Wondering how to do a facial at home? Follow these steps to score the same skin- and mind-soothing benefits of a professional treatment.

By Shannon Bauer Kate Sandoval Box and Kate Sandoval Box
Updated March 30, 2021
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When you've watched countless hours of TV, scrolled to the end of Instagram (if that is even possible?!), and had more Zoom happy hours than you'd ever attend IRL, it might be time to shut down your devices and find an unplugged activity instead. Sure, hobbies like doing puzzles and baking bread are great but do you know what can be even better?

Doing a facial at home, of course. Not only does a DIY facial help get your skin in tip-top shape, but it also doubles as an opportunity to take deep breaths, relax, and focus on yourself sans-distractions. (See: How to Turn Your Beauty Routine Into a Mindfulness Opportunity)

Now, I know what you're thinking: isn't a facial at home just putting on a mask and calling it a day? But, dear reader, it's time to think again. While an in-spa treatment is truly an ah-mazing experience, a lot of skin concerns can be addressed by adding a DIY facial into your regular routine — and it's way more than just doing a face mask.

In addition to maintaining a derm-approved daily routine, a practice of weekly facials at home can work wonders on your skin, says says Rita Linkner, M.D., a dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. It'll exfoliate, unclog pores, and keep your skin healthy and glowing, she says.

The difference between regularly doing a facial at home and your usual skin-care routine is the intention. Sure, if you excitedly splash enough water on your face you might feel like you're a star in a Neutrogena commercial. And, yes, layering on moisturizer after a really hot shower might provide a somewhat relaxing sensation of relief. But taking some time do give yourself a facial at home is more about enjoying the experience than doing it because you need to.

"A facial at home is a way to nurture your skin and take that time to ground into the moment, check in with yourself, and provide gentle care in whatever way is needed," says Tammy Fender, renowned aesthetician, holistic pioneer, and founder of the eponymous natural skin care line. (See also: Everything You Need to Know Before Your First Facial)

Plus, the added benefits to seeing an improvement in the skin may help morale as well. "I definitely advocate for my patients to be proactive with their routines to try to gain some control back in these uncertain times," says Dr. Linker.

Fender developed an at-home facial protocol to follow that "invigorates the complexion, cleanses deeply, lifts away dullness, and softens the skin while revealing a glowing freshness." The goal: to make your facial a ~luxurious experience~.  Think of your favorite spa and bring some of those soothing elements home: burn some incense, dim the lights, play calming music, make herbal ice tea to sip, and stash your phone. Lean all the way into the pampering pleasure — here's how to do a facial at home.

Exactly How to Do a Facial At Home

Once you have your dreamy spa set-up on point, work your way through these steps on how to do a facial at home— slowly. It's not a race to the finish, so remember to take deep breaths and enjoy. You're trying to create healthy skin, but also to support wellness on the emotional and spiritual levels, says Fender.

"For most people, I think just creating the time is difficult. But once you are there, once you've given yourself that gift, then dropping in and enjoying it is easy," she says.

1. Cleanse & Mist

Whether it's a facial at home or at a spa, it should always start with a gentle cleanse to remove makeup, pollution, and dirt from the skin. A popular recommendation from dermatologists is Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser (Buy It, $10, target.com); this mild formula won't strip all the oils from your skin, which could be too drying before a more intense treatment like a facial.

After gently patting (not rubbing, a common face washing mistake) dry, Fender recommends generously spritzing your skin with a floral mist, such as Glossier Soothing Face Mist with Rosewater (Buy It, $15, glossier.com). (Related: Hydrating Face Mists You'll Actually Want to Use.)

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2. Exfoliate

Now, it's time to exfoliate — and don't think about skipping ahead to the next step (although let's be honest, everybody loves a good skin-saving face mask). Exfoliating (or sloughing off the top layer of skin cells) is an essential part of doing an at-home facial as it ensures that the products applied afterward penetrate your skin and are more effective. And remember what Fender said earlier? This is a time to take it slow and savor every step of the self-care. (See also: The Ultimate Guide to Exfoliation)

As for what type of skin-sloughing products to use for your facial at home, Fender recommends opting for a micro-exfoliant (which has a very fine grain that's less harsh than a scrub) and a natural peel (think: ingredients like acids or enzymes). Or get both of these elements — micro-exfoliant and peel — in one with Youth to the People Yerba Mate Resurfacing Exfoliating Energy Facial with Enzymes (Buy It, $54, sephora.com), which contains caffeine for radiance, plus a combo of bamboo and fruit enzymes to exfoliate. When applying, consider using the gommage technique: Rather than rinsing immediately after applying, this French method involves gently massaging the product onto your skin and letting it sit there for 2-5 minutes. Then you add a little water and use circular motions to remove, according to Fender.

Dr. Linkner, however, prefers a microdermabrasion device to effectively exfoliate the skin and help get rid of blackheads. She suggests starting with an AHA/BHA exfoliating serum to break up oil, dead skin cells, and pore-clogging gunk, then using the Rodan Fields Pore Cleansing MD System (Buy It, $260, rodanandfields.com). This tool has two different heads that use a combination of suction and pressure to extract blackheads and remove the pore-clogging debris brought to the surface with the exfoliating serum. It's pricey, but consider that "this at-home system is the closest I have seen to the medical-grade microdermabrasion machines I use to deeply exfoliate the skin in my office," says Dr. Linkner. (Related: The 9 Best At-Home Microdermabrasion Products for Your Glowiest Complexion Ever)

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3. Mask

After exfoliating, it's time for a clay-based mask. If you're looking to detoxify, Tammy Fender Purifying Luculent Masque (Buy It, $215, saksfifthavenue.com) has clay to purify and traditional herbs which are revered for their detoxifying properties. Apply a thick layer to your face and let sit for 10-15 minutes. If you're dealing with dry skin, looking for a less intense mask, and/or working with a tighter budget, consider The Inkey List Kaolin Mask (Buy It, $7, sephora.com). While the combo of kaolin and smectite clays draws impurities from the skin, it's more gentle and, thus, particularly good for dry or sensitive skin. Plus, with glycerin, aloe juice, and sunflower seed oil, the mask won't leave your skin feeling thirsty.

