The facials that ruin your skin: They promise leave you looking peachy – but expensive anti-ageing facials can wreck your looks
23:02 GMT, 22 April 2012
Dermatologists are becoming increasingly worried about the long-term damage super-facials may do
Model Sophie Anderton’s face was her fortune. In her early 20s she earned 30,000 a week and was the poster girl for Gossard.
Her skin was clear and blemish-free, and she wanted to keep it that way. So as the years went by, it’s no surprise that she booked in for regular salon treatments — anti-ageing ‘super-facials’ that would help keep her skin looking young and fresh.
Anderton’s favourites were microdermabrasion — an exfoliating facial that promises to remove fine lines, make skin clearer and prevent ageing — alongside glycolic acid peels, another treatment that takes off the top layer of skin and stimulates collagen production to ‘plump up’ the new skin underneath.
Yet, as 34-year-old Anderton recently
revealed, instead of making her skin look younger and brighter, these
salon beauty treatments thinned the skin on her face and caused it to
‘turn black’. The ‘miracle’ anti-ageing treatments she was paying
thousands of pounds for were having precisely the reverse effect.
is not alone. Thousands of women now book in for similar super-facials
which are available in beauty salons on many High Streets. But
dermatologists, including Dr Nick Lowe, director of the Cranley Clinic
in London, are becoming increasingly worried about the long-term damage
these treatments may do to skin.
They believe that after experiencing the instant ‘brightening’ effects of microdermabrasion and chemical peels (including glycolic, lactic acid and salicylic), some women become hooked and start having them more frequently — as often as once a week or more. Then like Sophie, they are left with broken veins, uneven lined skin, dark pigmentation spots and acne.
Anderton’s facialist Andria Vassiliou, the founder of Cetuem skincare and the woman Sophie credits with repairing her skin after it had been damaged, says: ‘Sophie was left with paper-thin skin which meant that when she exposed herself to the sun afterwards, she developed dark brown blotches all over her face. It took months of intensive treatment with specialist creams to get her skin back to normal.’
So how can common beauty parlour facials cause such damage There are two treatments that give cause for concern. The first is microdermabrasion, which costs between 40 and 100 for a 15-minute session, and involves tiny aluminium crystals being blasted at the skin via a high-velocity jet of air. This ‘sandblasting’ effect takes off the top layer, which is then suctioned away, revealing the glowing new skin underneath.
Abrasive facials: Model Sophie Anderton says salon treatments damaged her skin – pictured in her early 20s when she was the poster girl for Gossard (left) and today (right)
The second is the chemical peel known as a glycolic, which costs between 50 and 80 and takes just a few minutes. It uses an acid derived from sugar cane to dissolve the ‘glue’ that holds the older, top layer of skin in place. The result is baby-soft new skin. Both are popular with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna who want to look glowing for red-carpet events.
Chemical peels and microderm-abrasion are increasingly common in salons. Dr Lowe says: ‘Women can get obsessed with them.’ The problem is some beauty therapists are untrained and inexperienced, failing to recognise skin types — fair, sensitive, acne-prone or with broken veins — that will react badly to them.
They can fail to ask those being treated sufficient questions about coldsores and other skin conditions. Medication such as anti-acne drug Roaccutane can also cause dramatic reactions to these treatments. Therapists may also encourage clients to book in for treatments far too frequently. Experts say you should have no more than one a month.
Microdermabrasion is the second
most requested cosmetic treatment for men after Botox
Nor is it just salon treatments that
carry dangers. The recent boom in at-home glycolic peels has been one of
the most hotly discussed topics on Mumsnet this month, with women
turning to each other for advice on the best products to buy.
But home treatments also leave some women at risk of oversensitive, thinning skin. And while the odd mild peel may have a harmless, brightening effect, home kits make it possible for women to do weekly or even twice-weekly doctor-strength chemical peels without professional supervision, each time applying products in dangerously high concentrations.
Claire Young, 33, an entrepreneur from Yorkshire, found an at-home glycolic peel thinned her skin to such an extent that it left her face red raw for three days afterwards. ‘I suffer from quite sensitive, dry skin and bought the peel hoping it would help make my complexion glow. But the experience was so horrendous it made me realise how dangerous these peels can be.
‘I was supposed to keep on the peel, which was a thick liquid I spread all over my face, for eight minutes. After just two, my face felt as if it was being rubbed with tiny fragments of glass. The pain was so unbearable I had to wash it off immediately. Afterwards, my skin was so red and sore I couldn’t wear any make-up for days. I now use only natural products on my face as a result.’
Despite such experiences, most women find that after just one of these super-facials or at-home peels, the results appear miraculous. Without the top layer, skin looks fresher and pores seem smaller — at least for a few days.
