Truth circle time. [Whispers timidly] I’m not really a facial person. Don’t get me wrong, I get facials—probably more often than most folks—but like them? Eagerly look forward to them? Jot them in my calendar with hearts and stars? Eh, not really. They’re kind of the upper body equivalent of a pap smear. Some visits turn out quick and smooth, some visits sprinkled with a bit of mental anguish (“Why oh why did I come here?”). I’ve been burned before in the literal sense, so my relationship to facials is, shall we say, complicated?
And one more thing—I’m Black! Love it, been doing it since birth. Unfortunately, not everyone I encounter in the beauty world takes this into account. Black hair, Black makeup, Black skin…all require a level of familiarity and expertise, and if you go to a professional lacking in either? You could be headed toward catastrophe. Especially when it comes to skin. The wrong laser can lead to scarring. A heavy-handed aesthetician can sensitize your face. What you need (besides a highly skilled facialist) is a little guide to make your next facial go on a little more smoothly. And look right here—that’s exactly what I’ve put together below.
What’s your condition?
Maybe your skin is perfectly normal without a care in the world. Congratulations, why are you getting a facial? The rest of us have issues: oiliness, dryness, bumpy pimply skin. And then there’s the stuff more common with darker, melanin-rich skin tones. Like hyperpigmentation—heard of it? It’s when certain areas of your skin darken after some sort of trauma (acne, abrasions, you name it), and it disproportionately affects darker skin. Harsh skincare, improper pimple-popping, and inadequate SPF use can all make you catch a case of it. Also common? Melasma, a specific kind of hyperpigmentation that shows up in larger patches on your skin; eczema, the itchy skin condition that is the second most common skin ailment for African Americans (only second to acne); seborrheic dermatitis, a flaky skin syndrome in which yours truly is intimately familiar; keloids, which is dermatology-speak for big raised scars; and razors bumps.
Your aesthetician’s job is to properly identify what’s mucking up your skin, and to follow up with an appropriate treatment. But there’s a chance they could get it wrong. Why? Because these conditions manifest differently, depending on your skin tone. On lighter skin, eczema can appear red and flaky—on darker skin, less so (it can look more purpley-brown). The same goes for keloids, seborrheic dermatitis, and melasma. And then there are razor bumps. Don’t let your facialist treat it like acne—it’s different! Those little pimple-imposters require a different set of tools.
Gentle is key
The skin conditions mentioned above? All accerbated by tough beauty products and treatments. If you’re going to a new facialist, it’s better to have them play it safe…and nice. Even if your skin is the picture of perfection, darker skin is more prone to scarring when introduced to aggressive formulas and treatments. Only after you’re feeling good and not-irritated after your first session, should you up the ante and go for something a bit more active.
So, what sort of treatment are you going for?
If it’s extractions…
Proceed with caution—noticing a theme here? Pimple extractions are tricky to begin with, and to add a shaky aesthetician into the mix? Oh boy. Then you might get hit with scarring and hyperpigmentation. One fix is to save extractions for visit two, after you’ve developed a sense of trust and familiarity with your aesthetician. But extractions are really the small potatoes of skin treatments. The thing you really need to look out for are lasers.
If it’s a laser…
You’ll need to be really vigilant. For starters, the requirements for a qualified laser technicians vary from state to state. In Texas and want a quick zap? You’ll need to head to the doctor’s office. Found your way over to Georgia? A cosmetologist who’s taken three laser courses is fit to laser away. And then there’s the kind of laser to consider. The wrong one could leave you with—you guessed it—scars. For hair removal, the Nd:YAG (doesn’t it just roll off your tongue?), specifically at a wavelength of 1064-nm, is considered your safest option. Scars, melasma, and other pigment-adjacent concerns can be addressed with a “low-power diode 1927-nm fractional laser” or a “pico laser.” And while I wish I could rename and simplify all of these lasers for clarity sake, I can’t!
Are you using a retinoid?
Save yourself and go cold turkey at least a week before any treatment—especially if you’re on the strong prescription-only stuff (hello, tretinoin). The vitamin A derivative can make skin more sensitive to the rigors of a facial, and remember, caution is the name of the game here.
And now for some rapid-fire!
Hyperpigmentation? Dark Spots? Melasma?
Consider a chemical peel first. For more stubborn discoloration, a series of laser treatments might work best.
Razor bumps? Acne Keloidalis Nuchae (a more intense, razor bumps-adjacent skin condition located above the neck)?
More of the same here. Small razor bumps can be smoothed over with mild exfoliation (consider peels again). And tricker cases of Acne Keloidalis Nuchae can be treated with a laser.
There’s the doctor route—corticosteroids and surgery—but if you want to start small, try a laser.
Ah, a classic. You’ll want some gentle exfoliation to remove the dead skin cells, and of course hydration is key. But for more impactful results, it’s better to check with your doctor about a ‘scrip.
Find your happy medium
A life philosophy to live by, if anything. Some treatments have to meet you halfway. When I was diagnosed with seborrheic dermatitis—a skin condition that made parts of my face and scalp super flaky—my doctor prescribed a really effective shampoo that ruined my hair. Later, an aesthetician recommended an over-the-counter shampoo that was a little less helpful, but not as drying. But my personal sweetspot? Pre-treating my ends with conditioner before shampooing with the harsh stuff. I did that for years, until my seborrheic dermatitis decided to go away on its own. It’s my good place! A little bit of science and a little bit of me. The best possible end-result of a facial in my book.