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Saving face: are at-home treatments better left to the experts?

20 May 2021

Tempted to forgo an in-salon facial and whip up a DIY spa treatment at home instead? Nicole Saunders talks with the skin experts about the rise of at-home skin treatment, and discovers why some things are better left to the experts.

WORDS BY Nicole Saunders

IMAGE: GALLERY STOCK

Despite having an ever-burgeoning array of up-to-the-minute skincare offerings at my fingertips, my approach to my own beauty routine is somewhat lackadaisical. Don’t get me wrong — mention vitamin C and hyaluronic acid and you’ll have my full attention in a heartbeat. It’s just that I’ve never quite been able to keep up with beauty editors and influencers who slather an infinite number of products onto their visage. Rotating through products faster than I can say ‘retinol’, I’ve always wondered why my Instagram feed isn’t flooded with angry, irritated epidermises.

Despite knowing better, earlier this year, I fell prey to the influence of social media and before I knew it, I felt like my skincare routine wasn’t enough. Over lockdown, as everyone threw their pent-up energy transforming into the next Nigella Lawson, at-home pampering and skin treatments became my banana breads and sourdoughs. If you weren’t layering on face mask upon face mask, what on earth were you doing during lockdown?

I quickly learnt the hard way that forgetting how many days it had been since I last lathered a peel over my complexion didn’t do my skin any favours. However, it didn’t put a dampener on my desire to fill my shelves with products that give in-clinic treatments a run for their money. It turns out I’m not the only one looking for more bang for my buck. As lipstick sales plummeted throughout 2020, the demand for at-home treatments and serious skincare has never been greater.

While Covid-19 undoubtedly propelled the flourishing trend of the at-home facial, as Katy Bacon, education director of Murad Asia-Pacific, explains, the do-it-yourself skincare treatment was on the rise well before the pandemic hit. Couple accessibility and the general explosion of skincare’s popularity with the fact that we’re armed with more information than ever before, and it’s easy to understand why many of us are taking a more-is-more approach to our at-home skincare routines. As Bacon puts it: “As products and technologies become more accessible, customers are becoming more empowered to take control of their skin goals.”

While the pandemic has shone a spotlight on self-care and skin health, explains Emma Hobson, education director for Dermalogica Asia-Pacific, the shuttering of beauty spas and clinics here and around the globe cemented our thirst for serious skincare. “This newfound awareness and appreciation of what a great skincare routine at home can provide will leave a lasting legacy,” she says.

Doing it yourself

The idea that skincare rituals are entwined with overall well-being is nothing new. However, while beauty routines and rituals have the power to uplift, a growing number of us are looking for more than a frivolous, well-scented, feel-good face mask. Supply has met demand . The skincare has been flooded with products we were previously afraid to reach for without the advice of a professional. Peels, chemical exfoliants and new-fangled devices – if you can name it, you can probably buy it and use it at home.

The change comes down to two things, says Hobson: awareness and safety. “Companies have been innovative in creating active products that achieve some terrific results,” she says. “The second key factor is that they are safe to use when distributed wide scale without the need for a qualified professional to administer them.” New innovative technology, says Hobson, has made safe yet highly effective and more potent ingredients accessible without the challenges of widespread sensitivity occurring.

Bacon believes that the way we think about certain treatments has shifted too, and it’s not just our at-home skincare rituals that have become safer. “Over the years, the skincare industry has changed how we see peels,” she says. “We’ve moved to a philosophy of professional-strength peels that don’t compromise the skin; they nourish and rebuild it from the cellular level up with little-to-no downtime.” It’s this same thinking that has been applied to at-home peels Bacon says.

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She explains that while nothing replaces the professional-strength peels and services that a professional can provide, the at-home peel, when used correctly, does have a vital role to play in your beauty regimen. “Peels, even at-home peels, are the secret to younger, glowing skin without downtime and discomfort,” Bacon says. “Peels can make your skin and your skincare products work better. In as little as a few minutes, acids — commonly alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids — lift away dead cells and reveal a smoother, fresher skin that allows your serums and other actives to work better, as they penetrate the skin more easily.”

If our at-home skincare routines are gaining on professional treatments, is there any need to do both? It is the question that many savvy consumers are beginning to ask. Yes, is the consensus from the experts. Despite skincare ingredients evolving at a rapid pace and continuing to push the boundaries of what’s possible at home, the products and treatments used during a professional treatment are in a league of their own.

An easy way of thinking of the difference between the two, according to Rebecca Hollowood, national education manager for Elizabeth Arden Australia and New Zealand, is in-clinic treatments will always give you the quickest or most dramatic improvements. “At-home treatments are a great way to maintain these results,” Hollowood says. As Hobson points out, at-home and in-clinic peels are still very different things. “They differ quite considerably in their strength, frequency of use, as well as the way they are administered,” she says. Both have their place and if you want noticeable results – include both in your routine. “In-clinic and at-home services such as peels work hand in hand for the best results — it’s a bit like going to the gym and eating well, the results will be more noticeable, faster,” says Bacon.

