For most people, getting a facial treatment can be a soothing, relaxing way to address some of the most common skin concerns, like acne or signs of aging. But for those with sensitive skin, a facial is a minefield of potential irritation, allergens, and discomfort.
But yes, you can get a facial even if you have sensitive skin—and you might even enjoy it! To make sure that happens, though, you need to do a little extra homework. Here are our experts’ top tips on navigating facial treatments when you have sensitive skin.
1. Get recommendations from a dermatologist.
If you’re not sure where to go for a facial that’s good for sensitive skin, ask your dermatologist for recommendations, Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. “Have a good discussion with them about who they trust and what products you should or should not be using,” she says.
In some cases, your dermatologist may work directly with estheticians or, depending on your exact situation, may prefer to do a treatment for you in their own office instead.
2. Find out which products will be used during the facial treatment.
Once you’ve narrowed down your options, it’s a good idea to do some research ahead of time to see what types of products the facial treatment includes, Nada Elbuluk, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology (clinician educator), Keck School of Medicine of USC, tells SELF.
Certain products, like strong exfoliating acids, may be too harsh for sensitive skin, she says. And looking ahead gives you the opportunity to look out for potential red flags, like fragrances or other ingredients you might know you’re sensitive to.
3. Let your facialist know you have sensitive skin.
If you have sensitive skin, our experts say it’s crucial to give your facialist a heads up. That way they can tailor the experience to your skin type and know that they should be on the lookout for any potential signs of irritation. “Ask for hypoallergenic products,” Dr. Stevenson says, “and pretty much insist on it.”
4. Tell your facialist what your current skin-care regimen is like.
Even if you don’t have sensitive skin, some type of skin-care products can make your skin more sensitive than it is normally—especially any prescription retinoids you may be using, Dr. Elbuluk says. It’s also a good idea to let them know if you’re prone to acne or hyperpigmentation, she says, as this will help guide their treatment.
5. Figure out your goals for the treatment—and tell your facialist.
Yes, there’s a theme here: Being in communication with your facialist is one of the most important things you can do to ensure you have a good experience, Dr. Stevenson says. Tell your facialist if you want to leave your appointment feeling hydrated and glowy or just relaxed. They can help figure out a treatment that will accomplish your goals (or get as close as possible) without causing unnecessary irritation. “For sensitive skin, you want to leave feeling less irritated and more soothed,” Dr. Stevenson says, like the way you feel after using a sheet mask at home.
6. Avoid extractions and harsh exfoliating treatments.
Extractions and exfoliating treatments are likely to cause irritation and can leave you with hyperpigmentation if not done correctly, Dr. Elbuluk says. It’s important to avoid these types of treatments and work with your facialist to find alternatives, if appropriate. If you’re interested in a peel, for instance, your facialist might use a lower concentration of the exfoliating ingredient or use a gentler ingredient altogether.
7. Opt for hydrating, soothing treatments instead.
In general, sensitive skin is better suited to facial treatments that are billed as being hydrating, calming, or soothing rather than those promising exfoliating or antiaging benefits, Dr. Stevenson says. In particular, those with sensitive skin might find treatments including hyaluronic acid, mandelic acid, and red or blue LED light treatments to be beneficial, she says.
8. If something feels wrong, speak up.
When you’re applying products to your own face, your first clue that something isn’t right may be redness. But when you’re getting a facial, you’ll likely need to rely on the way things feel more than the way they look, Dr. Elbuluk says.
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