There are many treatment steps that go into a customized facial – but one rises above them all in terms the questions we get, the expectations that are set, and the sometimes strange untruths that linger out there. Of course, we’re talking about extractions.
Here, we answer the top six questions we get about the process of removing those pesky blackheads from your gorgeous faces.
“A lot of facials I’ve had start with a steam machine – why don’t you use them?”
There are different ways to prepare the skin for extractions and they all have their pros and cons. Our method of prep uses a steam compress with facial massage and oil pulling. In short, the facial massage relaxes the pores (despite common myth, pores technically do not open or close like a door) and the heat from the steam compress (i.e., hot towels), softens the skin so that we can perform extractions without causing damage to the skin and get out the mix of sebum (oily secretions from our glands), dirt, and debris that's in our pores and makes up a lovely blackhead.
But let’s digress for a moment on the steam machine with which you might be familiar. While a steam machine is a tried-and-true way to relax the sebum in pores, its cons are that it can dry out the skin and the skin can clam up the moment it’s turned off. “If you spend just a few seconds too long in the facial steamer, it can have a similar effect to spending too long in a hot shower,” said Christie, Skin Therapist. “It will dry you out and irritate sensitized skin. Our method is gentle and effective.” Some clients can also find the steam-in-the-face claustrophobia-inducing. And in the gross department, depending on water quality or how often the machine is cleaned out, steamers can harbor bacteria.
Another benefit of our method (which is also used by top establishments around town) is that it doesn’t falsely loosen things up. The steam machine is exactly that – a machine. Our method – not to sound too artisanal – is 'handcrafted.' Nothing gets extracted that isn’t ready to come out. For extra stubborn blackheads or whiteheads (see more below), we have other ingredients and tools to help those move along merrily. The result? Happier skin that is less red after all is said and done.
Also, who doesn’t love a massage for your face versus a plastic armature spouting hot air at you? Healing, human touch is such an important part of what we do. If only you could see from above what we see when a New Yorker's face is massaged and tension is eased. It's a beautiful thing.
“Can Skin Therapists remove my whiteheads while removing my blackheads?”
When we perform extractions, we focus on the blackheads, not whiteheads, for a very important reason. Blackheads are technically called open comedones, which simply means that the live at the “top” of your pore and are exposed to the outside world (which is why they turn black; the air exposure oxidizes them). Extracting them is the process of nudging the gunk out – and doesn’t involve ‘breaking’ the surface of the skin.
Whiteheads, on the other hand, are a closed blemish (technically a closed comedone) that builds up pus underneath the surface (i.e., what we more commonly call a zit). If a whitehead has no pus or infection (sorry, going there), we can safely extract it if there's a follicle opening (think of it as a back door we can sneak out). Breakouts that have no opening or are infected shouldn't be disturbed via extractions and we have other means to help lessen the time those spend on our skin.
“Popping, squeezing, or any self-surgery over a breakout can cause more harm than good,” warned Amy, Skin Therapist. Among the many reasons why you should refrain include spreading the infection further underneath and the pigmentation and scarring that can happen from popping at home.
If you believe whiteheads will be gone the day after facial without any trace, that would be a truly magical. We can only dream.
“Trying to remove a blackhead out of dry skin is like digging a plant out from dry soil – everything just crumbles. To pull a plant out of the ground cleanly, you need to first moisten the soil,” said Katya, Skin Therapist.
“Do extractions hurt?” or “I feel like it should hurt more. No pain, no gain, right?”
Yes and no. First, we have to bust the myth of “no pain, no gain” here. “Some clients think that the more extractions hurt, the more effective they are,” said a Skin Therapist. This just isn’t true. We all have different pain thresholds and skin sensitivities, but the notion of needing to be beat up is preposterous. How well your skin is hydrated, how recently you've had extractions, how long the dirt and debris in your pores have been chilling there, plus our own sensitivities for a little squeezing and nudging – those all can affect how much you 'feel.' "Ease of extractions really has to do with how prepped your skin is beforehand and the prep work and technique of your Therapist.”
“After extractions, all my zits will be gone, right?”
This question seems obvious, but we do get this one. We're estheticians, not magicians, unfortunately. While we can't wave a wand and make everything leap off your skin that you don't want there, we can do an immense amount of work in our sessions to move things along (blackheads, whiteheads, dehydration, and so much more) – and evaluate what you're doing and using at home between visits. The combination of our professional game plan and your at-home game plan is where the magic really is to make lasting changes in your skin. For those super concerned with congestion, the more frequently you come, the more we can stay ahead of that clearing-out and work on taking your skin to the next level.
“Why don’t you use a tool?”
We use a gloved hand and there is a precise technique to safely nudging the gunk out of your pores with our fingers. Our hands tell us a lot – what’s ready to come out, how much pressure we’re putting on your skin, and how far to go. Tools don’t give you that feedback. For some people, tools hurt. Tools can leave marks. And furthermore, for whiteheads or other blemishes that require breaking the surface of the skin to drain, tools like a lancet (or small blade), are technically not legal for use in many states and facilities. We don't do contraband!
Why did you leave some blackheads on my face?”
We always want you to leave with healthy, glowing skin, and sometimes that can mean leaving some stubborn blackheads that need a little more coaxing and time.
“People sometimes assume that we can get every single blackhead removed during their appointment, but sometimes that isn’t the case. For instance, if you’re dehydrated, some blackheads become too stubborn to remove cleanly. And if it’s your first facial in a long while and there is a lot of buildups, it may take multiple sessions to work on absolutely everything.”
Every step of the facial is important to get your skin balanced, hydrated, and healthy. We don’t run six miles after not jogging for months because it’s jarring for the body. Same goes for extractions. (If extractions are an extraordinary focus for you, we recommend our 75 Minute Facial to spend more time there.)
Above all, we listen to the skin here. And we’re always honest with you about what is coming out easily and what might need a little more time and TLC.
“Can I do anything to make the process easier on my skin?”
Yes! Preparing to get the most out of a facial is a lot like taking a test – studying a little each day is better than a last-minute, all-night cramming session the night before.
Staying hydrated and moisturized before your facial is the absolute best thing you can do. That means drinking water and amping up your moisturizing routine, morning and night (with a moisturizer that's right for your skin type and truly delivers hydration into your skin). Supple, hydrated skin will make your extraction experience easier and more effective. The gunk literally slides right out, cleanly.
Another way to put it? “Trying to remove a blackhead out of dry skin is like digging a plant out from dry soil – everything just crumbles. To pull a plant out of the ground cleanly, you need to first moisten the soil,” said Katya, Skin Therapist.
We're sure you've got more and we didn't cover it all. Reach out to us at email@example.com and we’ll answer them, or just pop into the shop and ask a Skin Therapist. If you haven’t already guessed, conversations about this subject are always welcomed.