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What is a facial?

A facial is a beauty treatment for your face. Facials use everything from oils, creams, gels and serums to electric currents, oxygen jets and massage to give you cleaner, healthier, brighter skin. As Mae West said, "You are never too old to look younger." There are so many brands and styles of facial available, and each spa and each brand describes them in a different way. But what does it all mean? We're here to help you decode the "spa-speak"

What is a facial good for?

This depends largely on the type of facial that you have. The titles and descriptions of facials give you a vague idea of their general intention.

The general aims of most facials are the same:

  • To cleanse: to get rid of the layer of dead skin cells and clean pores to help prevent acne
  • To balance and improve the texture, general health and appearance of your skin
  • To rehydrate (moisturise) and brighten your complexion
  • To make you look younger, firmer, fresher and lovelier!
  • To maintain healthy skin

Pretty much all facials will cleanse, exfoliate, tone and moisturise your skin. Just having a facial should make you feel pampered, and most facials will leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed, and your skin feeling softer and cleaner.

Before you go

Some treatments involve a consultation before the facial, where the therapist will work out your skin type and texture, and tailor the facial to meet your needs. This usually happens at the beginning of your appointment rather than beforehand.

he success (or otherwise) of many facials depends on the products used, and also whether your skin happens to like them or not. If you have sensitive skin, it might be worth asking in advance if you can "test" the products to make sure that you don't have a bad reaction to them. A facial should leave your skin feeling really fresh, soft and supple, and you probably won't want to put on make-up straight afterwards, but if you have to go on to work or on to a special occasion, remember to take your make up with you.

For most facial treatments, all you have to do is turn up. The therapist will be happy to take off your make-up with some wonder product, so you can arrive and leave without any special preparation.


Pretty much anyone can have a facial without risk! All you need to bear in mind is full disclosure:

  • If you have any skin allergies or conditions, make sure you tell your therapist about them, not just the receptionist when you book
  • If you are, or think you might be, pregnant you should always tell the therapist as well; some products may not be suitable for you
  • If you don't like the idea of electric currents or you have any other worries, just ask beforehand
  • If at any time you feel uncomfortable, let your therapist know.

Take care! Some treatments do come with conditions. For example, there are facial products that react badly with make-up for up to 24 hours afterwards. We heard of one facial which actually made a woman's skin turn orange and blotchy when she put on foundation straight afterwards. Not a good look for your wedding day, so check beforehand!

Watch your wallet. The bliss and smugness of newly-facialled, beautiful skin can often lead to the pernicious beating of your credit card courtesy of the products on sale as you leave. Just bear in mind that you are very vulnerable to this post-facial sales-pitch!

What to expect from a facial

This depends on the kind of facial that you're going for. Generally speaking, you will usually receive your facial while seated in a reclining chair, or lying down on a massage table. Your hair will be swept back from your face. Most facials feature some light massage, including your neck and shoulders, and are broken down into various stages that the therapist should talk you through beforehand.

Depending on the kind of massage you are having, you will then have various creams, muds, masks and oils rubbed into your skin, using different motions and perhaps with a variety of towels or applicators. Other features of a facial may include:

  • acupressure or light pressure-point massage
  • a light electrical pulse to stimulate your circulation
  • hot stones laid gently on the skin
  • hot towels
  • oxygen jets
  • and all sorts of other things.

This should all be clear when you book, and a good therapist will flag all this up for you so that none of it comes as a surprise.

A facial can last from between 15 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on which one you have. Many feature similar processes, products and techniques. The difference is often in origin and emphasis. We have tried to explain some of the most common, and give you an idea of what they do. There are more and more available all the time so we'll keep you informed whenever we find a new one!

Different kinds of facial include:

The mini-facial or express facial

Good for: a quick pick-me-up, to maintain healthy skin and make you feel more lovely looking.

A mini-facial is a "one-facial-fits-all" treatment that incorporates all of the basic elements of facials. Lasting about 30 minutes, a mini-facial is likely to include cleansing and exfoliating, toning and a face mask. If you're lucky, you might get some pressure point massage as well and some soothing music.

The prescription facial

Good for: problem/sensitive skin.

Also often described as "specialist", this facial is tailored to your skin type and what you are hoping to gain from the facial. The facial should include a consultation with the therapist and some evidence that she hasn't decided what she's going to use on your skin before you walk in (!) The procedure will probably be the same no matter whose skin she's treating, but the products and how much of and for how long she uses each one will be tailored to you.

The luxury facial

Good for: feeling pampered. Specific stated outcomes.

Often also including "specialist" or "advanced" in the title, a "luxury" facial is liable to last longer than the average facial and may include one or more of the following elements:

  • massage: face, neck, shoulders, even back
  • hot towels
  • hot stones
  • more than one therapist
  • a steam
  • electric pulses, such as Cathiodermie, intended to firm and boost your skin (this doesn't hurt)
  • unusual or specialist products: rare oils, blends, masks or creams, made of all sorts of things from fruits, herbs and mud to oatmeal and algae
  • plenty of care and attention

It will probably take longer and, of course, cost more than a regular facial.

An oxygen facial

Good for: cleansing, revitalising, looking younger.

An oxygen facial uses high-pressure jets of oxygen to deliver serums containing vitamins, minerals and (helpfully!) collagen to revitalise and nourish tired skin. It's popular with celebs such as Jennifer Aniston and Madonna, who find it really helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and brings back the glow that is often dulled by air pollution. Some oxygen facials include a bit of microdermabrasion or exfoliation at the start.

This facial is similar to a hydrogen facial which works on the same principle of getting oxygen to your skin, but does this via oxygenated water.