If you've been saving up for a super-facial to make you feel pampered, some experts say you'd be better served by have a massage instead
‘The trouble is, women then get
addicted to these treatments and their appearance afterwards,’ says Dr
Lowe. ‘Few realise the outer layer of skin is not useless dead cells but
a vital protective barrier. It keeps out pollution, conserves moisture,
acts as our skin’s own natural sunscreen and keeps acne bacteria at
‘A peel or
dermabrasion may be OK once a month, but if women have these treatments
weekly or even more frequently, they will interfere with the skin’s
protective barrier. This can lead to chronic levels of inflammation,
thread veins and blotchy discolouration.’
It is even more of an issue now — in the spring and summer — when we start to get more sun. These treatments make skin overly sensitive to sunlight, or hyper-photosensitive. That means that the minute you go in to the sun, you’ll be at risk of developing patches of dark brown pigment, and this skin discolouration can be even more ageing than wrinkles.
Black Swan actress Mila Kunis reportedly had a 4,300 facial using rubies and diamonds to remove the top layer of her skin
Wearing a broad spectrum high SPF of
between 30 and 50 can help, but you may have to keep out of the sun
completely as microdermabrasion can also interfere with the way
‘Sunscreens need to adhere to the cells
on the top layer of the skin. If you remove that layer, the sunscreens
cannot “stick” properly to create a protective barrier,’ warns Dr Lowe.
Worryingly, extreme exfoliation can
trigger hyper-pigmentation even if you don’t expose yourself to the sun.
Harsh facials may cause inflammation, especially in darker skins, and
that in turn can cause a condition called ‘post-inflammatory
hyper-pigmentation’. This means the skin produces extra melanin — the
substance that makes us get a tan — spontaneously and patchily.
sufferers can also have problems after an excessive number of
super-facials. ‘Exfoliation can cause rebound acne,’ says Dr Lowe. ‘When
the skin is damaged, it tries to repair itself by increasing skin cell
production. But these skin cells can block your pores, which causes
spots, which in turn makes women exfoliate more. It becomes a dangerous
Claire Hill, 34, a full-time mother from Warwickshire, knows this all too well. ‘I was in the habit of having a facial at least once a month, sometimes twice. I tried microdermabrasion, glycolic peels, everything. Over the years, I felt my skin was becoming more oily and clogged up with all the products being applied, and I was starting to look old before my time. But I kept going to my facialist because I was worried my skin would get even worse if I stopped.
REPAIRING THE DAMAGE
Thin, pigmented skin Fix the problem with these gentler treatments…
Dr Nick Lowe’s Super Light Skin Tone Perfector Cream, 18.99, drnicklowe.com
No 7 Lift and Luminate serum, 24.95, boots.com
Skinceuticals Pigment Regulator, 71, effortlessskin.com
IS Clinical White Lightening Complex, 135, victoriahealth.co.uk
HydraFacial, a gentler form of exfoliation that also moisturises and rebuilds the skin, 100, cosmetic-solutions.co.uk
Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, 39, clinique.co.uk
Crme De Lite, 45, cetuem.com
Dermaroller, a needling treatment that builds collagen and repairs sun damage, 400, waterhouseyoung.com
Laser Genesis, a laser that builds collagen and treats broken veins, 400, bijoux-medispa.co.uk
‘Then, a couple of years ago, I
experienced extreme pain during a mild peel and microdermabrasion. It
was as if red-hot needles were being stuck in my face. But the
beautician said this was normal. I
left the salon in tears, and by the time I got home I felt as if my
face was on fire. I tried splashing it with cold water to take away the
pain but it made no difference.
‘I’m convinced my skin had become too raw and thin from having so many facial treatments. I haven’t had one since and, much to my surprise, my skin looks better than it did before I started having them. I’ll never have another super-facial again.’
The good news is it is possible to have facials without experiencing these adverse effects. If you’re having peels, stick with highly experienced, qualified therapists, in a well-established, properly insured clinic that operates under the supervision of a doctor. Ask about this before you book.
Dr Lowe also advises that women stick to having no more than one treatment a month at the most, and to avoid them all together if you have certain skin conditions such as acne, broken capillaries or rosacea. If you fear your skin is already damaged from use of facial treatments, don’t worry. ‘You can even out the appearance of pigmentation and broken veins with a gentle Fraxel laser or intense pulsed light treatment — known as IPL — carried out by a dermatologist,’ says Dr Lowe.
So if we should be wary of these so-called miracle super-facials, what can we do to get younger-looking skin Dermatologists recommend using a mild cleanser, an antioxidant vitamin C serum by day, plus a prescription retinol cream (derived from vitamin A) at night to exfoliate in a gentler, less abrasive way. Not forgetting the best anti-ageing secret of all: a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen, SPF 15 to 30, to protect skin from the ageing effects of the sun.
If you’ve been saving up for a pricey super-facial to make you feel pampered, perhaps you’d be better served by have a massage instead and relaxing for an hour. After all, de-stressing is one of the best anti-ageing secrets known to woman.
Additional reporting by Diana Appleyard.