Everything I Learned From My First Facial

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I've always considered myself to be incredibly skincare conscious. From an early age, I understood the importance of sun protection courtesy of my mother (who has a gorgeous epidermis despite a youth spent sunbathing at Manhattan Beach) and observed her steadfast commitment to cleansing, toning and moisturizing daily. I'm also an at-home face mask enthusiast, regularly treating myself to everything from clay to detox to hydrating sheet formulas, so it's not as if I'm completely out of touch with a sound skincare regimen.

Yet when the opportunity came for my first spa experience at an earlier age, I opted for a high-pressure massage to work out stress instead of an indulgent facial. And while I've struggled with breakouts and combination skin for much of my adult life, I repeatedly make this choice whenever spa days arise, which has left me here in my late 20s having never experienced this quintessential beauty treatment.

While some friends admit to fearing facials (these people also have seemingly perfect skin and profess they don't want to mess with a good thing—cue my inner eye-roll), I'm not afraid. I'm just a little embarrassed that I don't know where to start when it comes to booking my inaugural appointment. Steam, exfoliation, extraction, laser, facial masks, peels—the list of options is daunting.

Settling on The Institute at Erno Laszlo for my foray into facials, I start with a perfectly tailored treatment (my aesthetician conducts a thorough questionnaire to learn my skin history and habits), which includes microdermabrasion, a massage with steam, allover extractions, a high frequency treatment to kill bacteria, oxygen infusion, a Hydra Therapy Skin Vitality Mask to hydrate and soothe, and LED therapy. For a beginner, it seems like a lot at once, but the process is seamless and what I learn as a result is invaluable. Though my skin has never been horrendous, it's seen its ups and downs, and while I'm religious about cleansing, I instantly realize how the majority of my skincare intuitions are downright wrong.

"I instantly realize how the majority of my skincare intuitions are downright wrong."

Mia Fit

$189

Clarisonic

Pep-Start 2-in-1 Exfoliating Cleanser

$20

Clinique

Deep Pore Daily Cleanser

$27

Clarisonic

Purifying Face Cleanser

$28

Tula

Severe Dehydration

Lesson number one: My skin is astonishingly parched. Why? Because for fear of breaking out, I always figure it best to skip on night creams, relying solely on my go-to oil-free formula with SPF each morning. Wrong. While I'm not incorrect to favor oil-free and SPF, I've been missing out on the crucial restorative benefits of nightly hydration, resulting in severely dry skin (we're talking layers deep) and visible dry spots that occasionally even flake while still breaking out. Also, I never drink enough water during the day, which is a culprit unto itself.

Congestion Vs. Acne

Lesson number two: I have congested skin, not acne. Because I've never had professional extraction, my pores are severely clogged. My cheeks, jawline and chin are congested too—likely as a result of heavy makeup that has restricted my skin's ability to breathe during the day. I've never suffered from severe acne (I had a fairly pristine canvas as a teenager), but I regularly see breakouts in said areas, so it makes sense to hear that I'm not treating the issue correctly.

Professional Help

Lesson three: Seeking professional treatment on the regular will likely solve many of my woes. It's a savvy up-sell, but I'm buying. The fact that I haven't dipped my toe into the facial realm before is likely the reason my skin acts out so often. Having never experienced the benefits of expert care (regular extractions, deep hydration and soothing treatments), how was I to know that a biweekly or even monthly appointment could result in a markedly clearer complexion?

Phormula 3-9 Repair Cream

$275

Erno Laszlo

Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar

$45

Erno Laszlo

Phelityl Pre-Cleansing Oil

$55

Erno Laszlo

Hydraphel Skin Supplement Lotion

$55

Erno Laszlo

As I depart, exhilarated by the experience and with a sampling of products to execute an inspiring new routine (including a pre-cleansing oil, deep mud cleansing bar and a series of morning and evening toners and creams), I can't wait to see how my improved sense of skin self will play out.

I excitedly use each sample for the next week, following the instructions to the letter. While I was warned of some prolonged redness and a few extra breakouts from the deep poking and prodding, my skin appears to be rejuvenated and exhibiting a glow (one I haven't quite seen before). As a few more weeks go by, I get a bit lazier with the products and pare back to the basics of cleansing and moisturizing twice a day—also in part because I feel like my skin is becoming oiler as a result of all the new lotions and serums.

Oil-Free Moisture Facial Moisturizer SPF 35

$11

Neutrogena

Vinosource Moisturizing Sorbet

$39

Caudalie

Tsubaki Glotion

$38

Boscia

Hydrating Day & Night Cream

$52

Tula

A few weeks later I indulge in a second facial—the Caudalie Vinosource Facial at The Vinothérapie Spa in The Plaza Hotel. I'm eager to relive the relaxing and luxurious qualities of the first service but I also want to find out if my skin has improved. I'm not showing as much congestion in my trouble zones, but I'm still experiencing sporadic breakouts, clogged pores and dry patches (likely because I gave up some of the overnight moisturizers). I'm told by my second aesthetician that I need to be using a lighter hydrating formula that caters to sensitive skin or a lightweight serum under my makeup—one that deeply hydrates without oversaturating. She agrees I should adhere to an overnight treatment to avoid drying out.

Deep Brightening Serum

$185

Tatcha

Vinosource Overnight Recovery Oil

$52

Caudalie

Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II

$92

Estée Lauder

Moisture Surge Extended Thirst Relief

$39

Clinique

I continue switching out a few moisturizers and serums over the next few weeks, and today my skin is visibly radiant and void of dry patches. While a few pimples continue to form every so often, I've noticed that much of the congestion has cleared and the deeper layers of my skin seem to be surfacing with far fewer bumps and blackheads. While I didn’t expect to learn that a souped-up hydrating regime would solve most of my imperfections, I did expect an addiction for facials to form, and it has.

Going forward, I'm aiming to book a facial appointment every other month at minimum while continuing an at-home mask series in between. I can say I'm now a true believer. I understand the importance of professional assistance to rid skin of deeper impurities that a dedicated cleansing routine can't quite tackle. And I know that depriving my skin of oils altogether is not going to achieve my goal of a breakout-free existence.