Why I Don’t Get Facials (and What I Do Instead)

This may sound strange coming from someone as vain and skin-crazy as I am, but I never get facials. You see, I don’t think they’re worth it. In fact, I think that in almost all cases, the risks far outweigh the rewards.

Now, I’m not talking here about serious procedures that must be performed by professionals in clinical settings, like microneedling (which I believe shouldn’t be done at home due to its many risks), strong chemical peels, or dermabrasion. The kind of facials I’m referring to in this post are the garden-variety facials you might get from an esthetician at your local full-service beauty salon or day (D-A-I-Y-E) spa, maybe because you got a gift certificate, or feel like splurging on yourself a bit, or have a special event coming up and want to look your best. In my opinion, those facials just carry too many risks to make them a smart skin choice–especially when you have a special event coming up. Let’s talk about why.

The potential benefits of a spa or salon facial

Okay, so you take the plunge and book a facial appointment at a local spa or salon with good Yelp ratings or word-of-mouth. Your face is lovingly steamed and oiled and massaged and treated with nice-smelling lotions and potions while you doze off to the lilting strains of Enya playing in the background. Everything goes well. Then what? What results can you hope to expect from a successful once-in-a-while spa facial?

Well…your skin will look nicer, maybe for a couple of days or a little longer.

That’s about it. With the exception of the clinical procedures I mentioned above (microneedling, chemical peels, laser treatments, dermabrasion), you aren’t going to see any significant, lasting, or permanent results from the occasional facial, just a little temporary boost.

“But that’s what I want!” you might think. “I want to look my best for prom/high school reunion/my wedding!”

Okay. But do you want to look your worst for a special event? Because that’s one thing that could happen.

The risks of spa and salon facials

If you’ve been reading Asian beauty blogs for a while, you may already be familiar with the horrific experience beauty blogger Juli of Bun Bun Makeup Tips suffered when she went for a facial. If you haven’t, here’s the quick rundown: she went to get a facial and had a very very bad reaction (VERY VERY VERY BAD, I AM NOT KIDDING, LOTS OF NSFL PICTURES) that got much worse and took months, I believe, to get better.

Juli’s experience is an outlier, obviously, or no one would be getting facials. But it serves as a useful illustration of why I don’t advocate spa facials. Here are some reasons why:

  • You don’t know what they’re putting on your face. As my product reviews show, I strive to be very ingredient-conscious, and I hope that I’m encouraging you guys to be, too. As a very smart person once said on Reddit, “skin does not respond to product labels it responds to ingredients.” When you get a facial, you likely have very little idea what the esthetician is putting on your face. (I suppose you could ask the esthetician to give you a full list of products and complete ingredients lists beforehand, but honestly that seems like a lot of work and hassle to prepare for an experience that’s supposed to be relaxing.) Are there ingredients that will irritate your skin or trigger a breakout? You don’t know.
  • You don’t get a chance to test what they’re putting on your face. Going along with my first point, you rarely if ever are going to get a chance to slowly introduce and test each product the esthetician plans to use on you. I strongly advocate that people introduce new products into their routines one at a time to make sure that each product is safe for their skin and to make identifying irritating or clogging products easier. Skin care is very YMMV, and it’s impossible to know whether a product will be good for your skin unless you try it in a controlled fashion. At a facial, on the other hand, the esthetician is going to be smearing multiple new products onto your face in one session. If your skin is at all sensitive, reactive, or acne-prone, that’s kind of a recipe for disaster.
  • They’re doing things to your face that may not be good for your face. Many spa facials involve treatments such as steaming of the face or laying a hot damp towel over the face. I’m not a fan of facial steaming. People claim that it “opens the pores,” which is simply not true, and the prolonged exposure to heat can dry out or irritate your skin. Extractions–both of whiteheads and of the sebaceous filaments that most people think of as blackheads–are also common, and those can cause scarring and permanently enlarged pores, neither of which are desirable outcomes.
  • You can’t be sure your esthetician knows what they’re doing–or cares. Okay, I don’t want to knock estheticians as a whole. There are many, many wonderful estheticians who took their training seriously, make time to stay up-to-date on skin care, and treat every client with the utmost care. But there are also some who aren’t quite so dedicated or awesome. Think about it. In every profession, there are people who aren’t doing the best they can for every client. Maybe it’s just a job to them, not something they came to out of passion. Or maybe they used to love it, but got burned out over time or because of unpleasant experiences with clients. What happens when someone is burned out or not particularly invested in their job? Often, they won’t care as much, won’t make the extra effort to do a great job every time, and may make careless mistakes. Your face is not a place where you should be risking others’ careless mistakes.

And just in case I haven’t yet convinced you that the risks of spa and salon facials outweigh the potential rewards, why don’t you click over to Juli’s post-facial nightmare over on Bun Bun Makeup Tips again?

Facials are a very common indulgence right before a special event, but in my opinion, right before a special event is exactly the worst time to take such a risk with your face.

What should I do instead of getting a facial, then?

If what you’re looking for is significant, long-term improvement of your skin, it makes a lot more sense to invest in optimizing your daily skin care routine instead of expecting a one-time or occasional facial to work miracles. Much like weight loss, results in skin care come from healthy habits and commitment to a serious regimen, not from quick-fix tricks.

Basket of Korean skin care

The stuff and things in this basket make my skin happy.

And if you really, really want that extra boost of radiance for an upcoming event, why not make a spa night of it? Clear out your pores with my BHA/clay mask/oil massage technique, exfoliate with a skin-friendly scrub, and plump up and brighten your complexion with a nice sheet mask or indulgent hydrogel to finish it off. And take the money you were going to spend on a facial, and apply it towards a massage! That’s one spa treatment I can’t get enough of.

Do you ever get facials? What have your experiences been?

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4 responses to “Why I Don’t Get Facials (and What I Do Instead)

  1. Hi! New follower and korean skincare junkie here! I remember as a teenager, a friend of mine got a facial and she had a terrible reaction. Not as bad as the blogger you linked, but still enough to keep me away from someone else touching my face! As you say, I’d rather do an extra pampering at home session myself than take the risk of making things worse. Btw, I might try your pore cleaning method soon 🙂

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  2. I do get facials monthly. I think you have a point but on the other side if we would think about everything like that we could do nothing at all. There is also also a risk when u try new products at home. Like I had recently with the Body Shops Aloe Vera Face Cream – gave me bad breakouts! What I do is 1. choosing my SPA very careful 2. talking (email) with my therapist first about the treatment and the products she will use (yep!) ask questions and stuff 3. do my research about the products. I am doing the Hydradermie Treatment by Guinot once a month. Its with electricity and the amazing thing is that the therapist have a range of products for various needs (esp. only for this treatment) so she can pick whatever u need at that time like hydration, brightening, anti-ageing, pore-care and so on. Its great and my skin has definitely become more clear and thight. I think if you do your resarch carefullly it can be a beautiful experience.

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    • Sure, it sounds like you’re doing it in a very smart way! I also agree that there’s a risk when trying new products at home, too. Ultimately I think I’m just too much of a control freak–but I have to admit that I do get tempted about getting facials sometimes. Luckily I love massages so much more, so it’s not like I ever have day spa money left over for face treatments 😀 Thank you for your thoughts, I really appreciate it and like to hear them~

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  3. Gosh the people at the salon keep pushing me to get facials, it’s so annoying! Though I have seen some ‘spas’ aka beauty parlors in my country who do facials with DIY kinda masks. Sandalwood, turmeric, cucumber, yogurt, honey and more stuff like that, I do think those might be worth the splurge because not everyone takes the time to make masks with fresh ingredients.

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