For almost as long as we’ve had pores, we’ve been steaming, sloughing, and moisturizing the hell out of them. Terrifying DIY treatments, like a homemade lead face cream, date all the way back to the ancient Greeks, but the pursuit of pore perfection made its way to salons by the early 1900s, when women would book radium-infused mask treatments that promised smoother skin.
Our understanding of skincare ingredients and technique has come a long way since then, but our obsession with perfect skin hasn’t waned a bit. It’s easier than ever to tend to our skin at home, if our overflowing bathroom cabinets are any indication (turns out, they are: the global skin care products market is expected to reach $196 billion by 2024, up from $129 billion in 2015). So, do we really need to seek professional help for our skin, or can we throw on some zit cream and an Instagram filter and call it a day?
Well, it depends.
If you’ve got problematic skin — acne, congestion, rosacea, or pigmentation issues — a professional facial is the way to go, says Dr. Leslie Baumann, a Dermatologist and founder of the Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami, Florida. “The practitioner is specially trained to treat these conditions.” A professional, unlike the face wash aisle of Rite Aid, is also specially trained to see those conditions in the first place. “One of the most important components of a professional facial is the ability to closely examine the skin with a magnifying glass,” Dr. Baumann says. “The diagnostic process and the matching [a skin issue] to products is the key.”
Just as plugging your cold symptoms into WebMD and self-diagnosing yourself with hypothermia and rabies won’t effectively treat your sore throat, self-diagnosing your skin won’t lead you to the right combination of products that’ll address your skin concerns. “When someone self-diagnoses at home they run the risk of using lower-quality products or products not made for their specific skin type,” says Dr. Baumann.
Ildi Pekar, the celebrity facialist behind Miranda Kerr’s glowing skin, sees it all the time at her practice in New York City. “We have dealt with clients who try to fix a problem themselves only to make the skin concern much worse and delay the healing process.” If you think you’ve already got a handle on what works for you, you may be in for a surprise during your appointment. “80 percent of people misdiagnose their own skin type,” says Dr. Baumann.
Which is why even those of us with relatively problem-free skin could benefit from an occasional session with a pro to be sure our daily routine is working with our skin, not against it. “When you receive a facial here, we discuss everything that could be affecting your skin, including diet and stress,” Pekar says. “We experiment [with] different ways to combat [any issues],” she says. “You are investing in the experience, the knowledge, [and] the physical touch of the skin healer.”
There’s also the relaxation factor of a facial massage — not to mention perks like increased circulation. “Facial massage is like coffee for the skin,” makeup artist Gucci Westman told the Wall Street Journal (Westman swears by face rubs when she’s prepping models for a runway show).
If you don’t have an underlying skin condition you want to address professionally, then whether you want to shell out cash for a pore rub-down and an hour of relaxation is a personal call, according to Dr. Baumann. If you’d rather opt out, make sure you stick to only basic skincare at home — don’t attempt to go through the steps of a professional facial at your bathroom sink. DIY extractions are an especially big no-no, says Dr. Baumann, satisfying as it may be to pick at your pores in a magnifying mirror. “If you put pressure on the clogged pores at the wrong angle, you can force the dead skin, bacteria, and debris deeper into the skin causing a pimple, cyst or a scar,” she warns.
At-home masks are a safer bet if you know what ingredients you need, says Pekar. “I’m a big believer in using masks with natural, active ingredients that are organic.”
Will you yell out “I wish I had smaller pores!” on your deathbed if you never get a professional facial? Probably not. But if your products aren’t working as well as they used to or your skin is going through a particularly angry phase, a session with a pro might be a better use of $100 than buying more jars of lotions and potions based on marketing claims on their labels.