Face-Off Brewing Over the Anti-Aging Claims of Spa Facials

By webadmin on 05:29 pm Jan 17, 2010
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Catherine Saint Louis

For years, Michelle Palmer, a lawyer in Manhattan, bounced from aesthetician to aesthetician having her skin cleaned, assessed and exfoliated, simply because she had always heard that facials were the best way to get glowing skin. “I never did a ton of research to figure out what those products were doing, or whether or not I could get results at home or whether I was better off going to see a dermatologist — this is what single women in the city did,” said Palmer, 36.

Aestheticians and spas have long promoted such routine facials as required maintenance for radiant skin. But dermatologists don’t necessarily agree. Today’s spa menus promise more than a mere facial can deliver, dermatologists say, and have people thinking that facials can be their first line of defense against wrinkles.

“People will say, ‘I’ve had facial after facial and I still have wrinkles,’” said Dr. Amy Derick, a board-certified dermatologist from Barrington, Illinois. “They have unrealistic expectations of what facials can do.”

Meanwhile, aestheticians say that some doctors play down how effective their treatments are because they don’t want their patients consulting the facialist down the street. “They’re bad-mouthing us because they want our business to go to them,” said Wendei Spale, an aesthetician of 14 years and the owner of Peace of Mind Skin & Body Care in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles. “If my clients go to them, they’re going to talk them into fillers, Botox or a super strong peel they don’t need.”

Facials are the third most popular service at spas in America, after massages and nail care, according to the International Spa Association.

Some facials are marketed as massages for the face, relaxation pure and simple. But most spas and aestheticians also offer a dizzying array of results-oriented facials that claim to do far more.

Aestheticians say that so-called oxygen facials can plump skin, produce collagen and regenerate new cells.

But without scientific evidence, many dermatologists remain unconvinced. “Show me the data that oxygen facials make the skin better,” said Dr. Jeffrey Dover, a director of SkinCare Physicians, a comprehensive dermatology practice in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

Exhale Spa, with outposts in Dallas and in Santa Monica, California, promotes a “non-surgical face-lift” on its Web site that entails using “sub-sensory microcurrent waves to tone and lift facial muscles.” And the Manhattan flagship store of Dr. Nicholas Perricone, a board-certified dermatologist, offers an electro-stim lifting facial, which his site says is a “non-invasive ‘face-lift’ ” that will “stimulate facial muscles to perform more youthfully …”

Derick, who isn’t familiar with these two particular facials, suggests that massaging of the skin alone can cause temporary swelling, which may be responsible for that lifting effect after a facial.

What then can consumers expect from deep cleansing, microdermabrasion and other staples of today’s facials?

To rid oneself of some of the outermost dead-cell layers, old-fashioned exfoliation, microdermabrasion or a glycolic peel will do the trick, many dermatologists say. A salicylic peel may help diminish sun spots, they say, and acne sufferers may benefit from a meticulous extraction of clogged pores.

More and more dermatologists are hiring aestheticians to perform such services. Palmer, now married, found her facialist of three years, Rowena Woo, at her dermatologist’s office, Tribeca Skin Center in Manhattan. “If a client wants an ‘anti-aging’ facial, we don’t have that,” said Woo, who sticks to basics like cleaning, extraction and exfoliation.

Dr. Arielle Kauvar, the director of New York Laser & Skin Care in Manhattan, doesn’t offer facials per se, but she does offer microdermabrasion as well as glycolic and salicylic peels. “From a pure budgetary standpoint, facials can add up,” she said. She’ll advise patients who dislike their frown lines or crow’s feet and spend hundreds of dollars on anti-aging facials to consider Botox. “The same amount of money would at least erase those wrinkles,” she said. (Temporarily, of course.)

Dr. Leslie Baumann, a dermatology professor at University of Miami, ignited a firestorm recently when she wrote on her Skin Guru blog for Yahoo that facials were a waste of money. Outraged aestheticians and their followers made up a lot of the 1,453 commenters. Two criticisms were particularly sharp: that aestheticians “often don’t know which products are right for the skin of each client” and that facials cause breakouts most of the time.

Baumann has since said that aestheticians play a vital role advising clientele about home care and the wearing of sunscreen. However, she is astonished that some of her new patients “throw facials in at the level of sunscreen.”

Baumann said: “Getting a facial is a great cost to cut,” because, unlike sunscreen, “it’s not doing anything preventative or long-term for your skin.” NY Times