Despite knowing many women who swear by facial extractions, I've always shied away from them. I don't exactly have the highest threshold for pain, and knowing that a facialist would be meticulously squeezing the gunk out of my face gives me chills. Also: Horror stories travel fast.
However, as someone willing to go to great lengths for clear skin, I kind of have no excuse. And with spring just around the bend, I decided it was the perfect time to man up and book a proper big-girl facial.
Since extractions are a decidedly delicate matter, I did my homework and ended up in the most capable of hands: Yaffa Rabe, a master esthetician and skin specialist at Dorit Baxter Day Spa, who firmly believes that extractions are the secret to a glowing complexion, but only if they're performed by a professional.
"The skin is filled with oil that's trapped in the pores—it's not up to you to extract it," she explains. "We're supposed to nurse our skin, not be the doctor of our skin. When you look in the mirror you see the depth of the oil and you're not trained to remove it. You could be causing damage that takes months to repair or does not repair at all."
After cleaning my face, Rabe began by massaging it with an aromatic herbal cream to release tension and improve circulation. Next, to prepare for the extractions, she steamed my face—first on its own for seven minutes, then for another seven minutes with a warm herbal paste. The elixer is made of chamomile, lavender, and flax seeds, which work together to calm the skin, withdraw oil, and remove dead layers of skin without exfoliation or harsh ingredients.
Next up was the extractions...and upon first impact, it was painful. Like ouch-worthy painful, but nowhere near as bad as I had built it up to be in my head. In fact, it was an infectious kind of release.
What surprised me most was that Rabe had no metal tools in her arsenal, and simply used gloved fingers and tissues. While squeezing out my face with utter precision, she explained that she was targeting my problem areas: T-zone, nose, chin, and random spots along my cheeks. For the sake of journalism, I asked to see what was actually being extracted from my skin—there was oil dissolved into the tissue, and every now and then a whitehead so large I could see it clear as day. Gross.
For the finishing touches, Rabe smoothed a sweet-smelling toner onto my face, washed it, then applied an all-natural moisturizer. When I looked in the mirror, I was pleasantly surprised to find only minimal irritations where the extractions had been performed. Not to mention, my skin looked at least 50% clearer.
As the hours went on, there was less and less irritation and by the next morning, my face was almost completely clear aside from some redness. In fact, I even went to work completely bare-faced aside from some quick slashes of eyeliner. In addition to how glowy my skin looked, it felt so soft and supple I was tempted to touch it throughout the day (so bad, I know). Full disclosure: I also couldn't stop checking myself out every time a mirror or reflection was in sight. I was officially a believer.
1) Extractions are amazing, but best performed by hand. Aside from the comfort of knowing there's nothing pointy or made of stainless steel prying at your face, it's safer and leaves your skin with far less irritation post-treatment.
"When you work with your hands, they have feelings," says Rabe. "I know exactly where I'm going and how much pressure I'm putting in the area. When you're using a tool, it's a hard instrument that doesn't have any feeling."
2) Exfoliating can be your worst enemy. When Rabe examined my face under a magnifying glass, she noted that I'd been over-exfoliating my skin and damaging it in the process. To properly nurse the face, she advises washing it twice a day with a cleanser and toner, but with formulas that aren't acidic. Skin products that contain Vitamin C or alpha hydroxy can thin out the protective layers of skin over time. As far as exfoliation goes, you only need to do it once every 10 days.
3) Moisture is everything. This one was a biggie for me because I totally thought I was scraping by just fine moisture-wise. Alas, Rabe broke it down for me simply: Skin needs to be fed regularly just like our stomachs do. If you skip a meal, your skin is left hungry, and it shows inside and out. So, bare minimum, we should all be moisturizing AT LEAST twice a day. Let every stomach growl be your reminder.
4) Facials are necessary on a semi-regular basis. At least for anyone who wants to keep their skin in tip-top shape. Rabe advises visiting a skincare specialist for a facial four times every year to cover the seasons.
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