Updated 9/24/19 From the first day I started esthetics school in the late 1980s, I was taught that everyone should get a facial once a month. The reasoning behind this was that this is roughly the amount of time for our skin cells to move through a full life cycle of cell growth and make their way from the dermis to the surface of the skin where they are naturally sloughed off. Ask most any esthetician today, and they will more than likely say the same thing since this has been the accepted school of thought for so long.
But is getting a facial every four weeks really necessary? The answer is a little more complicated than just “yes” or “no.”
What Does a Facial Entail?
For starters, here are the main steps included in a basic facial:
- Skin Analysis—your esthetician will take time to chat and ask you questions so they can determine the best treatment plan for your skin
- Deep Cleanse
- Exfoliation—this can take many different forms, but a gentle acid or enzyme peel, ultrasonic exfoliation, microdermabrasion or bio brasion are the most common.
- Massage of the face, neck and shoulders—for those with severe acne, this step might be omitted because it may be too much stimulation for the skin. This also allows the esthetician to spend more time on extractions.
- Manual extractions—this is to clear out blackheads and clogged pores. Unlike most estheticians, I always perform extractions after the massage. You can read why here.)
- Mask—like exfoliation, there are many different mask options, and your esthetician will be able to choose the best one for you after assessing you skin’s needs.
These are the basic steps of a facial, but of course, there are many services that can be added on to enhance the results. Micro current, LED light therapy, ultrasound and high frequency are just a few examples.
Do You Really Need a Facial Every Month?
The short answer is no, not necessarily.
While it is true that the full life cycle of cell growth is about thirty days for the average person, this thought process was established way back in the day when exfoliating at home wasn’t really an option. If exfoliation was occurring at home, it was usually a gommage or facial scrub used only once every few weeks. While I believe physical scrubs can be very effective at making your skin glow, they simply don’t provide the level of exfoliation required to actually stimulate cell turnover. Today, though, at-home skin care has come a long way, and exfoliating products are a lot more sophisticated. Many people use exfoliating products almost daily, whether it’s sonic cleansing brushes, facial scrubs, products with exfoliating acids and/or enzymes or retinol (which is not technically an exfoliant, but it does increase cell turnover). If you choose to go with a facial scrub, here’s how to use one.
So by this logic, if the sole purpose of a facial is to help speed up the cell turnover process, you don’t need to get a once-a-month facial from a professional if you’re using exfoliating products at home. (Now of course, if you’re barely doing any exfoliation at home, then that’s a different story.)
The Benefits of a Facial
While a comprehensive at-home routine may be plenty for some, facials can offer many benefits above and beyond what you can achieve at home. Depending on your skin type and its needs, you may need some of these benefits more than others.
Benefits of a facial include the following:
- Expert Skin Analysis—if your skin seems confused and you’ve been struggling to get results, you’ll benefit from talking to someone who truly understands your unique skin type and how to best care for it.
- Professional-Strength Exfoliation—while at-home exfoliants are great, you may benefit from something stronger if you’re looking to smooth your skin texture or lighten discoloration from sun and breakouts.
- Manual extraction—it’s never ideal to extract your own blackheads or clogged pores since you risk damaging your skin long term.
- Intensive Hydration—if you struggle with dryness, dehydration or a damaged barrier, a professional facial can help repair your skin’s moisture barrier to keep skin looking plump and healthy.
- Facial Massage—estheticians are trained in facial massage to encourage brighter, glowing skin by increasing circulation. This is beneficial if you struggle with a dull-looking complexion.
- A Scope for Skin Cancer—an experienced esthetician can call out changing moles that you may be overlooking and encourage you to get regular skin cancer screenings.
- Anti-Aging—If you want younger looking skin and are looking to get serious when it comes to fighting the visible signs of aging, there are many additional treatments that can be added on to a facial to encourage this.
- Professional Guidance—using the right products for your skin at home is super important, and sometimes it helps to take the guesswork out. An esthetician can examine your skin and give you guidance when it comes to your home care routine. This may include seasonal, environmental, hormonal and age-related changes occurring with the skin.
- Stress Release—enough said!
- Time For You—never underestimate the power of taking time for yourself.
When You Actually NEED a Facial
In some cases, you’ll really benefit from getting a facial once a month (or more). These are the conditions that might require regular facials:
- Clogged Pores—these appear as little bumps or whiteheads (known as closed comedones) all over the skin. They are under the skin, which means they aren’t painful, but they can be really difficult to get rid of at home. Some topical treatments will help reduce them, but to get rid of all your clogged pores you’ll likely need a professional extraction. Once your pores are cleaned out, exfoliating products with salicylic acid will help to keep them clean so eventually fewer extractions are needed.
- Acne—facials can make a great addition to an acne-treatment plan, but be sure to go to someone who knows how to treat this condition and won’t overstimulate your skin. This can increase inflammation and worsen acne.
- Brown spots and Discoloration—if you’re looking to lighten discoloration from sun damage or post-breakout dark marks, an esthetician will likely use a chemical peel to help brighten and even your skin tone.
Even though facials aren’t a requirement for beautiful, healthy skin, they do offer certain benefits an at-home routine can’t. If you consistently struggle with acne, clogged pores and discoloration, consider adding regular (or semi-regular) facials to your skincare strategy. Getting on top of these conditions requires consistent care, and expert guidance can be invaluable. In these instances, I consider facials a truly important asset.
One final thought. The days of the ‘steam and cream’ facial are over. Facials these day are far more personalized and results-oriented than ever before, and if your goal is to care for your skin in the best way possible (even if you don’t have any of the three conditions listed above), then I suggest trying to make facials a regular part of your skin care maintenance if possible. Simply put, putting your face in the hands of a skin care professional can do wonders, along with using a good at-home routine for your unique skin type.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”