How To Make Your At-Home Facial As Legit As A Pro Version

When a holiday-party invite drops in your inbox, the first question that comes to mind is usually what you're going to wear. But what is an embellished velvet/lamé dress without equally silky skin? If you don't have the time or money to see a facialist regularly (as in, every 4-6 weeks), the big secret is to do it yourself, and emulate the professionals from the comfort of your own home.

Caveat: You can’t get the same lasers, tools, and potent active ingredients at home, because they just aren't available to consumers. But with science-led, well-formulated products, you can give yourself a more-than-effective pre-makeup facial in less than an hour. The more often you do them, the better — it takes consistency to get skin in peak condition — and you should always take all skincare down to your décolletage. Detail is everything.

Try this facial the day before an event to allow your face time to calm down afterwards, then pep skin up with a sheet mask on the day. Soirée skin, sorted.

Step 1: Cleanse

It probably comes as no surprise that you’ve got to start by cleansing. "It's extra important to double cleanse, especially if you live in a heavily polluted area and/or wear makeup regularly,” says skin-care specialist Debbie Thomas, whose signature in-office DNA facials are second to none for achieving perfect skin. A double cleanse — the first cleanse to remove makeup and surface grime; the second using a targeted cleanser, like one for congested or dry skin depending on your skin type, for a deeper clean — will take skin into clean-canvas territory, ready for the next part of the facial.

Look for oil-based cleansers for your first cleanse, as they’re the most effective at dissolving every little bit of grime or makeup sitting on the face. If you’re feeling rich, try La Mer's The Cleansing Oil — it's one of the best for a quick cleanse without disrupting the skin's moisture barrier. Alternatively, try de Mamiel Restorative Cleansing Balm, an organic nourishing balm that contains manuka honey to fend off bacteria, or Eve Lom's new Gel Balm Cleanser, which is a lighter, less buttery option than their original cult classic.

As for the treatment cleanser, Thomas says, "What you really want is to find one that does more than just remove the day." She recommends formulas that contain renewing acids, like the ones in MZ Skin Cleanse & Clarify Dual Action AHA Cleanser & Mask, because they help increase cellular renewal, and the more skin cells can renew themselves, the healthier and more radiant skin will look and feel.

“Massage the formula into skin for at least a minute,” Thomas says. With medium pressure, use your middle and ring fingers to move cleanser in upward, circular motions over the skin — it will help get the blood flow going. “Finish by rinsing with warm water or a muslin face cloth, and then pat skin dry with a tissue,” she recommends.
Step 2: Exfoliate

This is where you slough off dead skin cells, tighten and clean out pores, smooth out fine lines, and basically make skin as ready as it can be to absorb ingredients in the serums and masks that follow. You’ve got two choices: a physical exfoliant, which is a grainy scrub, or a chemical exfoliant, like the renewing acids we mentioned before.

Celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer, the man responsible for many a red-carpet glow (Victoria Beckham and Beyoncé included), has created one of our favorite scrubs for pre-event skin: The Method: Polish contains both chemical and physical exfoliants, with pumpkin and pomegranate enzymes alongside quartz and sodium bicarbonate crystals. The result is smoother, perkier skin. You can also try Origins Never A Dull Moment or Aesop Purifying Facial Exfoliant Paste. Thomas has one word of advice when using a grainy formula: "Don’t go too crazy scrubbing your face; the aim is only to try and dislodge loose dead skin." (You’ve been warned.)

Chemical exfoliants can be a lot gentler and are, on the whole, easier to use. If your skin is more acne-prone or becomes inflamed easily, these might be a good choice for you. Our favorites are Zelens PHA+ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads, which are made with lactic, salicylic, citric, and lactobionic acids and are gentle enough to use every day; beauty editors swear by Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant as to go-to for troublesome skin. Vichy Idéalia Peeling is perfect for even the most sensitive skin, thanks to the brand's signature soothing mineral water.
Step 3: Extractions

Before you start attacking your face — which, let’s be honest, we all do from time to time — there are some simple guidelines to follow to avoid making the situation ten times worse. Thomas points out that seeing a professional facialist is the only way to deal with any breakouts safely: "Doing [extractions] yourself can make spots much worse,” she warns. That said, they are (one of) the keys to clear skin, particularly if you’re oily.

To make it easier and, most importantly, less painful, try steaming pre-extraction. “Steam helps to soften up the plug of hardened sebum which causes blackheads,” Thomas says. All you need to do is add boiling water to a large pot and then lean your face over it — a safe, non-burnable distance away — with a towel over your head for a couple of minutes.

