What to Expect During an Acne Treatment Facial

Wondering what happens during an acne treatment facial? If you've never had an acne treatment facial done, they may seem kind of mysterious (or even a bit intimidating).

Although they're not a necessary part of most acne treatment routines, having regular facials done can help clear out blackheads and blocked pores and can complement your regular acne medications.

Every esthetician has her own style, but most acne treatment facials follow the same basic procedure. Here's what you can expect during your first acne treatment facial.

Pre-Facial: You'll Fill Out a Consultation Form and Answer Questions First

Gubcio / Getty Images

The very first thing you'll do when your arrive at the salon or skin spa is fill out a client consultation form. And these can be very detailed!

Not only will your esthetician (AKA skin care therapist) need to know about your skin, but she'll also ask about your health and any medications you're taking—whether they're for the skin or not.

These questions aren't meant to be intrusive.  But some treatments aren't advisable if you're using certain medications. Your esthetician needs to know all of this before starting, to give you a safe and effective procedure.

Prep: You'll Change and Get Comfy in the Treatment Room

The esthetician will then escort you back to the treatment room, and step out for a moment to let you change into a gown.

For facial treatments, you can choose to leave your pants on or take them off if it's more comfortable (the gown is long, and you'll be under the sheets anyway.) You'll take off your shirt.

The gown fits around your chest just under your arms, so your entire chest and shoulder area is bare. So, ladies, you'll also remove your bra.

Once changed, lay down in the treatment bed, cover yourself with the sheets and you're ready to begin your facial.

Facial Step 1: Deep Cleansing

You may choose to come to your acne treatment facial with makeup-free skin, but it's not necessary. Your esthetician will begin by removing any makeup and doing a thorough cleansing.

After the first cleansing, your skin will be cleansed again to make sure all traces of dirt, oil, and makeup are removed. The cleansing isn't just for your face. Your neck, chest, and shoulders will also be treated to a deep cleansing.

Facial Step 2: Steam Treatment

Most people love this part of the facial! A special steamer machine will billow warm steam over your face for several minutes.

Although most people think the steam is to "open" the pores, that's not really the case. Pores don't open and close like doors.

What the steam actually does is soften the pores, along with any gunk that may be in them, so that it can more easily be cleansed out.

If the steam gets too warm for you, let your esthetician know. She'll move it back a few inches so you're more comfortable.

Facial Step 3: Exfoliation Procedure

Exfoliation is an important step in any facial, but especially for acne treatment facials. Exfoliating procedures help remove dead skin cells and debris that can clog your pores. It also leaves your skin feeling super soft and smooth.

There are many exfoliating options, from a simple scrub to microdermabrasion to superficial chemical peels. Salicylic acid peels are commonly used during acne treatment facials.

The type of exfoliation procedure your esthetician uses will depend on your skin and also the type of acne medications you're currently using.

If you're using topical retinoids or isotretinoin, your esthetician will do an extremely gentle exfoliation or none at all. That's because these medications already ultra-exfoliate the skin. And too much of a good thing is just that—too much!

Facial Step 4: Blemish Extractions

Extractions just may be everyone's least favorite part of the acne treatment facial routine, but it's also one of the most important.

The esthetician will manually clean out blackheads and comedones from your pores. She'll do this by applying gentle pressure either with her fingers or with a small tool called a comedone extractor.

Extractions may not be super comfortable, but they shouldn't hurt. If you're feeling pain, tell your esthetician and she'll lighten up her touch. Don't be afraid to let her know!

The benefit of extractions is that you'll actually see improvement immediately. Those pesky blackheads and milia are gone!

If you have a lot of blackheads, though, know they can't all be extracted in one session. Estheticians can't extract inflamed blemishes, like cysts, either. Only a dermatologist can drain a cyst.

Facial Step 5: Application of a Mask

After the extractions are completed, a mask is applied. Your esthetician will determine what type of mask will be most beneficial to your skin.

Sulfur masks are often used during acne treatment facials, because sulfur can be helpful in clearing acne. For super oily skin types, an oil-absorbing clay mask may be used instead. Or, if your skin is a bit red from inflamed pimples or from the extractions, a soothing mask might be the best choice.

While the mask is setting, a good esthetician will treat you to a neck and shoulder massage, or massage your hands and arms.

Facial Step 6: Toner or Astringent

Once the mask is removed, a toner or astringent is applied over the entire skin. Although toners and astringents are similar, and the terms are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences.

Astringents are meant to remove excess oil from the skin. They leave the skin feeling fresh and looking matte. Astringents often contain alcohol to give the skin a tight and cool feeling.

Toners, on the other hand, aren't oil-removing. They tend to be gentler so they're appropriate for dry or sensitive skin types. Unlike astringents, toners contain very little to no alcohol.

The esthetician will choose a toner or astringent for you, depending on your skin's needs.

Facial Step 7: Moisturizer and Sun Protection

Your acne treatment facial is coming to an end. The last step is an application of moisturizer and sunscreen.

A light, noncomedogenic moisturizer will be applied over your entire face, neck, and chest area. Don't worry, the moisturizer will be one specifically for acne-prone skin so it won't leave you feeling super oily or clog your pores.

Sunscreen is a must too, for all skin types. The exfoliating treatment you had during the facial can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it's super important to protect your skin before you go outside.

(In fact, sun protection is important every day! Daily sunscreen use will protect your skin from premature aging, dark spots, and even skin cancer.)

Unless you have mild acne, facials alone won't clear up acne, so you'll still need a daily acne treatment medication. And always get your dermatologist's OK before you make an appointment for your acne treatment facial.


Gerson, Joel; Ph.D.. Standard Textbook for Professional Estheticians. 8th edition. Albany, NY: Milady Publishing, 1999.

Titus S, Hodge J.  “Diagnosis and treatment of acne.”  American Family Physician.  2012 Oct 15; 86(8):734-40.

"Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Jan 2006. National Institutes of Health.

Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwid HE, Berson D, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016;74(5):945-973.