MANY WOMEN VIEW a facial as a luxury. Others see it as part of a regular grooming or anti-stress regimen. But skin-care specialists caution that a poorly administered facial treatment can do more harm than good.
Typically, facials consist of four stages: cleansing, removal of surface imperfections, massage and masque. A deep-cleansing facial includes the extraction of clogs from pores. An intensive hydrating treatment features rich emollients. Special methods are used to treat sensitive skin.
Because of the variety of treatments, one of the most important aspects of a good facial occurs before the procedure begins. "The facialist must be able to analyze your skin quickly and accurately before she applies anything," says Vera Brown, who operates Vera's Retreat salons in Tarzana and Bel-Air. Brown says she has seen numerous clients with dry skin who have been treated for an oily condition, and vice versa. "In many cases, the damage was severe and took months to heal," Brown says. She notes that adult acne can result from inexperienced technicians using the wrong products for a particular skin type.
"Some facialists think they're dermatologists," says Baarbara Elleck, owner of the New Beginning salon in Pasadena. She says some technicians diagnose and treat conditions such as severe acne, psoriasis, even skin cancer--all of which require a doctor's attention.
"The facialist must know when to remove a blackhead or pimple and when to leave it alone," adds Louise Bianco, who administers facials in her Westwood salon. Extracting a blemish too soon can cause scarring, she cautions.
Steam, often employed as part of the cleansing process, must not be too hot or used too long or too close to the face, because it can burn or can cause broken capillaries, Bianco says. Also, steam can release contaminants into the air, so the facialist's steaming device should always be filled with purified water--never tap water.
Overly aggressive facial massage can stretch the skin or cause sagging. The redness and bruising that can result may last for days.
But how does the consumer know if she's getting a good facial? First, facialists are required by California law to be licensed, and that license must be posted in plain view. "The technician and her clothing should be scrupulously clean, and her room and tools should be as spotless as a doctor's office," Brown says. Extractions should be performed with disposable or sanitized implements. "Ask how long the salon has been in business," Elleck suggests. Before proceeding with the facial, the technician should evaluate each new client's skin.
"But you don't know anything until you lie down on that table," Bianco says. "You should never feel any pain." And, Brown says, "You should never leave the salon looking red and blotchy. Your face should always look better than when you came in."
Hair and makeup: Beth Katz/Cloutier; model: Inger Thompson/Elite