Though it’s always nice to have someone else take care of your skin in a spa setting, sometimes a little at-home self-care makes more sense. Not only is it often friendlier on your wallet, but it also allows you the freedom to do whatever you desire—watch Netflix, listen to a podcast, cook dinner—while your products work their magic. Like anything though, there are a few ground rules to follow when indulging in an at-home facial. One wrong move and you might accidentally do more damage than good. So, steer clear of the following four major facial no-nos—you’ll be happy you did.
Mistake #1: Using professional-grade chemical peels
It may be tempting to seek out a professional-grade chemical peel to perform on your own but doing so is a recipe for disaster. Unless you’re a licensed professional, you probably haven’t a clue how to use these potent products.
“I have been shocked to see the potency of chemical peels readily available to the public online,” says Dr. Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco, California. “When using these products you run the risk of long-lasting redness, pigment irregularities, [burning, itching], and even scarring,”
Dr. Marie Hayag, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, agrees. She says, “A dermatologist is well-versed at knowing what type of acid is safe for the condition that someone presents with based on their skin type. The aftercare is also important when using a chemical peel and proper instruction is needed.”
Dr. Hayag says to avoid these professional-grade products and to instead use peels and masks formulated specifically for at-home use—they’re usually more gentle. For an exfoliating mask with a kick that’s home-approved, try Herbivore Botanicals Prism 20% AHA + 5% BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial Mask ($58) or Savor Beauty Pumpkin Enzyme Peel / Lactic Acid Resurfacing Treatment ($80). Both contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) to gently dissolve dead skin cells to reveal a brighter complexion underneath.
Mistake #2: Combining too many active ingredients
Part of the joy of getting a facial is the layering of products and treatments that work in tandem with each other. Professionals are acutely aware of which ingredients can work together, and which ingredients you should never combine.
The general rule of thumb is to only use one active product during any facial, otherwise, you risk potential sensitivity, inflammation, and even burns or scarring. An example of a good facial is to start by gently cleansing and toning with non-active products, then using an AHA—such as glycolic or lactic acid—as your primary treatment. You can then follow up with non-active hydrators, and soothing serums, creams, and oils.
Ingredients you shouldn’t combine at home include the following:
• Retinol and AHAs
• Retinol and beta hydroxy acids (BHA)
• Retinol and benzoyl peroxide
• Retinol and vitamin C
• Retinol and salicylic acid
• Salicylic acid and BHAs
• Salicylic acid and AHAs
• Vitamin C and BHA
• Vitamin C and AHAs
• Vitamin C and niacinamide
Mistake #3: Attempting to do extractions yourself
Extractions are an art meant for in-office settings only. Going wild on your delicate facial skin can not only exacerbate the problem, but may lead to scarring and infection.
“Squeezing a pimple or picking at your skin can first and foremost lead to the spread of bacteria and, ultimately, more pimples. Acne extractions in a medical setting are referred to as acne surgery for a reason,” says Dr. Hayag. “While only superficial layers of the skin are open during acne surgery, that is enough to cause a localized infection. The skin needs to be properly cleaned and the area being treated should be disinfected prior to breaking the skin in any way.”
Your first line of defense against a blemish—whitehead, cystic bump, blackhead, or otherwise—is to ignore it. If the pimple is clearly near eruption, you can place a clean, warm wet cloth over it. If you absolutely must “pop” a pimple, use an alcohol-sanitized extraction tool, clean your hands thoroughly beforehand, and clean the area after. To help bring pimples to a head, try a spot treatment like Starface Hydro-Stars Hydrocolloid Pimple Patches ($22). A clay-based mask—such as Kiehls Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask ($20)—can also help soak up excess oil and stop pimples in their tracks.
Mistake #4: Using microdermabrasion or microneedling kits
Both at-home and professional-level microdermabrasion and microneedling kits are accessible to the public, but most dermatologists agree that using such products at home isn’t wise. This is primarily because they require a high-sanitary environment—like the kind you’d get in a professional setting.
“Microneedling devices increase your risk of infection as you can inoculate your skin with bacteria, viral, or fungal organisms,” explains Dr. Campbell. This is because the device repeatedly creates micro-wounds in the skin with tiny needles. Unfortunately, these wounds can act as small channels for bacteria to enter the skin if your device isn’t cleaned correctly before use.
Microdermabrasion works differently—by vacuuming away the top layer of dead skin cells—and presents fewer complications compared to microneedling, but it can still put you at risk of redness, inflammation, abrasions, infection, and scarring, says Dr. Hayag.
“The at-home options are significantly less powerful, which can lead to a less-thorough exfoliation. Patients who have received professional microdermabrasion treatments prior to trying the at-home kits may look for equal results, causing them to over-do their treatment which can potentially lead to an increased chance of infection and scarring,” says Dr. Hayag. “Also, patients who have never received a microdermabrasion treatment from a medical professional are more apt to perform a treatment that is not suitable for their skin condition.”For a microneedling alternative, try Peace Out Wrinkles ($28), which are single-use microneedling patches ($28). For a gentle physical scrub effect, try Wander Beauty BRB Multipolish ($36).