Dear Daniela: Are Facials Actually Worth My Time & Money?

Illustrated by Anna Sudit
Dear Daniela,
I’m so confused about facials. Are they even worth it? Some of my friends never bother (and they have really good skin), but a beautician once told me that if you have a good facial, you don’t need to apply any skincare for a week after – it’s that good. Should I go for one? How do I pick a good one? Argh, please help!
Jenna, 28
To borrow an analogy from Maslow, your skin has a hierarchy of needs. The core building blocks are cleansing, exfoliating, sun protection, that sort of thing. That’s followed by things like antioxidants and peptides – repair ingredients. Right at the top of the pyramid is what I call 'add-ons' – fun things like masks and facial massage and sticking cucumber slices on your eyes. But determining where regular facials fit within that hierarchy is a little more difficult.
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I called cosmetic physician, Dr Sarah Tonks to ask her opinion – firstly about the whole 'no skincare for a week post-facial' thing. "That’s the most bonkers thing I’ve ever heard," was her reply, after a moment’s pause. "I mean, you wouldn’t not brush your teeth for a week after going to the hygienist, would you?" (Dr Tonks would know! She used to be a dentist!)
She conceded that if you’ve had a really intense facial, maybe with microdermabrasion and laser, you might want to lay off the really active skincare for a while (such as retinol and acids) but yes, you still need to do your usual at-the-sink routine. In terms of how often you should go for a facial, Dr Tonks said there are no hard and fast rules. "If you’re going for an acne facial with extractions and a light peel and you have active acne, every six to eight weeks might be good. If your primary concern is melasma or pigmentation, every three months or so is fine." I’m aware that a lot of high street salons try and encourage you to block-book, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, don’t feel that you must have a set number to fulfil a need within your skin.
Then, as you noted Jenna, there are myriad treatments on the market at wildly different price points. Knowing where to start navigating the jargon and add-ons is basically a language in itself (consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto’s book, The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide To Great Skin, has some great explainers), but Dr Tonks and I agreed that facials can largely be broken down in a few categories. "You have your proper clinical facials," began Dr Tonks, "where you’ll be getting an extraction, maybe an LED mask, a professional-strength peel, maybe something like HydraFacial or some oxygen added on. That could be anywhere from £90-£140." Three digits is a lot, but Dr Tonks explained you’re paying for the cost of the machines (a salon-grade LED machine can cost up to £12,000), as well as for a highly trained therapist who might have some sort of medical background.
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Then there’s your relaxing facials. Usually at a lower price point (though in a spa, that’s not always true), these facials are more about applying a few masks and having something of a mindful experience. "There’s a few more massage-type facials I enjoy having," added Dr Tonks. "They don’t necessarily make the most visible difference to my skin but they do force me to relax and not do anything for 40 minutes, and that is a beauty treatment in itself."
There are some places that sit between the two, price- and results-wise: national or regional chains of salons that offer facials at good prices, often with laser or microdermabrasion. Dr Tonks told me: "These places operate at a high volume, so it’s much safer to go to a chain like that for a laser treatment rather than a lesser-known independent clinic if price is an issue."
If you only have £50 to spend, personally, I’d put it towards some really good cosmeceutical-grade skincare. SkinCeuticals, Alumier MD and ZO Skin Health are all great brands, to name but a few. If your concern is acne, uneven skin tone, hyperpigmentation or even rosacea, you can make a pretty good dent in that at home using skincare – there’s no need to fork out for a facial there. At-home skincare is better than ever, so why pay to have people apply the same stuff you might have kicking around in your bathroom cabinet? High-end clinics will have some professional-grade products like peels, but on the whole, a mud mask is a mud mask. "If you want laser, radiofrequency or anything like that, I would encourage you to save up a little if you can and go to a reputable, pricier clinic," explained Dr Tonks. "You do see some horror stories from time to time of people being injured or scarred by botched facials, though it is rare. If someone is offering you a real bargain-basement price for a facial, you might end up paying in another way," she cautioned.
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If you love getting facials and you find a spot you like that helps you chill out and you leave glowing? Brilliant! If you’d rather save and have maybe one splurge facial a year at a clinic, before a special event? That works too! Just keep up the skincare afterwards.
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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