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What does a facial actually do? 

Whilst it won't make you look like Rosie Huntington-Whitely, it will improve the look and feel of your skin. Tory Frost has everything you need to know about the salon treatment, plus an at-home how-to

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By Tory Frost on

When was the last time you had a facial? Had Groupon become a thing and you were giddy at 80% off? Did you take your Mum on a spa day only to realise two adults lolling around an indoor pool in dressing gowns is actually a bit weird? 

The likelihood is it’s been ages, because while most women I know will drop £100 in a Zara-based lunch hour, they scoff at spending the same on a one-off beauty sesh. 

But they’re absolutely missing a trick. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t walk out of a facial looking like Rosie Huntington-Whitely if you walked in hungover, and picking this month’s period zit. Facialists are aestheticians, not magicians, and we should be a bit realistic about what can be achieved. But just as you wouldn’t give up the dentist because you brush your teeth at home, you shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of putting your skin in the hands of an expert.

What CAN a facial achieve?

A one-off facial can (get ready for a barrage of naff beauty terms) soften, plump(en), invigorate, stimulate and deep cleanse… in the short term.

You’ll possibly walk out a bit pink and shiny, but should wake up looking better than you did yesterday. This is thanks to the massage, which sends blood pumping around your face, nourishing your skin, and the high-grade products your facialist should use.

What can’t it do? 

A single facial won’t have long-term benefits. But your facialist should consult with and advise you on your on-going routine, to help you maintain their good work. For longer-term, deeper benefits, go as regularly as you can afford. If your facialist offers a menu of confusing options, make sure you ask their advice on what to go for, explaining what you’d like to achieve. 

How regularly do you need to go? 

Some facialists recommend four times a month to start off with but this is just not financially feasible for most of us. If your facialist is great (generous with their advice and not just trying to flog you their house products) regularly could mean every six to eight weeks, or at the start of each season, when our skin changes most. 

What should they do?

Consultation, cleansing, exfoliation, extraction, steam, massage, mask, and moisture. I used to think a good facial meant it had to include a major pummelling, but it turns out, that’s not quite the case, as Sarah Soffe, Senior Therapist at SenSpa at Careys Manor’s and Therapist of the Year 2014, put me right on. “Your therapist will guide you on what is best for your skin. An oily skin may not need as much stimulation because you would not want to increase oil production.” Too right I don’t. Heavy massage is actually better suited to dryer, older skin – which is why a post cleanse consultation’s so important. 

Can’t I just do it myself?

You can certainly cleanse, exfoliate, steam and massage at home, but there are loads of reasons why you won’t. How likely are you to set aside a full hour without getting interrupted by your phone, kids or boyfriend wanting to watch the new Walking Dead? Also, a facialist is trained to use higher-strength products than you can buy in Superdrug (think peels – best left to the professional, don’t you think?). They also do extractions with a magnifying glass and PROPER TOOLS – without scarring you in the process. 

That said, a mini-facial at home is totally recommended, but just as you wouldn’t attempt to give yourself a filling, leave the heavy work to a pro. 

four Easy steps to an at-home mini-facial

1. Cleanse

Cleanse properly with Sanctuary Spa Warming Cleansing Butter, £12 – a thick, aromatic balm. The consistency means you can’t rush the job, and you’ll be giving yourself a good massage in the process. Remove with a hot flannel


2. Exfoliate

Exfoliate gently with Pixi Glow Tonic To-Go Pads, £20 – brill acid toner pads that brighten and hydrate your skin. (Alternatively, grab a bottle). I don’t tend to advocate scrubs unless you’re very dry-skinned, but if you must, always avoid plastic microbeads (terrible for the ocean) and try Caudalie Gentle Buffing Cream, which is suitable for even sensitive skin. Then steam your face for as long as your back can take bending over the sink.

3. do a Mask

I’m an oily spotty type, so my facials are for deep cleansing. This means I always do a clay mask first, like Simple's Kind To Skin Deep Cleansing Face Mask, £3.99, which is a few quid and has no ethanol or fragrance. Then you want a treatment mask – this should be tailored to your skin, both in general and on the day. Check out my masks feature for a list per skintype, or have a selection of sheetmasks on hand to pick the one you fancy/feels right. Boots Ingredients Sheet Face Masks, £2.50 are affordable enough to bulk buy. But for ultimate luxury and special occasions, Charlotte Tilbury's Dry Sheet Face Mask, £18, is pure indulgence for immediate plump and glow. It's dry rather than slimy and cold (if you find that off-putting) and you can use it three times before binning.


4. Massage & Moisture

Once you’ve removed the mask, massage in the excess for as long as you can muster (you’ll see why I called the facialist’s job hard work), adding a few drops of facial oil if you need extra slip. There are loads of facial massage tutorials online, but try to move upwards to help your skin defy gravity. Then massage in your favourite serum (I’m all about Soap & Glory's Make yourself Super Serum, £20) followed by your night/day cream (depending on when you’re doing it) and call it a job well done. 



Photo: Stocksy
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beauty advice
face mask

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