Everything You Need to Know Before Your First Facial

Experts help us put one of beauty's biggest pastimes under the microscope.

Photo: Getty Images / Prakasit Khuansuwan / EyeEm

Like massages to the body, facials have long been regarded as a staple when it comes to self-care, not only for decompressing but also maintaining healthy, glowing skin. After all, a professional facial can help you free your skin of dull, dead cells for a more radiant surface, clean out congested pores (cue the extractions!), bring much-needed hydration back to dry, parched skin, combat signs of aging, and beyond.

That is, of course, if you (and especially the one doing the job) know how to make the most of it. From vetting a specialist to choosing the right treatment (including what to expect from the service itself and upkeep to follow), read on as experts help us break down everything you should know before you go.

How to Find the Right Aesthetician (or Dermatologist)

As with all things beauty (especially when it involves your face), you'll want to prepare for your service by doing a bit of recon, including finding a credible professional or establishment (ideally both) to do the job. When it comes to facials, it can be a bit overwhelming, since licensed cosmetologists, licensed aestheticians, and dermatologists are all legally able to perform facials, says Julie Russak, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Russak Dermatology Clinic. She typically recommends a licensed aesthetician for performing more standard facials since they specifically specialize in cosmetic treatments of the skin.

"If you are interested in a medical-grade facial, I recommend visiting the office of a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon. These doctors typically have aestheticians they have trained or with whom they work constantly side by side to truly deliver the best results," adds Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Mariwalla Dermatology.

To gain a better understanding of a given specialist's credentials, look into the specific requirements of the location in which they practice, as they can differ from state to state. In addition to reading customer reviews, a company's official website can also prove a helpful resource for gathering information on an establishment and expert's credentials and/or specializations. "We all have different focuses and passions in this industry, so it's ideal to choose someone whose are related to the treatment outcome you are searching for," advises Jenna James, a clinical aesthetician at Mariwalla Dermatology. (

Still have questions? Dr. Russak suggests calling or visiting a clinic to inquire about their standards specifically. "We require proof of license, and it must be continually renewed and kept up to date. Licensed aestheticians must have at least three years' experience and a medical background since they work alongside our dermatologists on-site to diagnose skin health and not just skin aesthetic," she explains.

You should also look into the sterilization practices. "Most doctor offices have autoclaves, which essentially work like pressure cookers and use heat to destroy bacteria. Many spas do not have that luxury and, instead, rely on standard sterilization. If the tools are just being sanitized, there is room for human error and possible contamination," explains Dr. Mariwalla.

"For platelet-rich plasma facials (also referred to as PRP or vampire facials), in which case a component of your own blood is re-injected in order to help encourage collagen production, we use only disposable microneedling needle tips and sterilized kits opened on-site for each individual patient," adds Dr. Russak.

Dr. Russak also suggests surveying the spa upon arrival: "Judge a book by its cover. The cleanliness and professionalism of the establishment and professionals working there are a reflection of what goes on behind closed doors."

How to Choose the Right Service for Your Skin Needs

Aside from ensuring cleanliness and professionalism, you'll want to take great care in choosing the service that's right for you.

Some of the more common include: the spa facial (which typically includes a cleanse, steam, massage, mask, serums, and potential extractions and is recommended for normal or aging skin); microdermabrasion (typically everything found in a spa facial, along with a mechanical exfoliation of the skin); a facial with radiofrequency (used to help temporarily tighten the skin); and the hydrafacial (in which specific serums can be infused into the skin to aid dehydrated skin), explains Dr. Mariwalla. (

Dr. Russak adds that dermaplaning (in which case a small scalpel is used to gently scrape away peach fuzz and dead skin) and oxygen facials (where oxygen is infused in to the skin, creating a contoured and glowy effect) are also among some of the more commonly requested services." Other popular add-ons include LED light-emitting diodes, which enhance the facial experience by offering an anti-inflammatory, collagen-boosting, and/or depuffing finish, she adds. Customized serums, advanced eye treatments, and specialty masks can also be added on to your treatment to up the ante. (

To ensure the best results, you'll want to get a good understanding of the service and potential products used during the consultation or at the time of booking—and be sure to mention any existing allergies or skin conditions. "If you have rosacea, steam can exacerbate redness and telangiectasia, and aggressive forms of mechanical exfoliation, like microdermabrasion, can create more broken blood vessels," says Dr. Mariwalla. If you have other skin concerns like acne, it's also worth bringing up, as a facial massage can create more oil production, worsening your breakout, she adds.

Of course, you'll also want to inquire about any side effects to avoid having a public 'Samantha Jones moment' (that was technically a chemical peel, but hey), as well as make sure you have a very clear understanding of pricing, which can range significantly based on a variety of factors, including the amount of time, tools, and products used, as well as location. "A basic spa facial can vary from $60 to $300. For microdermabrasion and hydrafacials, you're typically looking at a range from $150 to $350, and facials with RF can be upwards of $650," explains Dr. Mariwalla. In spa-like settings, 20 percent tip is usually the suggested amount. In a doctor's office, the price could be much greater depending on the type of service, but tips aren't usually expected, she adds.

What to Ask Before You Leave

Once the service is complete, talk with your specialist about the best way to maintain your benefits, including regular care and appointment upkeep. "We like patients to come back monthly for optimal results, but that is where budget and expectation need to be clear," says Dr. Mariwalla.

You'll also want to address any additional sensitivities you'll experience post-facial—and depending on your treatment, load up on SPF. "Exfoliation—removing layers of dead skin—makes your skin more susceptible to burning. Lasers and RF emit heat, which can linger in the skin and cause risk for an adverse reaction with the sun," Dr. Russak explains.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles