Spa Facial Treatments: A Guide to the Most Popular Offerings

Woman receiving a facial massage from a professional.

Liliya Rodnikova / stocksy

There was a time when I thought facials were just a skincare industry cash grab. However, since experiencing facials over the last few years, my point of view has significantly shifted, especially after those facials addressed everything from clogged pores to my hyperpigmentation. But even I—someone who spends most days researching and writing stories on topics like skincare—can get overwhelmed by all of the options on spa menus these days. Hence why I'm taking the time to break down a few of the top facial offerings. 

But before sharing the different types of facials, let's first discuss the benefits of booking one-on-one time with an esthetician. "There are so many benefits," says celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas. However, she notes these benefits will vary depending on the type of facial you select. "But having a professional look over your skin and address both short-term and long-term concerns is the benefit. I always recommend clients have facials once a month year-round. Nothing you do at home can replace professional exfoliation, extraction, and attention." I agree. So let's dive into some of the most popular spa facials.

Meet the Expert

01 of 08

European Facial

As we dive into each of the different facials, we want you to keep in mind most facials are customizable. However, they have a foundation—this is especially true of the European facial, which takes a more minimalistic approach. "A European facial usually includes cleansing, exfoliation, extractions, a moisturizing mask, and sometimes massage," says King. When asked if this type of facial is OK for sensitive skin, she notes that it's all about the touch. "It can be an option for sensitive skin as long as the exfoliation and extractions are gentle." Beloved spas like Mario Badescu in New York City and The Peninsula in Chicago offer 60-minute European facials that are customizable based on your needs.  

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The HydraFacial was the first facial I tried a couple of years ago, and I saw instant results. So what makes the treatment so special? The Vortex technology. "[The] HydraFacial is a popular treatment that uses Vortex technology—a unique suction and delivery system that helps remove impurities from the skin," King explains. "Gentle lactic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid are applied and suctioned away to exfoliate and extract, and hyaluronic acid, peptides, and antioxidants are left on the skin."

If you're curious about how much gunk comes out of your pores, ask your practitioner to see the clear cup post-service. It'll be gross, but cool at the same time. As for which skin types can benefit most from this facial, King says that "because of the acids used to exfoliate, this can be a great treatment for oily, acne-prone skin." Most treatments are just about 30 minutes. However, for extended treatments, spas like the Sisley Paris Spa in Los Angeles and Nordstrom Beauty Haven NYC offer 50- to 90-minute appointments.

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Sculpting Facial

Most of us have a gua sha tool at home that we may or may not be using as regularly as we’d like. But, lucky for us, there are spa services like Canyon Ranch's Resculpt Facial, which incorporates clinical-grade products from French skincare brand Biologique Recherche, gua sha techniques, and micro-current technology. Additionally, boutiques like Skin Camp offer 15- to 30-minute "workouts for your face" (that can be customized with add-ons) that include gua sha sculpting. But can these treatments make a difference in your skin? When done properly, yes. Though the results are usually temporary.

"Gua sha is meant to be an act of self-care by slowing down your breath and allowing yourself to rhythmically contour the face with the stone to release muscle tension and activate the lymphatic system," King tells us. "I believe that there are benefits to these meditative and relaxing self-care rituals for our stress levels." She adds that the cool temperatures of the stones may also have soothing and mild anti-inflammatory effects. "And when used properly, the gua sha tool may accomplish a lymphatic drainage massage that can decrease facial puffiness for up to 24 hours."

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Acupuncture Facial

Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. In the present day, many are using the practice of cosmetic acupuncture to address skincare concerns like fine lines and wrinkles. There's a reason for this: "When you pierce the skin with needles, you are causing microtrauma to the skin, which activates the wound healing cascade, which stimulates collagen production and blood flow," King shares. However, she does note that there isn't much data about how effective these treatments are.

That being said, King tells us fractionated lasers and microneedling do have data showing their effectiveness for collagen stimulation. For those with stress-induced skin conditions, King says, "another benefit of acupuncture is that it can help to decrease stress, which can benefit skin conditions that are worsened by stress."

