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Monday, October 6, 2014

What to expect in a facial treatment

My Chicago office lobby—now under new ownership
Here are a few explanations of what you might expect when you have a professional facial. This is a mixture of my own experiences of having facials along with what I offer my clients. Your experience will differ here and there. This is just meant to be a general indication of what to look for and expect. 

Entering the salon. Is it clean or in disarray? Is it comfortable and inviting? Would you want to come back to this environment on a regular basis? 

The greeting. Are you greeted within a reasonable time or are you wandering around waiting to be helped? Is the staff friendly or uninterested? It never ceases to amaze me how few businesses understand the concept of the first impression. It is important, and your initial perception of a place will usually be accurate. 

Yes, that’s me—in my mid-40s
The aesthetician. The first thing you want to look at is the skin of the person about to give you a facial. It’s not a good sign if she has an excessive amount of breakout. Remember, this is the person about to advise you on how to take care of your skin. Is she wearing a lot of makeup? How can you see her skin if it’s covered up? She should not have nails, and no fingernail polish. Don’t forget her hands are going to be on your face; nails are a definite no-no. Don’t be fooled by a white lab coat. It may give you the impression of a medical environment, but it’s really just a white jacket worn over clothes. Lab coats are regulation in a hospital or doctor’s office, but they are merely a facade in a salon.

Changing clothes. You will either change in the facial room itself or in a designated dressing room. Either way, you will be left alone to put on a smock that usually is knee-length and leaves your shoulders bare. A gentleman will either take off his shirt and leave his own pants on, or the aesthetician will provide him with gym shorts to change into. 

The room. Facial rooms range from small to tiny. Don’t expect a lot of space. I have been in facial rooms that barely allowed for the aesthetician to sit at the head of the facial chair. Most have a sink and a counter for products. Trolleys on rollers are often used to hold supplies within easy access of the technician. The room should be clean and orderly without a lot of clutter. Sometimes there are candles lit for atmosphere and licenses hanging on the walls. Since you are going to be lying down with your eyes closed for most of the treatment, as long as the room is clean, not much else matters.

The chair. Facial chairs vary in size, shape, and design. Although termed chairs, they are actually beds that you lie on in order to receive the facial treatment. Many look like upright chairs at first. Then as you sit down, the chair is unfolded into a bed and you are then lying down.

Hopefully the chair will be comfortable; unfortunately not all are. If it isn’t, you may be forced to find another salon. Don’t forget, you’ll be lying in this chair for at least one hour, which might become excruciating if you’re not comfortable. If you think something can be done to make it more comfortable (using a rolled-up towel under your knees, for instance), make your requests known. The aesthetician can’t read your mind, so don’t be shy about communicating your needs. How accommodating she is will tell you a lot. 

Preparing you, the client. You will climb into the facial chair, which will be covered with sheets and a blanket or two. I’m very cold-natured, so no matter how many layers are offered, I usually need an additional blanket. I have a heated mattress pad on my facial chair that I use all year round. Don’t hesitate to ask for more warmth, or for the blankets to be removed if you’re too hot. The key is for you to be comfortable. Remember, you’re paying for this. Also note that it’s a good idea before climbing into the chair and starting an hour-long treatment to use the bathroom, so you won’t have to get up in the middle of the facial.

Music. Sound is unfortunately disregarded by a lot of salons, yet music is very important to the overall mood of the room. Some places have individual iPods or CD players for each room; others have music piped in from a central location. Some salons I’ve been to had either no music or a radio on instead. Calm, soothing music can help you nod off or at least feel relaxed. A lack of background noise makes you focus on all the little sounds the aesthetician is making, including her breathing. And a radio, unless requested by the client, has no place in a facial. If you find there isn’t music in the room where you’re having a facial, request some and see what happens. Maybe they just forgot to turn it on. 

Ask questions. I have a client who went to get facials for over ten years with one particular aesthetician. My client never knew what product was being used on her skin and the aesthetician never talked to her about home-care products or even skin care in general. I frequently hear about aestheticians who are not terribly responsible as far as helping clients with their skin. Although it really is the aesthetician’s job to explain things to you, I also feel it is up to you to ask questions if you feel unsure about what is being done in the facial as well as what your at-home program should be.

In case the aesthetician you go to doesn’t volunteer much information, here are some good questions to ask that will help you determine (a) things about your skin and (b) if she is knowledgeable and qualified in her field.
  • How would you classify my skin? Or, what is my skin type?
  • Is my skin clean? Are my pores congested?
  • Am I dehydrated?
  • Do you see sun damage? Capillary damage?
  • Do you see any unusual moles?
  • Is there anything I’m not doing I should be doing? Or vice versa?
  • Tell me about the products you use. What makes them so special?
  • What should my basic, daily skin care routine consist of?
I feel that during your first facial, the aesthetician should explain what is being done, why it’s being done, and what it will do for your skin. In my own experience of getting facials and in my clients’ experiences, this is rarely done. I recommend telling the aesthetician you are very interested in what she is doing and asking if she would please explain each step as she goes so you can have a better understanding of her facial procedures. If she describes what she’s doing but not why, ask questions. If what she says doesn’t make sense, ask if she can explain it in a different way. A good aesthetician will be able to communicate with you without using a lot of skin care jargon. Keep in mind, this isn’t rocket science—something a lot of aestheticians in white lab coats may want you to believe.

When looking for an aesthetician, you’ll want to find someone with a point of view similar to your own. If you haven’t really formulated a viewpoint on skin care, look for someone who says things that make sense to you—common sense. Unfortunately, using verbose, aesthetic, or pseudo-medical terminology seems to be a popular way to communicate with clients. If you don’t understand what your aesthetician is talking about, ask questions. Her job is not to make you feel inferior or stupid for being inquisitive, but to help you understand your skin.

All the questions are really just to get you familiar with the procedure and with the person giving you the treatment. After the first facial, most of your questions will have been answered, and in subsequent treatments you can lie there in silence while the facial is being performed. And some of you may simply want to enjoy your facial (even the first one) and not ask any questions. In either case, just lie back, enjoy, and reap the benefits of a relaxing facial.

A word about spas. At the beginning of my career, I worked in a spa for nearly seven years, and I am familiar with how they operate. Don’t be fooled or convinced of the quality of a facility merely by their advertisements. The physical structure alone does not make a spa great. It is the people working there that will have the biggest impact on you and will make the biggest difference in the quality of your experience. A spa may hold on to a good review or reputation for years, long after the staff that made it great has left.

Many of my clients have frequented spas here in the U.S. as well as traveled to spas all over the world. Sometimes they’re great; sometimes they are a disappointment. Both experiences will cost you the same. Although I’m not going into detail on how to choose a spa, one important piece of advice would be to ask a lot of questions. Call first and get the lowdown on the staff and what treatments are offered. It will be hit or miss as to getting good treatments, but at least you can go in knowing what products they use in their facial and body treatments and how long the staff has been there. Personal experience, as always, will be your greatest teacher. Just like finding a good facial, a referral will go a long way in helping you choose a good spa.

For more information on facials, see these articles: