Is It Normal To Break Out In Spots After A Facial?

Illustrated by Olivia Santner
Dear Daniela,
Is it normal to break out after a facial? Surely your skin should be perfect after a treatment? Sometimes I get spots after I go in for a facial, which makes me wonder if I should even bother!
Alex, 28
In movie world, we all leave facials glowing – skin even and slightly glossy with the serums and oils that have been lovingly layered. (This is the same world where we all sleep wearing light mascara and with blow-dried hair, and can take a 'short nap' without waking up three hours later, groggy, disoriented and faintly nauseous.) In reality, when you leave a facial, your skin is often a little red, patchy and irritated, especially if you’ve had extractions or a peel. It’s usually the day after that the glow really sets in. However, sometimes the aftermath doesn’t end there. Enter: the post-facial breakout.
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Sometimes you can feel it coming as your facialist applies something unctuous, which is too rich for your skin but you’re too polite to say. Sometimes it just surprises you when you wake up with a smattering of spots a couple of days later. To a certain degree, your mileage will just vary from person to person – I’ve had facials that I’ve loved and recommended, only for a friend to chime in that they tried that place but it made them break out. So what gives?
"Steaming causes the blood vessels in your skin to open up, which is called vasodilation," explained Andrea Pfeffer, the founder of my favourite facial spot, Pfeffer Sal. "In turn, this increases your circulation, which when combined with manual extractions, moves blockages to the surface of the skin. It’s normal that more debris will want to leave when you’re doing that."
Even if you don’t have extractions during your facial, the combination of the massage and steam acts as something of a decongestant, encouraging sebum and oil up and out of your skin, which can manifest as a small breakout if you’re unlucky. The ingredients used can also exacerbate this effect, as Andrea noted: "Salicylic acid is used in many decongesting treatments, which really scoops debris out of your pores. As your skin goes through its renewal process, it can bring more congestion to the surface. But don’t despair. This is a good thing and it means clearer skin is on the way." Essentially, it might not be that your facial is causing a breakout. It’s more that it’s bringing to the surface what could be, say, three weeks of blemishes in three days.
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That being said, facials are not created equal and sometimes the treatment is just not right. "If you’re booked in for an acne facial or a salicylic peel, a little breakout is par for the course, but if it was meant to be a hydrating facial or something like that, I wouldn’t expect spots after that," explained Andrea. "If a treatment is done properly, a breakout should be minimal, and it shouldn’t be a big continued breakout after a treatment. A few whiteheads is okay, but if you’re inflamed and it's out of the ordinary for your skin, then it’s a red flag."  
As Andrea pointed out, extractions and steaming aren’t the only way to tackle blockages and blemishes. LED and lasers like ClearSkin can also be used (Pfeffer Sal uses both) to help deal with congestion, and neither has the same kind of purging effect. "I would say that inflammation is a very obvious sign that something isn’t right," added Andrea – so that’s a red, sore, deep spot rather than a smattering of whiteheads. "Or maybe if you’re breaking out in areas that you wouldn’t normally experience congestion, that’s another sign that it perhaps wasn’t the most suitable treatment for you," offered Andrea.
Essentially: you know your skin and its danger zones. If you’re prone to jawline spots and you get a few whiteheads on your chin after a deep-cleanse facial? Meh, no biggie. Huge, angry, red spots or a prolonged breakout after? Not normal. Andrea suggested that immediately after a facial is a good time to clean your pillowcase, phone and makeup brushes so you’re not immediately sticking bacteria back on your face. But otherwise, the days following a facial should be your better skin days.
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Good luck!
Daniela
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email deardaniela@refinery29.uk, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to 'Dear Daniela' become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.
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