubt about Facials." The New York Times. March 18, 2009. (Accessed 7/23/2009)http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/fashion/19SKIN.html
  • Sherman, Lauren. "World's Most Expensive Spa Treatments." Forbes.com. July 24, 2007. (Accessed 7/23/2009)http://www.forbes.com/2007/07/23/spa-treatment-expensive-forbeslife-cx_ls_0724spa.html
  • Torgovnick, Kate. Veggies invading the skin care market." The New York Times." Nov. 29, 2008. (Accessed 7/23/2009).http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/style/30iht-fskincare.1.18940587.html
  • US Department of Labor. "You're a What? Medical Esthetician." (Accessed 7/24/2009)http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2004/spring/yawhat.htm
  • Wiseprice.com. "The Cost of Facials." (Accessed 7/23/2009)http://www.wiseprice.com/cost-of-facials