When you get a facial, the first thing an aesthetician tells you is that you're going to break out afterwards. It's normal. What's not normal? When the blemishes go through their normal cycle, from reddish bumps to pussed-up postules, but leave behind dark red marks inclined to make any woman cry SCARS. This is what happened to me about a year ago after an hour-long session with a self-employed facialist recommended to me by a friend.
In the weeks following the treatment, I was consistently breaking out on different parts of my face. I had flare-ups ranging from bumps underneath my cheekbones to down the jawline where extractions had been performed.
It was frustrating and scary—and while most of the zits ended up going away, they left behind a patch of marks that just, well, didn't. It took me a long time to pin down exactly what they were, but I eventually came to discover that these were not, in fact, acne scars, but something different: post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation marks. Unlike acne scars, where damage has been done to the texture or inner structure of the skin, this damage was on the surface, which meant that it would be easier to treat. This said, it would be a waiting game regardless.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation typically lasts at least a year, which can feel like a lifetime. However, by using the right products, I've seen a major difference in the appearance of the spots. They're *almost* undetectable thanks to chemical exfoliants, which I should've started using sooner.
When my skin was acting up, the idea of putting chemicals like AHAS (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAS (beta hydroxy acids) on my face seemed high-risk. I didn't want to exacerbate what was already there. But then I learned that moderate amounts of glycolic acid can literally be your best friend, whether you're looking to keep things glow-y on the regular or addressing discoloration. "They dissolve dead skin cells and debris from the skin's surface," explains Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser and Skincare.
Physical exfoliators AKA scrubs? They're more of a toss up. "Physical exfoliators can be a bit scratchy for people to use," explains Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection. "Chemical ones are more controllable in terms of depth of the peel—and they technically are more uniform."
So if you're not using one, get on it. And, get ready to slather on the SPF. For one, you don't want the sun to damage existing dark marks, which could turn them into scars. Then, there's the fact that using chemical exfoliators will make your skin more sensitive to the sun. This whole experience has made me way more diligent when it comes to sun protection, so that's been a blessing disguise.
As for avoiding post-treatment inflammation and damage in the future, I have a couple new philosophies.
1. Always properly vet a facialist. Think of your skin like its your newborn baby. You're not going to let just anyone babysit it. Online reviews are your *best friend*. If you don't check them, things are way more likely to backfire.
2. Know what works and what doesn't for your skin. From different techniques (like extractions) to ingredients (peppermint is not a good idea for everyone!), a one-size-fits-all treatment will not groove with your skin type. Take EXTRA precaution with extractions.
3. Less is more. Now I'm not saying a super-involved facial is a bad idea, but having gone through one myself with negative results, I'm more focused on solid at-home skincare regimen and simpler, sensitive-skin-friendly facials that don't present a risk of permanent damage.
4. Don't go back to a facialist that's already done you wrong. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.