"It's especially nice to lie down and meditate while the mask sets, allowing the nutrients to absorb into the skin and allowing your stress to dissolve away," says Fender. Next, use a warm cloth to remove the treatment. If you, like Fender, are a fan of essential oils, you might want to add a drop or two of your favorite EO to warm water before soaking the washcloth in the mixture. FWIW, Fender likes the scent and properties of lemon (used for uplifting or energizing) and rosemary (used for ease and clarity of mind). (Related: The Benefits of Using Essential Oils, According to the Latest Research)

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4. Massage

Once you rinse off your mask, pat on a serum, like First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum (Buy It, $38, sephora.com), which is formulated with hyaluronic acid, aloe juice, and colloidal oatmeal to hydrate and soothe skin. And it doesn't hurt that it has a nearly perfect five-star rating online. (Or go for one of these best anti-aging serums, according to dermatologists.)

Now, it's time to get ~handsy~. While a self-massage might sound complicated, Fender assures there are no strict rules — all that matters is that it feels great to you. She likes to start at the center of the forehead, gently running fingertips across the area where many people tend to hold a lot of tension. Then, work your way from the inner corners of the under-eyes to the outer corners. Performing a little manual lymphatic drainage by pressing the under-eye area towards the direction of your earlobe three or four times. This can help move any excess fluid down and away from the area — plus, it can help gently flush any toxins from the skin tissues, says Fender. Finally, bring some attention to the jawline by massaging with your hands to activate circulation. (Once you're done, continue the self-care with a salon-quality manicure at home.)

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How to (Safely) Upgrade Your Home Facial with Professional-Level Treatments

One year into the pandemic, you might be eager to take your home skin-care treatments to the next level. Technology is rising to the challenge, providing formulas and devices that can potentially offer professional-level results, while skin-care experts are creating how-to videos and offering virtual appointments to guide you.

But the key term here is guide. "People are attempting to perform more intensive treatments on themselves than they used to, which has led to calls from my patients who are embarrassed and even in pain from their attempts," says Y. Claire Chang, M.D., a dermatologist in New York. "One used a heated curling iron to try to 'burn away' acne and was left with a large burn and then a dark mark. Another wielded a sewing needle to try to microneedle a face scar, leading to an infection and scarring. Yet another applied a chemical peel that was too aggressive, resulting in considerable redness, inflammation, and irritation."

But there is a way to take that four-step facial routine up a notch — without doing more harm than good. Here's how to do a facial at home with dermatologist-grade treatments.

Peels and Facials with a Pro Assist

Typically, when you get a skin peel at a doctor's office, the percentage of acid is much higher and more effective than the formulations you can apply on your own. But now, after an initial virtual consultation in which the doctor or medical aesthetician diagnoses your skin, you can have access to the medical-grade version. "I mail the premixed and pre-dosed peel to the patient, and then we FaceTime so that I can talk her through the correct application process and watch how the skin reacts," says Louisa Agate, a medical aesthetician at Aristocrat Plastic Surgery in New York. (Related: What's the Difference Between Laser Treatments and Chemical Peels?)

You can also purchase boxed-up versions of spa facials from brands like Glo Skin Beauty. Its GlyPro AHA Resurfacing Peel kit (Buy It, $85, dermstore.com) includes a cleanser, prep solution, glycolic peel, neutralizer, and retinol drops, along with the correct applicators, detailed instructions, and a headband. Or consider a one-on-one virtual session with celebrity facialist Nichola Joss. "I guide you through how to correctly massage your face to remove tension and help lift it while incorporating breath work to relieve stress," she says.

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DIY Devices

One of the most instantly gratifying at-home facial treatments is dermaplaning. The yet-to-be-released Dermaflash Mini, a compact version of the brand's Luxe model (Buy It, $199, sephora.com), has a blade to remove peach fuzz, making skin smooth and noticeably radiant, and a metal rollerball to de-puff the eye area. For quicker results: the Joanna Vargas Magic Glo Wand (Buy It, $285, dermstore.com) has a massaging plate that can be set to cool (for a de-puffing effect) or hot (to deep clean and help skin absorb products), while the Jillian Dempsey Gold Sculpting Bar (Buy It, $195, sephora.com) is a 24K gold vibrating tool that revives skin. Both help you achieve that postfacial skin vibe.

For long-term payoff: Daily microcurrent sessions with the NuFace Trinity (Buy It, $325, sephora.com) take just a few minutes a day and offer results in a few weeks to months, as the microcurrent stimulates facial muscles, helping to lift and tone skin. Perhaps the most high-powered option is the new Lyma laser (Buy It, $2,500, lyma.life), which contains a 500-milliwatt laser (other at-home versions tend to be about 20 milliwatts) that's diffused through two lenses within the device that damper the light enough to remove the heat, so you can't burn yourself or feel any pain. This also means that it's safe for all skin tones and skin types.

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Still, it's powerful: Blue light kills the bacteria that cause acne, while other spectrums reduce inflammation and penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin to stimulate collagen production. The brand's trials have shown that with daily 15-minute treatments, wrinkles, rosacea, dark spots, and scars are reduced in three months. Says Joss: "I have been using it for over 18 months and would not be without it.

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