Post-facial irritation: Why it happens and what you should do about it according to a Singaporean dermatologist
For some of us, the notion that things are worse before they get better is a comforting one. It is a sentiment we hold when it comes to climate change, disappointing sequels in movie trilogies, and the dreaded aftermath of many a facial involving extractions. You know the one: the red, irritable, and highly sensitised complexion on the brink of a breakout — a form of 'complexion-purging', aka the popular belief that it is your skin's natural response to the exacerbation and expulsion of clogged pores and pimples. While it is not an affliction that strikes everyone, it is a common enough occurrence that the affected have shrugged it off as a 'normal' response to facials.
Be that as it may, us beauty journalists are skeptical. Is it truly no pain, no gain when it comes to our precious moneymakers? At what point does it become a problem rather than the predicted outcome of a treatment? If the thought has crossed your mind once or twice, you've come to the right place.
Is post-facial irritation "real"?
Unfortunately, yes. "Breakouts and skin redness are often expected if the facial involves extractions," explains Dr Liew Hui Min, dermatologist and founder of HM Liew Skin & Laser Clinic. "Those with sensitive skin might experience pimple outbreaks that lead to scarring." Dr Sejal Shah of SmarterSkin Dermatology agrees, pointing out in an interview with The Zoe Report that whiteheads, blackheads, pustules, papules, and cysts may form too.
What causes post-facial irritation?
"Facials stimulate the skin and turn it on," explains Sharon Holtz, spa director of Terranea Resort in an interview with Self. "The skin's response is to function, and that's healthy." Most of the time, effects fade within one to two days. Anything that lasts beyond that, however, can attributed to pores that are not completely cleared out during extractions. "If the pore is not completely cleared during extractions, you may notice an acne flare after the facial as the residual contents come to the surface naturally," Dr Shah explains. Other common offenders also include chemical exfoliators like hydroxy acids as well as anti-ageing heavy-hitters like retinol as they accelerate skin's cellular turnover rate. This speeds up all natural processes, including the emergence of pimples, pustules, and so on. "In some situations, the facial products used can cause irritation as well," Dr Liew adds. "When exfoliators within the product are too harsh or too rich, they can cause blocked pores. Most of the time, I find that it is due to forceful techniques used during the extraction process."
Are there facials that increase the likelihood of post-facial irritations?
Anything involving retinoids and hydroxyl acids, as mentioned above, alongside treatments that comprise exfoliants, chemical peels, and benzoyl peroxide. Those suffering from skin conditions such as eczema, acne, sensitive skin, and such are also at a higher risk when it comes to experiencing post-facial irritation.
What can be done to avoid a reaction?
As with all facials, be sure to inform your esthetician if you're on any prescription medication, whether it is pills or topicals. It is widely known that isotretinoin and steroid creams, for instance, can make skin more prone to scarring from extractions.
How long should skin take to "recover" from the effects of a facial?
"Post-facial skin redness and irritation should not last more than 24 hours," says Dr Liew. "If it does, this is an indicator that your skin has developed either an irritant or contact dermatitis."
Should post-facial irritation be expected after facials?
The general consensus: while it not uncommon, that doesn't make it normal, either. No matter how sensitive your complexion, it is agreed by most skincare professionals that experiencing extreme irritation for more than a day post-facial is definitely a cause for concern.
What should you do if you're experiencing post-facial irritation?
"I recommend using a gentle face wash and moisturiser to keep skin hydrated for a couple of days," Dr Liew instructs. "Avoid excessive sun exposure and use sunscreen. If you use anti-ageing products, or are on prescription anti-acne topical medications, stop using them after the facial. Resume your normal skin care routine once your skin irritation has settled down. If it does not improve after 48 hours, then it is advisable to seek medical advice from a dermatologist."