After, wrap a tissue around each index finger, ensuring you cover your fingernails, and gently apply pressure to blackheads. Avoid extracting anything other than a blackhead, because it will make skin much worse, particularly pre-party. And if your blackhead refuses to budge? Leave it be.
Step 4: Mask

Here’s the relaxing part, and a chance to really get your skin in the mood for whatever event you throw at it. Because this is a serious at-home facial, don't be afraid to use several masks; pick and choose as you see fit, but know that this is the opportunity to really feed the skin whatever it needs.

Post-extraction and steam, when pores are at their most open, it’s always a good idea to use a clay mask, like the classic Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Masque or Chantecaille's luxe Detox Clay Mask, to lift out impurities and debris from the skin. Apply generously, let it set until dry, and then use a muslin cloth to remove every trace.

“Now you need to get the radiance and hydration back into your skin,” says Thomas, who recommends using a thick, creamy mask this time around. They don’t get much more thick and creamy than the Sisley Paris Black Rose Cream Mask, a beloved staple in every beauty fiend’s cabinet thanks to the black rose and magnolia essential oil combo, which leaves skin fuller, softer, fresher, and exponentially better than before. (It is expensive, so for a cheaper alternative, try Avène's Soothing Moisture Mask — you really can't beat a French-pharmacy classic.)

Instead of just leaving the mask on for 20 minutes and wiping off, this is the perfect time to give yourself a vigorous, skin-lifting face massage, says Thomas. "Use the heels of your hands to carry out firm upward and outward movements," she explains. Then it’s on to the pinch. Start in the center of the face and move outwards, pinching the skin using enough pressure to encourage a pinkness to the face; try keeping it up for 5-10 minutes and you’ve got yourself increased blood flow (a.k.a. radiance) and more sculpted cheekbones.

Thomas has another trick for stimulating circulation: “Rub an ice cube all over your face and keep it in constant motion,” she says, or make like Kate Moss and dunk your head in a bowl of icy water. It's brutal, but it'll get your cheeks glowing, minimize any inflammation or redness, and make pores look tighter, too.

The day of the event, a half hour before applying makeup, a good sheet mask will get skin ready to go — and who to call on other than the king of pre-event skin care and treatments, Dr. David Colbert? The go-to derm for Victoria's Secret Angels just before the big show has an excellent skin-care line, which includes the Illumino Anti-Aging Brightening Mask. It turns skin's brightness level up to 11 in just 15 minutes. If your skin gets flushed easily, try popping Erno Laszlo's Soothe & Calm Hydrogel Mask in the fridge — it's infused with serum that contains honeysuckle extract to help calm skin.
Step 5: Apply Serum

Next up, it's serum time. Serums essentially deliver a higher concentration of active ingredients to skin, so they have the power to really change and boost how the skin looks. Pre-party, your main goal is to get skin as bright, even, plump, and lifted as possible, so serums that help achieve that are advisable. “Hydration is one of the simplest ways to plump up skin,” says Thomas. And for that, you need hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronic acid, as you probably already know, is a molecule that can hold up to 1,000 times its own weight in water. It already exists naturally in the skin, but applying a good hyaluronic acid serum daily helps it hold even more water, leading to plumper and more even skin. We especially love Dr. Barbara Sturm's Hyaluronic Serum, the Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Concentrate Hydration Booster, and Omorovicza's Instant Perfecting Serum.

Microneedling — which isn't nearly as scary as it sounds — is popular in professional treatments right now. The procedure involves rolling a tool, which has a head covered in tiny needles, over the face to create tiny punctures in the skin that propel it to repair itself. (Cue collagen production for plumping, and improved skin texture.) A serum is applied after the microneedling, and because of the punctures, it'll be absorbed faster and deeper into the skin.

There are at-home devices you can use, too, although we don’t recommend these on the actual day of an event. The only difference between the at-home devices and in-clinic is the needle length (in-clinic have much longer needles, from 0.5 to 3mm), so at-home devices are fine to use the day before. GloPro's MicroStimulation Facial Tool is user-friendly and totally pain-free, and it'll take your at-home facial to the next level.
Step 6: Moisturize

When you’ve layered mask upon mask, serum, toner and so on, there really isn’t much need for more moisture — you’ve probably already hydrated enough. But the main point of moisturizing to finish your DIY treatment is to seal it all in.

You can use an oil or a cream — an oil, like Votary Neroli and Myrrh Facial Oil, will penetrate deeper into the skin, help regulate the amount of oil your skin produces, and ensure you wake up glowing; a moisturizer, on the other hand, generally makes a better base for makeup or for daytime, and is best for those who simply don’t like the feel of an oil on skin. We like the brightening, anti-pollution properties of Fresh's Peony Brightening Moisture Face Cream for healthy, rejuvenated skin.
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