From day one of entering the skin care profession in the late 1980s, my esthetics school teacher taught me that people should get a facial once a month. The reason for this is that it takes that amount of time for the 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, as this has always been the common thought.
But, is getting a facial really necessary every four weeks? Does it vary by skin type? Is it just a nicety or really a necessity? What does a facial actually do and why is one needed so often?
For starters, here are the main steps included in a basic facial.
Skin analysis followed by a cleansing
Exfoliation (A gentle acid or enzyme peel, ultrasonic exfoliation, microdermabrasion or bio brasion are the most common)
Massage of the face, neck and shoulders (Sometimes this is omitted for those with severe acne so there is less stimulation to the skin and the esthetician can spend more time on extractions.)
Manual extractions to clear out blackheads and clogged pores (I always extract after the massage unlike most estheticians. You can read why here.)
Of course, there are a lot more modalities that can be added to a basic facial to enhance the results. Micro current, LED light, ultrasound and high frequency are just a few examples.
So, on to the answer. While it’s true that the full life cycle of cell growth is about 30 days (give or take), this thought process was established way back in the day when exfoliating at home was rarely done, and if it was occurring, it was a gommage or facial scrub used only once every few weeks which simply didn’t give an adequate amount of cellular turnover. Today, exfoliation products are used almost daily, by way of sonic cleansing brushes, facial scrubs, retinol and exfoliating cleansers, peels, toners and serums with ingredients like lactic, glycolic and salicylic acids.
So if the sole purpose of a facial is for catching the cells at the end of their life cycle like what has always been told, you do not have to get a once-a-month facial from a professional if you’re using exfoliants regularly at home. (Now of course, if you’re barely doing any exfoliation at home, then that’s a different story.)
With that being said, facials offer many skin benefits, and some are in need of it more than others. Benefits of a facial include:
Expert skin analysis from someone who truly understands your unique skin type and how to best care for it.
Professional strength exfoliation to smooth the skin, lighten discoloration from sun and breakouts.
Manual extraction of blackheads and clogged pores to create smoother and less-bumpy skin.
Intensive hydration to repair the skin’s moisture barrier to keep skin looking plump and moist.
Facial massage to increase circulation to encourage brighter, glowing skin.
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.)
Help for maintaining youthful and healthy-looking skin. (If you want to have younger-looking skin, there are many additional treatments that can be added on to a facial to encourage this.)
Professional guidance for your home care routine. (This includes seasonal, environmental, hormonal and age-related changes occurring with the skin.)
Time for you and only you.
You really NEED a facial once a month (if not more), if your skin has…
Little clogged bumps or whiteheads (known as closed comedones) that are under the skin, are not painful and don’t go away no matter what you do at home. (No laser or exfoliating peel can take the place of professional extractions to remove the blockage in the pores. Once the pores are cleaned out, exfoliating products with salicylic acid will help to keep them clean so eventually less extractions are needed.)
Acne that needs to be dried up and post-breakout marks that need to be faded.
Brown spots and discoloration that you’re looking to lighten (Chemical peels are usually required to get this done.)
For those with acne, clogged pores and brown spots, this type of skin requires consistent care to get on top of the condition to get the skin looking clear. So in these instances, I consider facials a true necessity and often times will recommend clients to come in weekly for additional treatments above and beyond a facial.