A collagen facial

Good for: reducing lines and wrinkles, moisturising, firming.

Collagen is a natural protein that supports all your body's cells. Collagen makes up 75 per cent of your skin and about 30 per cent of the rest of your body. Collagen is literally what keeps your cells in shape. As you get older, the collagen in your skin diminishes and gets tired. A collagen facial uses collagen-based creams and serums to plump up and boost your skin. The facial is nourishing and balancing and helps to improve your skin's elasticity.

Collagen facials often feature a mask, massage, laser treatment and electrodes which stimulate and moisturise your cells.

This kind of facial may also be described as a firming facial, anti-ageing/age-defying facial or a face-lifting facial; the latter may include collagen, or Restylane injections to fill lines.

Cathiodermie (electro-stimulation)

Good for: deep cleansing, firming and toning, looking younger.

Cathiodermie or electrostimulation is a deep-cleansing facial which uses an electric current to coax out all the impurities from your skin, firm up the contours, increase lymph drainage and leave you feeling soft and smooth. Gels, creams and lotions are tailored to your skin type, and then a mild electric current is applied to your face to work them into your skin. The current is applied via what look like tiny steam rollers which the therapist moves along your skin.

The facial lasts between an hour and 90 minutes and may include cleansing and moisturising masks, blackhead removal and oxygenating treatments.

Cathiodermie and "Supercathiodermie" can be used to work on any specific areas of your skin that have a lot of wrinkles or are sagging a bit. It tightens and tones, so it's a popular treatment for mature skins.

Also referred to as "hydraderm" or "super hydraderm" facial; the latter focuses on wrinkles and "delicate areas" such as around the mouth and eyes.

An enzyme peel

Good for: cleansing, even skin tone, anti-acne/scarring.

An enzyme peel is a gel containing chemicals that is applied to the skin and left for up to 30 minutes. After that, it is peeled off, taking with it layers of dead skin, scar tissue and blemishes, and revealing cleaner, smoother and more even-toned skin beneath. Some peels contain fruit acids (or AHAs) or Vitamin C which should stimulate the skin's own production of collagen and elastin, so "plumping" the cells and giving a firmer and brighter complexion.

It is a popular treatment with people who have bad acne. It can also present a brighter, fresher complexion which can make you look younger.

There is sometimes some superficial redness when the treatment's first done, but this will fade after a few days.

The flower facial

Good for: sensitive skins and soothing facials.

A flower facial uses flower-based products. They are often a good choice for people with sensitive skin because they use natural plant extracts which are usually gentler than chemical products. However, do investigate to make sure this is the case.

A multivitamin facial

Good for: maintaining general skin health; brightening, deep cleansing, anti-wrinkles.

A Which survey tested the effectiveness of vitamins on the skin, and found that they do have quantifiable benefits. A multi-vitamin facial uses various vitamins to work various wonders, including:

  • Vitamin C to brighten and smooth the skin, and stimulate production of collagen
  • Vitamin E to help the skin heal itself
  • Vitamin A to help reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

Essential oils may also be used to soothe and warm your skin. Facial massage will help stimulate lymph drainage to encourage the skin to heal itself.


Good for: brightening, cleansing, anti-acne/scarring, anti-wrinkles.

Also referred to as "skin resurfacing". The centrepiece of a micro-dermabrasion facial is an exfoliating blast of tiny particles of sand or crystals to remove dead skin cells and smooth uneven skin. It also stimulates the skin to produce its own collagen and improves lymphatic drainage which will encourage your immune system to heal itself. Because it does not use chemicals, micro-dermabrasion can be a good treatment for people who have sensitive skin.

Japanese facial

This facial aims to soften your skin, boost your circulation and energise you by stimulating the acupressure points on your face and scalp. It is related to shiatsu.

Aromatherapy facial

Good for: cleansing, soothing and softening; relaxing and calming.

An aromatherapy facial tends to be a more holistic treatment than other facials and usually includes some neck, back and scalp massage as well as the facial itself. Essential oils are chosen according to your skin type and how you're feeling; you may feel you want to relax, you may feel you want to be invigorated. An aromatherapy facial should be a sensual experience that will leave you feeling blissful and your skin feeling smooth and clean.

Omega-3 facial

Good for: moisturising, soothing and nourishing, anti-wrinkles.

You might already have come across Omega 3. Fish oils are famous for their health-giving benefits and Omega-3 is the key ingredient. Whilst the prospect of a "fish facial" might not appeal, be reassured that it won't leave you smelling like a haddock! Omega 3 is found in other oils, too, and the products used usually contain a range of natural plant extracts that will actually smell fantastic. This facial claims to nourish, moisturise and plump tired skin, and is popular with older women, as it reduces the appearance of fine lines.

Different brands of facials

There are as many brands of facials as there are brands of product. And each brand usually has at least 3 or 4 facials under its product "umbrella". Examples include:

  • Clarins Pro-active Facials
  • The Eve Lom Facial
  • E'spa Special Lifting & Firming Facial
  • Decleor Facial Therapy facials
  • ...and so so so many more!

Hot tip!

If your skin feels nice afterwards - which it should - make sure you ask your therapist what products she used so that you can buy any that you really liked to use at home.


A good facial will leave you glowing with a sense of how beautiful and renewed/rebalanced/ restored/revitalised you are. You may not look any of those things. You may look a bit greasy, very under-made up, and a bit unkempt (for one thing, your fringe will be sticking up having been swept back during the treatment). Do check yourself in the mirror before you leave.

Courtesy of the Good Spa Guide

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