IMAGE: GALLERY STOCK

Experts only

While the rise of the at-home spa is undeniable, it’s not time to take matters into your own hands completely. Aside from the obvious — injectables should only be done by experienced professionals — there are many treatments, while tempting to try at home, best left to the experts. “We all love a bit of DIY, but when it comes to your skin please don’t listen to YouTube or social media,” urges Bacon. “Every skin is unique with its own set of concerns and considerations. It is why it’s always wise to visit an expert to get advice on what the best course of action is for your skin.”

Thanks to the shuttering of spas and skin clinics across the year, the use of at-home skin devices have skyrocketed. “There’s been a huge increase in people purchasing devices for home without understanding how and why these treatments should be performed or the hygiene that’s required,” explains Bacon.

With this in mind, two treatments that Bacon advises avoiding at home are microblading and skin needling with a needle longer than 0.3mm. “Unlike an at-home peel or giving yourself a manicure, puncturing the skin with hundreds of tiny needles could leave you with permanent damage if done incorrectly,” she says. “Unfortunately, I see a lot of issues from these devices and the risk of infection is extremely high.” Bacon’s hard-and-fast rule? “Anything that involves puncturing your skin should not be something you compromise on — do not risk it, see an expert for advice.”

Hobson adds extractions — “unless you want to be left with a scar” — professional-grade peels, any form of massage, dermaplaning, specialised face masks, and newfangled high-tech devices to the list. At-home microblading and needling aren’t the only devices popping up in homes — lasers, LED, microdermabrasion tools are becoming increasingly common outside of the spa. “All treatments that incorporate high-tech equipment and at-home devices that don’t have the power and advanced technology required to get the tangible results that you’re seeking are best avoided,” says Hobson.

As Hollowood wisely points out, it’s imperative to consider your skin type before the desire for dewy, luminous skin overcomes you and all logical thinking flies out the window. For example, sensitive skin types might react poorly to at-home treatments that are a walk in the park for more robust skin types. And if you’ve spent too much time in the sun — which by now, we should all know is the worst possible move for your skin — certain products and treatments should be avoided. “If you have underlying skin conditions, it’s a good idea to ensure you choose a treatment that won’t exacerbate your condition,” Hollowood explains.

Too much of a good thing

At-home derma rollers aside, Hollowood says it’s still important to pay close attention to at-home treatments that might seem harmless. Bacon agrees and says that people are demanding more high-strength ingredients that promise eternally radiant and flawless skin. “Your skin is not an onion,” she cautions. “It’s important not to push your skin — if you push too much too soon, you risk damage.”

To understand why too many peels and skin acids can do more damage than good, it’s essential to understand your skin and how said products work. While our skin might seem like it’s incredibly robust, Bacon explains the skin barrier — our stratum corneum — is essentially made up of dead skin cells and is in fact, very thin.

“Below that level is the epidermis. So when we exfoliate deeper through the stratum corneum, we begin to damage the keratinocytes, which form the skin lipids to protect your epidermis,” she says. Bacon uses a straightforward analogy to get across why too many peels and exfoliating acids are never a good thing. “Think shingles on the roof of a house. Some of the old shingles need to be removed to improve the roof of the house, but if you remove all of the shingles at once, you risk a lot of damage,” she says. “Imagine that the top layer of skin is the roof of your house. You want it to be clean, protected, and don’t want it ever removed.”

Hobson says as long as you stick to the instructions of products, you shouldn’t have problems using them regularly. It’s when you go rogue and start whipping up your own rules and uses that problems occur: “If you deviate and become lackadaisical with use then you may get an adverse reaction.”

Fortunately, over exfoliation — a common mistake thanks to acid-packed products — is reversible says Bacon. “Depending on your skin type, you’ll have different complications,” she adds. “Over-exfoliate and the skin goes into overdrive.” Bacon explains that those with darker skin tones might notice more pigmentation when overdoing it with chemical exfoliators. Dry skin, she says, will react more intensely and too much exfoliation will dry the skin out even more.

The future is bright

While the lines will continue to blur between the home and the spa, it might not be in the way you would expect. Instead of forgoing professional advice and treatments in favour of a DIY approach, more of us will harness innovative technology to invite the professional skin therapist into our homes. Hobson says that ‘Mirror Me’ sessions that emerged over lockdown will continue. “Your skin therapy ‘coach’ is literally in your bathroom with you via a digital platform, coaching you on how best to use your products at home,” Hobson explains.

Bacon believes that we’ll continue to see a surge in at-home devices, with beauty companies turning to the ever-evolving world of artificial intelligence to help monitor our skin. “The line between human and technological devices is blurring as smart technology puts people in greater control of their health and beauty needs,” she says.

While gadgetry and high-tech solutions might bring an unparalleled beauty experience into the home, Hobson is sure of one thing: we’ve already begun to discover a greater appreciation for the in-person beauty treatment. Although we’re more connected than ever before thanks to our always-on devices, our growing reliance on digital communication has left more of us hungry for human connection.

“Visiting a therapist for a skin treatment is something very special. The power of human connection, the power of human touch, the skill set of a well-trained therapist to map out the health of your skin and the treatment plan you require, the advanced machinery that one could never afford to have oneself at home, the very specialised new professional-only products and treatments. It means the in-centre treatments will always be a wanted and needed commodity,” says Hobson. “Just ask any centre owner about the stampede of clients rushing back through their doors post Covid; it was not simply about the treatment people were booking for but the connection and the amazing ‘experience’.”

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