Special Event Skin Care 101
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Skin care before a special event (Facials! Spray tans! Spa days!) can seem super fun, but seemingly harmless treatments have a way of quickly turning "horror story" if you don't tread carefully. "Sometimes people get this 'great' idea to go and have a peel two days before their wedding," says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Boston. "That's a major 'don't.'"
Leading up to a big event like your big day or your BFFs bachelorette, your best bet is to stick with what you (and your skin) know. You don't want to do anything new. But if you have a little bit of time on your hands? You can craft a plan (with the aid of a dermatologist or esthetician) far enough out that incorporates everything you're looking for—from lightening to tightening and more.
The next step? Simply booking those appointments. Consider this your guide. (And remember, cardio isn't just a stress-buster, says Hirsch—it can make your skin glow, too. So don't forget to keep up with those long runs.)
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When: 3 to 6 months out
Six months before a big event is a good time to touch base with a professional like a dermatologist to start talking about your skin needs and wants, suggests Hirsch. Once you know what you're looking for—and have someone to work with—you can start the process of picking out the right plan. One option: Laser treatments. They work for a wide range of skin and body conditions, including acne, wrinkles, pigmentation, and skin tightening, says Petra Roberts, the group spa manager at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. They can also help improve the appearance of pigmentation and freckles on your face, chest, or back, notes Hirsch.
"The laser intensity or light frequency will change depending on your needs, but each treatment is ultimately a concentrated oscillating beam of light working on small areas of the skin, removing it layer by layer," says Roberts. (More on that here: Why Lasers and Light Treatments Are Really Good for Your Skin)
Just note: Laser treatments should be done by a qualified physician, but when executed properly, they can be a game changer. You might need four or five treatments and the process can leave you red, puffy, or both, says Hirsch—so make sure to have your last treatment a month or so before the big day. Only have a few weeks until your event? Skip this one.
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When: 3 to 4 months out
What your skin worries are and what results you're hoping for—from lifting to tightening and acne treatment to pigmentation—will help ID when you should start incorporating facials into your routine. (The Mandarin spas also offer a Skin Instant Lab that digitally analyzes your face to help pick the right facial for you.) But as a general rule of thumb, Hirsch suggests people start in-house skin treatments at the three-month mark.
Roberts adds: "If you have not done much with your skin and are looking for an intensive anti-aging treatment, you would need a program of 10 treatments—three treatments a week for the first and second week, two treatments at week three and four. You would then go on a maintenance program of one to two treatments a month." With facials, you'll also have homework to do: A large part of a facial treatment is your at-home routine, she notes. So go ahead—splurge on the fancy products (like these groundbreaking new beauty products for glowing skin). Just be sure to let your derm or therapist help you pick out the best ones for your skin.
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When: 3 to 4 months out
"Peels are exactly as the word would suggest, peeling layers of the skin," says Roberts. The intensity, she says, depends on the results you're after. "With age or after acne, the skin can appear uneven and dull in appearance. Removing it at a deep level will leave skin looking fresh." A physician would perform a more intensive peel like this, she notes, as it removes more skin and calls for more post-treatment care. Because of side effects (redness or puffiness), schedule your last peel for no later than a month before the event. And like with lasers, if you're operating on a last-minute basis, skip 'em.
On a time crunch? Estheticians can perform milder versions of peels, like exfoliators, which are often part of a facial. Exfoliation usually falls into two categories: enzyme peels (with ingredients like pumpkin, pineapple, and papaya) and chemical peels (with ingredients like AHA, glycolics, and BHAs), Roberts says. The former is gentle and OK for all skin types. It aids in removing dead cells and leaving the skin with a nice healthy glow, she says. The latter is a bit harsher and might not be the best if your skin is super sensitive.
Want something you can do at home? Microdermabrasion, which requires no downtime (score!), can be worked into your at-home monthly skin-care routine, Roberts says. (Or try at-home microneedling, the new skin-care treatment you should know about.)
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When: 1 month out
Before you try your first spray tan, make sure you exfoliate a few days before, so the color goes on smooth. You don't need a crazy-expensive product to exfoliate either. "Shaving is a great form of exfoliation," Hirsch notes. As far as timing goes, you'll want to start a few weeks out, she says. To get the true color and evenness you want, you'll likely need a few sessions.
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When: A few days before
Are you super stressed in the days leading up to a big event? Body wraps are all about relaxation, says Roberts. While there are many on the market—including those for slimming, detoxification, and calming purposes—feeling super zen is the biggest benefit. Roberts suggests opting for a full-body exfoliation before doing a body wrap to help your skin better absorb the ingredients. Just remember to touch base with your therapist about the products they use (especially if you have sensitive skin). The last thing you want is something irritating your skin. And as is true with all of these treatments, if you're opting for a wrap a few days before the event, make sure it's not your first time getting one. (Remember that whole "nothing new" rule?)
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When: 1 day before
The nails come last! Once your skin treatments are behind you, it's time to take care of the finishing touches. One day out from a big day, the color will still have its luster and won't have any wear and tear. If you're clumsy, consider a gel manicure so you'll be dry on the way out the door (read: no super-frustrating nicks).