If facials terrify you on account of your sensitive, unpredictable skin, fret not - here are three that even our most reactive columnist Judy Johnson got along with
Of all the treatments you could book at a spa, I believe a facial has the biggest fear factor; I’m lucky in that the few that I’ve had in my lifetime have rarely left me more than a little red in the face (I recall leaving one high street spa with a singular angry line of irritated, itchy skin under one eye, much to the therapist’s horror) but I’ve had such scary reactions to body treatments that usually I daren’t try anything above the shoulders. After all, at least when it’s your back or your legs you can cover it up - your face is a whole other story. Which is why, on the rare occasion I do go to a spa, I tend to avoid the stress and book in for a manicure.
However, much as I love freshly painted nails, a mani certainly lacks the luxury factor and makes the whole spa experience practical rather than indulgent - and surely those of us with sensitive, irritated skin deserve more than anyone to glide out of a treatment room feeling that post-facial glow and serenity?
So, in the name of research and of course this column, I’ve cautiously made it my mission to find which facials are really, truly catered to sensitive skin. Here are the three that have my vote any time I’m asked for a recommendation - and with my newfound bravery I’ll be sure to let you know if I find any more…
Best for plumping and lifting: Pai Instant Calm facial
from £55 at locations in the UK - find your nearest here
I’ve written a detailed review of my Pai facial experience at London’s luxury Beaumont hotel which you can read here , but their reliability for sensitive skin means they're number one whether you're a facial virgin or a spa pro. Pai’s products feature heavily in my at-home skincare routine so I knew that I was in good hands, but even so, it was a whole new experience for me to lay back and enjoy the treatment without a hint of anxiety about whether my skin was behaving underneath it all.
Best of all, what's special about Pai treatments is that of course they're all for sensitive skin by the very nature of the brand, so you can then pick and choose from the menu as any other spa goer would; this in itself is a luxury not often afforded to we reactive types, who usually scour a menu for words such as 'gentle' or 'calming' in the hope that there's something that suits.
What's more, what I loved about their Instant Calm facial was that while yes, it was indeed calming (as I find all Pai’s products are - they are made for people like us who need to bring everything back down from high alert to a stable place of comfort), it also seemed to really lift my skin. There was plenty of facial massage in there and afterwards my face felt plump, perky and bouncy, as if it had been awakened and soothed all in one. A luxurious experience that proves organic skincare can work wonders.
Best for hydration and glow: VOYA Deluxe Facial Experience
from £70, available at spas nationwide
Seaweed isn’t the sexiest of skincare ingredients but it really is one of the most effective; packed full of vitamins and minerals, it can do wonders for the skin and body, which is why VOYA pack it in to all of their certified organic products and treatments. I was lucky enough to visit the brand’s base in Ireland last year where I saw first-hand the seaweed being harvested from the cleanest waters of the west coast, before it’s sent off to be used in various ways for their products and spas around the world. However, while seaweed itself is perfect for sensitive skin, I still wondered about the VOYA products used in a facial - they have the look, scent and feel of luxurious spa brands that I would usually be wary of, so would they work for my reaction-prone complexion? In a word, yes.
I tested the Deluxe Facial Experience, a 90-minute pamper session that began with my therapist and I chatting through what I avoid (synthetic fragrance and potent essential oils). This, I felt, was actually the key; most of my disastrous treatments have occurred when the well-meaning therapist has batted away my fears and focused only on the word ‘sensitive’ as a skin type, before using the supposedly more gentle products in their range and being surprised when I react. VOYA’s staff are much more clued up on individual essential oils, and so made sure to tailor everything to what I could tolerate.
The facial was then a relaxing journey (there is nothing so relaxing as having complete trust in one’s facialist) of gentle cleansing, hot towels, a super soft scrub (the Love a Scrub ), plenty of massage and the My Little Hero oil, as well as my favourite part: the seaweed mask. By this I mean real Mermaid's Purse and Laminaria seaweed leaves, taken from the Irish coast, patted over my face with hot towels on top - designed to hydrate, detoxify and soften the skin. It absolutely pongs, as seaweed usually does, but it feels magical as the moisture seeps through and the leaves gradually cool off (it helps that while this was happening, my arms and hands were getting a thorough massage to ease the tension from a day of typing).
Topped off with a scalp massage, it was the most comprehensive facial I’ve ever experienced - so I admit I was a little apprehensive about checking the mirror, even though I felt nothing but softness in my skin. But my complexion was visibly glowing; it looked vastly healthier than it had 90 minutes before, and well hydrated in a way that wasn’t greasy or simply the effect of too much face cream. I was so happy with my makeup-free face I even took a quick lift selfie on my way out (unheard of, I loathe selfies) and couldn’t wait to tell others about it - and so here we are.
Best for calming redness: Murad Redness Therapy Facial
from £75, available at Murad salons and spas nationwide
There is a theme with these facial picks in that I am a fan of the product brand first, treatment second; Murad is a brand I’ve had on my radar since I started out in beauty and for good reason. Their products are results-driven, a phrase which can often be off-putting for someone like me who often sees negative results from skincare, but I trust their science because it comes straight from the highly regarded dermatologist Dr Murad himself.
I tested the Redness Therapy Facial in House of Fraser’s Oxford Street store, where Murad has treatment rooms - and while it may not be a luxury spa, you’d never know you were in the middle of the capital’s busiest street, not to mention a department store once that door is closed and you’re snuggled under the blanket. All of Murad’s facials are personalised, so again I had a full consultation with my therapist beforehand; she talked through the steps and products she’d suggest and adapted it for my skin, with the only product coming off the list completely being the SPF moisturiser as I’m allergic to most chemical sunscreens (they now have a brilliant all-mineral, fragrance free SPF, the City Skin Age Defense , so this is no longer a problem).
The facial itself was very relaxing, and I noted that the ‘hot’ towels used between steps weren’t overly so - far better for keeping redness at bay. At the time of the facial I’d been going through a very sensitive patch where my skin was quite reactive, so I was impressed at how gentle the experience was despite the number of steps involved which included a double cleanse, serums, creams and a soothing seaweed mask. This, together with plenty of massage with elements of acupressure - is there anything better for tired eyes after a day in the office? - left my skin looking and feeling healthier than it had in weeks. The calming effect was immediate, with not a hint of redness in sight, and so I clutched my skin prescription that the facialist wrote out for me with hope that my sensitivities had been silenced, at least temporarily. Until next time…
What are your sensitive skin facial success stories? Let me know in the comments!