If you’re someone who suffers from acne, you know the struggle of waking up with a monster zit. There are many factors that contribute to breakouts — from hormonal to environmental — but one of the most surprising is a facial. While facials are catered to different skin types and concerns, board-certified dermatologist Melissa Garshick, MD, says that most include steam, exfoliation, extractions, tailored treatments, masks, and massage. Though the approach may be different, the goal is usually the same — to reveal healthier, brighter, smoother, and clearer skin. However, there is one caveat: Some people say they break out more post-treatment. This can be a real bummer for those already battling blemishes. So, what gives? Here are five common reasons for a post-facial breakout, plus what you should do if this happens to you.
If you have sensitive or acne-prone skin
Dr. Garshick says those who are easily irritated or prone to acne are much more likely to experience a post-facial breakout than others. That’s why it’s extra important to tell your esthetician about your skin struggles before the treatment begins. “Facials in general should be customized to an individual’s skin, and these skin types will want to avoid facials that use mineral oils or products that are comedogenic as this can clog the pores,” she explains. Additionally, fragrance (especially irritating for sensitive skin) can trigger inflammation.
If a blemish is already forming
If you run your fingers across your face and feel little blemishes forming under the skin, you can pretty much guarantee a facial will bring them to a head. As celebrity facialist Graceanne Svendsen, LE, CME explains, any breakouts that are already present below will be tickled to the surface, thanks to advanced stimulation and exfoliation. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just be sure you don’t pick or pop the pimples post-treatment. Leave the extractions to the pros.
If you haven’t had a facial in a long time (or ever)
Facials are sort of like therapy: You have to dig deep to see progress. A good esthetician will spend time massaging, gently prodding, and exfoliating the skin to release all of the sebum, dead skin, and dirt that has been building up in the pores. As board-certified dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, MD, describes it, your skin is purging. “Sometimes, simply by dislodging built-up debris that is clogging the pores, the normal circulatory mechanism of extruding sebum and dead skin cells is restored and can lead to a transient breakout,” she explains.
Too much force
An important note of caution: A facial should never, ever hurt. While extractions — that’s removing a clogged pore or relieving a zit — may feel uncomfortable, you should never experience intense burning or pain. Trying to force out a blemish that hasn’t fully formed will intensify the swelling, prolonging the time it needs to heal, and can even lead to discoloration.
What to do if you get a post-facial breakout
Take a deep breath. Don’t stress if your skin is acting up – after all, that will only make things worse. While you may be tempted to reach for every spot treatment and mask in your medicine cabinet, Dr. Svendsen says to resist the temptation. Because your pores are vulnerable, any intense ingredients can exacerbate inflammation. Instead, go for a “less is more” approach. Try a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen until you’re in the clear, says Dr. Garshick. You may also want to consider going makeup-free for a day or two, so that your pores can breathe and to prevent any bacteria from being passed by makeup brushes. One of the most effective ways to keep breakouts at bay is by keeping your face clean.