Over a decade ago, Ushma Neill, editor-at-large of the Journal of Clinical Investigation and vice president of scientific education and training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center went in for a relaxing spa day. It was a restorative day and she decided to end with a facial, which is when things went awry. Not because the treatment went wrong, but because while the esthetician examined her skin and applied creams, she said something that ruined the experience. She said of a citrus emollient she was going to apply, “It will help cleanse your liver.”
That one interaction led Neill to dive into the existing science on spa facials; she published her findings in a 2012 report, which can be summarised as—spa facials are useless. Neill has not got a facial since she wrote the report.
But before we refute it completely, let’s consider both sides.
A standard facial entails a deep cleaning followed by of pimple/blemish/black and whitehead extraction, a massage and steam treatment, a mask or peel, and finally, a moisturiser. And depending on what treatments you opt for and what it entails, a facial can claim to do a lot.
But apart from the topical cleaning, a treatment like this at best moisturises the skin. Sure, actives like glycolic acid and salicylic acid can have an immediate peeling effect, but that is not something that can’t be done at home.
What deserves due credit is a treatment like dermaneedling (not microdermabrasion, which is physical exfoliation). Microneedling, which uses small needles to puncture the skin, increases collagen flow and, thereby, skin reformation. For all effective skincare, better penetration is essential; therefore, there is proven merit in this process. Of course, aftercare cannot be taken lightly because while it opens your skin to good actives, it also opens it to irritants or allergens.
But let’s come back to what we began with, which is the benefits of facial. The bottom line is while facial treatments are great, the ones offered by spas are not the best; visiting a good dermatologist instead is worth it, especially for targeted concerns like wrinkles and pigmentation.
Spas are great for pampering yourself, but there is nothing your general facial will do that a good and consistent skincare regime at home will not. Additionally, there is no standard for spas around the country and that only adds to the ambiguity of these treatments.
That leads us to conclude that there is nothing better than the traditional cleansing, moisturising, and applying sunscreen routine done consistently; sunscreen being the most important of all as in another study Neill conducted, she found that UV light accounts for 80 per cent of skin ageing!