If you're based in New York City, Gotham Wellness and the Juhi Ash Center are trusted go-to's. And if you're ever traveling through Europe, London's Harrods Wellness Clinic and Clinique La Prairie Madrid are home to curated acupuncture treatments by John Tsagaris. 

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Microdermabrasion and Microcurrent Facial

Beauty buzzwords are sometimes just that—all buzz and no results. However, both microdermabrasion and microcurrent technology are options that live up to the hype, and Joanna Vargas’ Triple Crown Facial—beloved by the beauty entrepreneur's famous clients—uses both technologies together. "The Triple Crown Facial is my signature facial and still my number one requested service," Vargas shares. 

"We start with microdermabrasion using a diamond-tipped wand," says Vargas. "Then, we use a mild electric current to drain puffiness, tone muscle, tighten skin, and reshape the face. By the end of the first treatment the jawline will be more defined, cheekbones more pronounced, and clients will have younger-looking, refreshed eyes. The final step is a vitamin-spiked oxygen treatment to give skin an instant glow."

After a microdermabrasion treatment, King says "the skin may temporarily feel tight and dry, and there may be some redness that should resolve within 24 hours." As far as using microcurrent technology, King says that because it sends out a low voltage current, there isn't a lot of scientific data to support the anti-aging claims. She recommends microcurrent technology as "prejuvenation" and maintenance since the results are likely to be modest.

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Brightening Facial

If you have acne scars, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, or a mixture of all of the above, a brightening facial will likely come highly recommended by your esthetician. Generally speaking, a brightening facial will start with many of the facial basics like cleansing and masking. However, your skincare specialist will select the best brightening option—usually a peel— depending on your skin conditions and sensitivities.

For skin conditions like hyperpigmentation, King recommends the VI Peel. "It's a medium depth peel that contains trichloroacetic acid, phenol, salicylic acid, vitamin C, and tretinoin. It can be used in all skin types and tones, and can help with hyperpigmentation as well as acne, fine lines, and skin aging." For darker skin tones, peels can go awry, so seek out practitioners that specialize in dark skin. The Dr. Barbara Sturm Spa offers a facial option curated for dark skin tones (like the brand's skincare line), which hydrates while reducing hyperpigmentation, minimizing the appearance of pores, and helping to prevent breakouts.

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OxyGeneo Facial

An oxygen facial is a 3-in-1 facial that exfoliates, infuses antioxidants via serums, and oxygenates the skin. For example, Geneo is a non-invasive system that offers five different treatments (Balance, Detox, Hydrate, Illuminate, and Revive) that work below the skin combining OxyGeneo, ultrasound, and neo-massage technologies. If you’re still unsure what all of that means, don’t worry, Caglia breaks it down for us. 

"The first step in the Geneo facial process is called OxyGeneo," she says. "This simply means we are triggering the body's natural, physiological response to increased oxygen levels internally and then carrying that oxygen to the surface of your skin. In doing so, we prep the skin for maximum absorption throughout the rest of the facial treatment."

Each of the treatments addresses skincare concerns from acne to mature skin. For example, "Geneo's Balance facial treats oily and acne-prone skin while the Hydrate facial works to enhance the skin's moisture retention," Caglia explains. "For hyperpigmentation and textured skin, I'd recommend the Illuminate facial because it unifies the skin tone."

As for our dermatologist expert, the science and technology of this facial are a win in her book. "I think it's a good example of the kind of treatment that's trending because it's a perfect combination of science, technology, and skincare with a calming self-care type vibe because it feels great and it's relaxing," says King.

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Hungarian Facial

Think of Hungarian facials like a treatment, massage, and facial workout rolled into one 60-minute service. The centuries-old technique helps promote collagen production, leaving you with plump, hydrated skin. King shares that the accompanying facial massage can temporarily increase circulation to the face. The St. Regis Spa in Atlanta designed a treatment that brings the Hungarian facial experience stateside, consisting of a chamomile, edelweiss, and jojoba-infused facial, followed by a Hungarian facial massage. And of course, we can't forget to mention the Omorovicza Institute in Budapest, where you can select from a range of facials based on Hungarian tradition.

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