Facials are supposed to be a healthy part of one's regular skincare routine—the operative phrase there being "supposed to be." The unfortunate truth, however, is that if you've ever had a negative experience at the esthetician's office, you're not alone.
"As an esthetician with 30 years of experience, I believe there are more negative reactions applied to the skin, now than ever," comments Renée Rouleau, one of Byrdie's most vetted facialists. Rouleau's theory is that the at-home skincare market has become saturated with so many harsh products that the average facial client comes to their appointment with an already damaged moisture barrier. That sensitizes the skin, setting it up for negative reactions. (For example, if you cleanse with a sonic brush the night before a facial, follow up with derma-rolling and a potent vitamin C serum the next morning, and head in for your facial later that afternoon, odds are that you're in for some irritation.)
"A knowledgeable esthetician must be more thorough than ever in their consultation to know what the client has been doing to their skin at home," says Rouleau. "I know for me, when I get a new client, I'm often trying to repair the damage to get their skin to a healthier place before I can even think of doing stronger treatments such as chemical peels."
But not all esthetician-client relationships are this open, and that's when facial horror stories can happen. Ready to feel a teeny bit freaked out? We asked Byrdie readers (and one editor) to share their worst facial experiences. Keep scrolling to read six freaky stories of facials gone wrong.
"So I go on a spa day as part of my bachelorette weekend. The day before we are supposed to go, the location where we were going realized they had booked us on a day they recently decided would be a nonworking day for the spa. My friends scrambled to find another place and we ended up at a good-not-great-looking place. My facial starts and the lady working on me keeps getting product in my eyes. Over. And over. And over. At first, I was trying to be polite because how much product can get in when your eyes are closed, right?
But it happened so much, and as a contact lens wearer, it stung. She then gave me warm green tea bags to put over my eyes, which were fine until she started pressing on them and tea started getting into my eyes. I also came out looking like a tomato (weird, because I'm pretty brown), and my hyperpigmentation was on a whole new level of angry for weeks after.
TL;DR: My esthetician tried to exfoliate my eyeballs too." — Patricia
"The first esthetician I saw (one year ago) decided to stab a needle into all my cystic acne around my mouth and jaw. She went to town without asking and even squeezed it until the bump was empty. Naive me was like, yay, they are gone. But they came back with a vengeance! Even now, one year later, I still struggle with leftover hardened bumps that get inflamed. Ugh. The next esthetician I saw told me how dangerous that is and put me on a low-friction gentle routine with only water and aloe vera!
Let's not talk about the hyperpigmentation and scars I know have too." — Mishale
"My first facial ever was amazing until I went home and saw huge brown spots on my face, under my eyes (think those black lines footballers use), and a huge spot in the middle of my forehead! Apparently, the facial brought out a bunch of melasma. Never had a hint of it prior and in one hour my life was changed. I became obsessed with trying to lighten those spots. I cried for like a month. I was so confused because I thought a facial was supposed to make my skin look better not worse. Since then I've only ever had two other facials.
I prefer using Skin Laundry and leave the rest to myself. Luckily, 10 years later, the spots are barely there." — Victoria
"I had a bad experience after being dermaplaned/microbladed. The esthetician used a very thick moisturizer after shaving my face and it clogged my pores. I wound up with small bumps all over my face, where my pores are, that looked like a bad rash. It lasted a few weeks, but I never went back. I now do this at home regularly without any issues, so I assume it was the product she used!" — Elyse
"The first time I got a laser facial was my last. I was told it would help clear my acne and get me that elusive dewy glow in under 15 minutes. The process itself wasn't painful; I'd compare it to a rubber band lightly beating against my face repeatedly. The part I couldn't get over was the strong burning smell. It was smoky the entire time, and I wasn't sure if that was normal during a laser facial or if my skin was having some weird reaction to it. Afterward, I looked in a mirror and noticed three medium-size pimples along my chin that weren't there before I started the facial.
My facialist told me that my acne may get worse before it completely cleared and to wait it out for a week. Three weeks later, I was still dealing with breakouts." — Audrey
"I had a microdermabrasion about a month ago that left cuts on my face! I'd had had one at the same place a few weeks prior, and it was way too harsh for my skin (plus they used a bunch of acid masks afterward, which I've never seen in a micro procedure and really made my already-sensitive skin not happy). So the second time (I had pre-paid for two), I asked the lady to not use any acids after and to be cognizant that my skin was on the more sensitive side. She applied a few layers of different things after the actual micro (didn't say what they were), but I could tell by the feeling that my skin wasn't happy.
Looking in the mirror straight afterward, there were these lines cut into my face [pictured above]. They then said they’d call the next day to check in (you could tell they felt something wasn’t right). And they didn’t. It’s a super-popular place in my city, but I’ve always been dubious of them. But I went anyways and paid the price! The worst part was I went to Sephora corporate offices a few days later for a work trip and you could still see the lines. So embarrassing. I’m hoping it didn’t cause permanent damage." — Kelly
Remember next time you get a facial to have an extensive conversation prior about your skincare routine and needs beforehand to help prevent any facial horror stories of your own.