The Facial Myth: Sorry, They Won't Change Your Life

The New York Times has discovered that - wait for it! - facials are not essential. Thanks?

To most of us, the news that one can live without regular facials is hardly earth-shattering. Says one dermatologist, "'Getting a facial is a great cost to cut,' because, unlike sunscreen, 'it's not doing anything preventative or anything long term for your skin.'" Well, no: you don't need to be a Lamarck expert to figure out that an extraction and mask isn't going to have permanent effects.

But then, apparently that's exactly what some folks to believe — or, rather, what ever-more-elaborate, pricey, and scientific-sounding facial treatments have sold folks on.

Aestheticians say that so-called oxygen facials can plump skin, produce collagen and regenerate new cells. A company called Intraceuticals has its technology in 300 spas, resorts and doctors' offices nationwide. It uses pressurized oxygen to deliver modified hyaluronic acid to the face, but doesn't have any research to back its machine, said Deirdre Burke, the director of sales and education. Still, the company believes in its efficacy, she said, adding, "If you have had a treatment, you're a believer."

The whole lucrative miracle facial phenomenon has caused some friction with dermatologists, who call the treatments so much hokum, and no substitute for the arts of medicine. "They're bad-mouthing us because they want our business to go to them," says one aesthetician.

The real issue, I suppose, is whether the regular facial will be a recession casualty. For most of us, it already is — if we ever got them at all. In my experience, treatments like this are more a sop to one's sense of self than anything else. While a facial can certainly make skin glow (and the pain and breakout make you know it's working!) that glow is more than matched by the good feeling of knowing you are "taking care of yourself." The truth is, unless the extraction is treating chronic acne, most of us can probably do okay with a tube of apricot scrub and some Cetaphil. And this is one of those "Styles" pieces that feels like it has so little relationship to real life that you're left wondering about a world in which an oxygen facial is in the rotation in the first place, let alone a year into a recession. What's curious about pieces like this is that they acknowledge the economy — but in such a peculiarly let-them-eat-cake fashion that it's almost more insulting.

I'm not going to lie to you: last night, I made myself a facial mask out of an egg yolk. It was tight and gross and my face looked none the firmer after its application. But the (big) part of me that relished making my own perfumes and potpourris from kits as a kid enjoyed the ancient do-it-yourself aspect of it. I don't know what will happen to the facial industry, and I hope small businesses don't suffer too terribly as a result of some folks' recognition that facials aren't a life necessity. But anything that leads to an increase in hands-on dorkery, potion-making and general Jennifer Hecate Macbeth-style shenanigans is surely a silver lining.

An Expression of Doubt About Facials [New York Times]