Are Expensive Facials Better?

How to tell what’s good for the skin and what’s a waste of money.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 20, 2008
2 min read

Mary Sgammato relaxed in a darkened room at a Manhattan day spa, about toenjoy a luxurious facial. The aesthetician entered the room and began, but theninjected a touch of the stress Sgammato had come to escape. “She noticed thefine lines on my forehead and said the oxygen facial would get rid of them,”says Sgammato, 53, an editorial manager for a professional services firm wholives in Tarrytown, N.Y. She had planned on a basic facial, which was $70cheaper. “I had to make a quick decision, but I had no way of knowing if theoxygen facial was worth the money.”

Sound familiar? Facials are a wonderful indulgence, but day spas offer adizzying array of techniques and exotic ingredients promising dramatic effects.How do you decipher which are good for your skin and which are a waste?

Keep in mind a few key treatments and you’ll be set, says Jessie Cheung, MD,assistant professor of dermatology and associate director of cosmeticdermatology at NYU Medical Center. For example, alpha and beta hydroxy chemicalpeels offer medical benefits and are among the treatments worth the cost, buteach has different benefits. “A common beta hydroxy is salicylic acid, whichgets into the oil glands and is very good for someone with acne-prone skin,”she says. Alpha hydroxy acids are good exfoliators and beneficial for olderskin that has lost radiance.

Galvanic facials, which involve electrically stimulating the skin with ahandheld device, are another good value. Electric currents enable moisturizersand serums to penetrate the skin more deeply. “Anything that helps products getinto your skin will help them work better,” Cheung says. She also advisesfacials that include retinoic acid, which helps slough off older skin cells,build collagen, and reduce the signs of aging. But you’ll need a treatmentevery four to six weeks to see results.

What should you pass on? Oxygen facials, while popular with celebrities forsupposedly hydrating and immediately smoothing and plumping the skin, aren’tworth the extra cash. Cheung says no clinical studies demonstrate theireffectiveness.

And treatments containing products you’d normally wear as jewelry -- gold,diamonds, and sapphires? You can pass on those too. They don’t do a thing foryour skin.

In the end, Sgammato skipped the oxygen treatment and went with the basicfacial after all. “My skin looked great, and I saved $70. I used the money Imight have spent to have dinner with a friend when I was done.”

Want to know how to get the most out of your facial dollars?

Get a good start. A high-quality spa will give you a questionnaireabout your skin care and medical conditions.

Organics aren’t for everyone. Organic facial products are popular,but many people are allergic to plant oils. Speak up if you have a history ofsensitivity to any plants.

Easy does it. Extractions are a good way to rid your skin ofblackheads -- not whiteheads -- but don’t let the aesthetician go too deep. Agood practitioner will back away from anything not coming out easily.