Facials: How to be Forthright


I have very recently discovered that, when it comes to facials, it pays to be borderline tactless. I am writing from a cafe in Brooklyn, New York - a city where most everyone is self serving, and I mean that in the best possible way. There’s a great deal more frankness, and when it comes to spending money this is no bad thing as it means you know exactly what you’re getting and that it’s exactly what you want. 

It’s a concept UK culture is sniffy about, being as most of are relentlessly polite people-pleasers. I suspect this derives from deeply ingrained terror of causing offence, or ‘a scene’, then not knowing how to deal with it and ending up looking silly, fussy, or inept (the horror). But when it comes to facials, which not only cost far too much but also that - hello - you wear on your FACE, you deserve to know that everything is going to be exactly as you want it. In other words: when it comes to my face, I am not here to make friends.

So with that in mind, I’m giving you permission. Being 5% more blunt, and risking at worst a slightly disgruntled therapist, will pay off when you can lie back in the spa or salon for an hour knowing your mug is completely safe. It’s not being an asshole, it’s being…….a little bit more New York. Forgedda boud it.

Still need help? These are the rules:

1. Think about the face you’d like to leave with.

One thing will always, always come up before you start, whether on a questionnaire at reception or in the room with the therapist: ‘What is it that you’d like us to focus on?’ It’s worth having a think about this 5 minutes before you go in, as the last thing you want is to be plunged in to the moment and shout ‘I LOOK TIRED’ when you actually don’t, it’s just something to say, and you wish you’d mentioned your chronic face eczema or something.

Worse still, you could end up doing what I did yesterday, which was say ‘Oooh um, I don’t know’ leaving an absolute open goal for the therapist to suggest ‘…..anti ageing?’. My stunned silence, I think, said it all.

In general, choose from this list (I’m keeping them positive, as it’s not a good idea to just walk into a room with a stranger and criticise how you look. What you say may not be true and it may invite a bit of a sad vibe). I’d say choose up to two:

  • -‘I’d like my skin to look brighter’

  • -‘I’m prone to blemishes & would love to not be’

  • -’Some depuffing would be fantastic, especially around the eye area’

  • -‘It would be great if my pores weren’t as noticeable'

  • -‘Let’s reduce some lines, shall we?'

The clearer and more direct you are, the better the therapist knows how to do their job. And you know you’ve set the ground rules for your body.

When in doubt, just say you’d like to be moisturised. I’m serious. Nothing bad can come of having extremely well moisturised skin.

2. Pleasure or pain?

Do you want results, or do you want to be soothed?

In my experience, facials are rarely both things at once.

If what you’re after is a brand new face; the full pore clogging, anti ageing, full whammy it will involve moments of pulling. Extracting. Pressing and squeezing and potential pain. You will not be coddled by the therapist, they will not ask you how you are, and you will be turfed out feeling a bit ’50 Shades of Grey’. BUT - you will be rewarded with lasting results.

If it’s the sensua,l relaxing, lavender infused kind of thing you’re after, it’s much more an ‘hour of kindness’ vibe. Mood lighting. Perhaps candles. You will not have been S&Md, but romanced. Chances are though you won’t notice any real results. 

Both are valid. but mood dependent. Recognise which mood you’re in before you book. 

If it’s new-face you’re after, do your research. They best ones are expensive (sorry) and often very SCIENCEY. Shop around websites and see which ones make a big show of using lasers and acids and all the things that sound like they’re out to destroy you.

If it’s kindness you’re after, you’re looking at a spa really. 

3. Give them as much info as you can

Blast it at them, if necessary. They need to know if you get spotty sometimes before they slather you in oil. They absolutely, fundamentally need to know if you have sensitive skin before the acid comes out. And do not feel weird about saying it more than once. Wear a ruddy badge if necessary. Just apologise, and say it’s not that you think they’re an idiot it’s just that once someone hadn’t quite heard you and you had a bad reaction. It’s a white lie that will mean you can lie back and not worry they’re about to set you on fire.

4. Don’t give in to purchase pressure

Often, after you’ve spent an hour and a lot of money in a bid to relax, the therapist will gently wake you up to the following:

‘So I noticed that your skin was very dry/oily/clogged up/something else bad, which is why I used (insert product here). I think it will be really god for your skin, and it’s available at reception if you wanted to purchase it’.

Listen, we get it, they’re at work, they’re on commission. But you haven’t even seen the effects of the product yet! You need to sit with what’s on your face and over the next couple of days see what happens. The last thing you want to do is splash out on a £50 exfoliator and the following day break out in a spot-mask. 

The best thing to do is ask them to write down what they used, and perhaps, if you’re a natural showman like me, make a big thing of taking a photo of the product. 

You may actually want to buy it, and that’s obviously fine. 

5. Add ons are your choice

Some places will charge you an extra £15 or so for ‘add ons’. This sometimes involves a cooling eye treatment, or a head massage, or occasionally something futuristic like LED light therapy (which I was offered yesterday). I take extreme issue with them in general because for the kind of price that spas and salons charge, I don’t expect to be made to feel like I’d look better if I wasn’t so tight.

Now. The REALLY sneaky places will ask you whether you’d like an add on during your treatment, and the REALLY REALLY BIG SNAKES will make it sound as though it’s just a casual option and not something to add to your basket. If your instinct kicks in at any point, you are allowed to utter the following:

‘Is that included?’


‘How much does that cost?’

Obviously then you can weigh it up in the moment with all the information you need to make an informed choice. And if that choice is ‘no’, that’s fine.

DO NOT just say yes if you suspect there’s even a slight chance you’ve been had. You’ll think about it for the rest of your time in the room, your anxiety intermingling with the whale song/pan pipes on the stereo.

Occasionally, and this has happened to me, you will get entirely hoodwinked & won’t realise until they charge you an eye watering amount at the til. In this case, you are totally, TOTALLY within your rights to utter the following:

‘I’m really sorry, but it wasn’t made clear to me that was an add on. If it had been, I would have said no. I’m not sure it’s very fair for me to be charged for that, in which case’.

You really are entitled to say this if you genuinely had no idea. Be nice, be nice to the therapist. After all, we’re a nation that finds it hard to talk about money and we make presumptions all the time in order to avoid it. The therapist's presumption may have been ‘I don’t want to mention how much it costs in case she thinks I think she’s cheap’ or whatever. 

I should say as a footnote that I said yes to the LED light therapy yesterday and I’m absolutely thrilled that I did. It has made wrinkles around my crinkly eyes disappear literally overnight. Sometimes you have to do what feels right for you even if it means you can only afford a bag of crisps for your tea.

6. Chug a glass of water at the end

Ask for another one as well, and then chug that (they often come in little thimbles anyway). Creams & potions and face polishes are all very well, but if you’re not hydrated it’ll go for nothing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get a bagel and stare at my spoon face in some shop windows.

Rebecca Humphries