Hi Formulate! I'm going to get a facial for the first time ever. It will be a classic facial. I'm a little nervous. Could you walk me through what will happen?
Thanks for writing, Abigail! To answer your questions, we spoke with an Aveda trained esthetician with 10+ years of experience working in spas. She requested to remain anonymous; throughout this article, we'll refer to her as Jane.
Classic facials (also known as standard or basic facials) include 8 basic steps: consult, cleanse, examine, exfoliate, extract, massage, mask, and moisturize. "A classic facial is the swiss army knife of aesthetics," says Jane. "It covers all your basics. If you want a facial, this is probably the best place to start."
The first step of a classic facial is a conversation with the aesthetician providing the treatment. She'll ask why you sought out her services and what problem areas you would like to address during the treatment. Based on your responses, the aesthetician will select specific products to use during the facial. "Facials should always, always, always be customized," says Jane. "This is something that a lot of people don't know, a facial is never a cookie-cutter treatment. It's so specific to each person"
The aesthetician will first wrap your hair in a towel or headband, and then she will gently remove makeup and other surface-level impurities from your face. She'll follow up with a cleanser specific to your skin type. Once she has cleansed your skin, she'll remove the remaining cleanser with a warm, wet towel. "The aesthetician should be checking in with you as she's doing this, and all the other steps," says Jane. "If it's a good spa, she will ask if the water is a comfortable temperature, if the towel is a comfortable temperature, if the cleanser feels comfortable. She should also be telling you the exact names of all the products she puts on your skin, starting with the cleanser. This is both so you can give informed consent, and so she can make some money at the end if you really love a specific product by selling that product to you."
After your face has been fully cleansed, the esthetician will open up your pores by applying steam. She'll use this time to closely examine your skin to further gather information on how to achieve your skincare goals. "You have to listen both to what the client says and their skin," says Jane. "I always cover up the client's eyes with warm pads and shine a light while using a magnifying glass. Once I had a lady who thought that her skin was in really great condition, but I could see that it was super dry and cracked. I was like 'Oh, I see you have some dryness', and she was absolutely shocked. I got her to start moisturizing and she was just amazed that all of her itchiness went away."
The aesthetician will select an exfoliant that is appropriate for the needs of your skin. She'll apply the exfoliant rhythmically, using circular motions. Your full face will be exfoliated, with the exception of any areas that are visibly irritated or sensitive. She'll later remove the exfoliant with a warm, wet towel.
Next, the esthetician will extract any blackheads or whiteheads that are visible on the surface of your skin. She'll already have located the comedones during the examination step, and now she'll use sterile metal tools to clear your blocked pores. She may re-steam the face to re-open pores that have begun to close. "Extractions are honestly my favorite part of being an aesthetician," says Jane. "They're so satisfying. They usually aren't very painful, since the skin has already been steamed and opened. This is always so surprising to people who have tried to do extractions at home, they always expect extractions to hurt really badly." After extractions are completed, an antiseptic is applied to the skin to reduce the risk of infection.
It's not uncommon for beginning estheticians to struggle with extractions. Little education is provided on how to successfully perform an extraction while an esthetician is in school. This is why Jane recommends only seeing an experienced aesthetician for extractions. "Look for estheticians who advertise themselves as acne specialists. They'll have done loads of extractions and really know what they're doing. Also if someone is really talking up their extraction services on their website or Instagram, that's a good sign. Most aestheticians will only brag about a certain service if they can actually provide a really good version of that service."
This is a step that can occur either before or after the extractions. Some aestheticians prefer to provide facial massages prior to extractions, as they may loosen the pores and make extractions easier to complete. Others prefer massages after the extractions, as they may help clients recover from the pain. "Honestly, a bunch of people I know would hate me for saying this, but I don't think it matters really if you do it before or after extractions," says Jane. "Mostly it just feels nice, I don't know if it really does that much for the skin"
Facial masks target surface-level skin conditions and rehydrate the skin. Depending on the mask that's being applied, the aesthetician may or may not steam the skin again before the mask is applied. "Remember, the esthetician should be telling you everything she's putting on your face," says Jane. "So if you love the mask she puts on, buy it to use at home! A one day treatment at a spa is great way to refresh your skin, but if you really want to see results you need to consistently use products at home."
"Also, If you don't have to steam the face, I think it's a really nice touch to offer a foot, hand, or a scalp massage while the mask is being applied. We always do this at my spa. I usually ask the client which they would prefer - while you would think that everyone would go for the scalp or foot massage, a lot of them want the hand massage. Some people don't want to mess up their hair, and others are really weird about their feet being touched."
To finish the facial, the aesthetician will apply any final specialty creams, gels, and serums that may help improve the appearance of the client's skin. She'll then apply a final layer of moisturizer, and a layer of SPF. "We should never, never let a client walk out without sunscreen. I don't care who you are, you need sunscreen! Literally the only reason I would skip it is if the clients specifically said NO SUNSCREEN, and even then I'd try to get them to be OK with something that feels really light on the skin."
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