Facials may help reduce the symptoms of acne in mild cases, but they can sometimes make this skin condition worse.
A facial is a beauty procedure that involves a variety of treatments to clean the skin on the face and improve its appearance. People can get a facial from a skin care professional or try doing one at home.
In this article, we look at whether and how facials might help acne. We also discuss the possible risks.
The safety and effectiveness of facials for acne depend on a range of factors, including:
- how harsh the facial is and the likelihood of it irritating the skin
- severity and type of acne
- skin type
- other products and medications that the person is using
- whether it is a professional or at-home facial
- the quality of the ingredients
Acne facials are typically safe for people with small, nonpainful, white or black pimples and unsafe for people with numerous red and painful sores.
People with mild, noninflammatory acne may receive some benefit from the occasional gentle facial.
It is important to note that facials cannot cure acne and that most provide only minor, temporary results.
Most acne facials claim to reduce acne symptoms by:
- cleansing the skin to remove impurities, debris, and oil
- unclogging pores using exfoliation, which is the removal of dead skin cells
- reducing oil production and inflammation of the skin
- reducing irritation
- killing acne-causing bacteria
- improving skin hydration
Professional acne facials may involve chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and light therapy. Although many at-home versions of these products and devices exist, their effectiveness and safety are uncertain.
A skin care professional, ideally a dermatologist, can also remove whiteheads, blackheads, cysts, and nodules using manual extraction techniques. Estheticians may also be able to extract minor acne lesions.
What to expect from an acne facial will depend on whether a person is getting the facial from a skin care professional or performing it themselves at home.
Professional facials generally involve the following:
- cleansing the skin
- exposing the skin to steam or applying warm towels
- exfoliation using scrubs, microdermabrasion, or chemical peels
- LED light therapy treatment or laser therapy
- extraction of whiteheads and blackheads
- massaging the skin
- applying facial masks
- applying facial serums and moisturizers with antioxidants or active enzymes
Most professional facials cost between $75 and $200 and take about 1 hour.
Acne facials should exclude steps or procedures that can further irritate the skin and worsen symptoms, including microdermabrasion, scrubs, and massage.
To reduce the risk of side effects, only dermatologists or highly skilled or licensed estheticians should perform extractions, chemical peels, or light therapies. Dermatologists usually use much stronger products, such as chemical peels and lasers, than estheticians.
Factors to ask potential skin care professionals about include:
- training or license (dermatologists are board certified with the American Association of Dermatology, and estheticians need to become licensed through their state’s Board of Cosmetology or health department)
- experience level
- evidence of success treating other people
- previous history of professional services
Many over-the-counter or do-it-yourself (DIY) topical acne formulas require a person to apply them directly to cleansed, toned skin and leave them on for 10–20 minutes. Some products or recipes also recommend using steam baths to help open the pores before application.
Acne products can contain ingredients or techniques that may not be safe or beneficial in certain circumstances. Therefore, people should take precautions before purchasing, creating, or using at-home facials to reduce the risk of side effects. Common considerations include:
- type or stage of acne
- current medications
- skin type
- treatment goals
- other medical conditions
People with moderate-to-severe acne should seek help from a dermatologist to find safe, effective products or treatments. Acne facials should not include physically irritating treatments or procedures.
It is important to carry out a patch test before using any product on the face in case it causes side effects.
The following is an example of an at-home facial procedure:
- Cleanse the skin using a gentle cleanser that is soap- and alcohol-free and has a pH similar to that of the skin (5.5). Cleansers with salicylic acid may help unclog pores, but they can irritate the skin. The cleanser should also be noncomedogenic, meaning that it contains neither pore-clogging ingredients nor any artificial colors, fragrances, or foaming agents.
- Steam the skin for a few minutes to open the pores by placing the face over hot water or applying warm cloths to it. Be careful not to burn or scald the skin.
- Use a chemical peel product containing exfoliants such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids. Gently rub it into the skin in circular motions for about 30 seconds or as the label instructs. Rinse it off with lukewarm water.
- Apply a face mask, either purchased or DIY, and leave it on the skin for the recommended amount of time (often 10–20 minutes) before gently rinsing it off with lukewarm water. People with acne should avoid some types of masks, such as sheet masks, and certain mask ingredients. These include artificial dyes and fragrances, parabens, phthalate esters, alcohols, propylene glycol, diethanolamine, benzalkonium chloride, diazolidinyl urea, and formaldehyde.
- Moisturize the skin with a noncomedogenic, hypoallergenic, oil-in-water emulsion, or hydrogel product. Moisturizers with retinol or retinyl palmitate may also be beneficial for mild acne. Many natural ingredients, such as glycerin, shea butter, jojoba oil, and marula oil, are also excellent moisturizers.
People can combine a wide range of natural ingredients and extracts to make facial cleansers, masks, and moisturizers for acne-prone skin. Some of the most popular and studied at-home acne ingredients include:
- tea tree oil
- green tea
- lemon juice and peel
- walnut oil or powder
- green clay
- aloe vera
- allantoin, lactic acid, and citric acid
- shea butter
- jojoba, marula, safflower, and sunflower oils
- basil oil
- rose water
To perform a DIY lemon facial:
- Cleanse the skin and rinse with lukewarm water.
- Cut one lemon in half and squeeze out the juice into a small bowl.
- Peel the lemon half, cut the peel into smaller pieces, and press them through a garlic press over the same bowl, extracting the peel’s natural oils.
- Mix the lemon juice and oils. Use a cotton ball or pad to absorb some of the mixture and dab it gently onto affected areas of the skin.
- Allow the mixture to sit on the face until it is dry or 5–10 minutes have passed — whichever occurs first. Wash it off immediately if it causes irritation.
- Gently rinse off the mixture with lukewarm water.
- Apply a moisturizer and, if necessary, sun protection.
People can also make another simple DIY acne facial mask by applying an equal mixture of honey and fresh aloe gel (about a tablespoon in total) to cleansed skin. They should rinse this off with lukewarm water once it has dried or after about 15 minutes.
If this mask is effective and well-tolerated, people can try adding a drop or two of tea tree oil or half a teaspoon of dried, ground turmeric or green tea leaves to the mixture. It may also be beneficial to add 5–6 drops of jojoba, sunflower, or safflower oil to any good moisturizer.
Acne facials carry certain risks, especially for people with moderate-to-severe or inflammatory acne. Side effects may include:
- allergic reactions
- increased skin sensitivity, especially to sunlight
- infection due to spoiled or impure ingredients
Aside from offering minor, temporary results, it is unclear whether facials for acne are beneficial. Some ingredients and procedures may worsen symptoms. For this reason, people with inflammatory or severe acne should consult a dermatologist before getting a facial.
Although they are not a cure, facials are often safe for people with mild, noninflammatory acne. However, it is important to choose an experienced skin care professional or use gentle at-home products.