Your Shirtless Summer Needs a Back Facial

·6 min read
Photo credit: BraunS/Getty Images
Photo credit: BraunS/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, something went very wrong with my back. I had gotten my shoulders and upper back waxed (it’s tank top season, what can I say?) and was feeling smooth—until I started to itch. A few days later, bright red pimples splayed themselves across my back and shoulders. We’re not talking a bump here and there—this was a blanket of juicy pustules that were uncomfortable, hard to reach, and most of all, embarrassing. Tank top season would have to wait.

I immediately ran to the dermatologist’s office, where he prescribed antibiotics and an antimicrobial lotion. He also clarified that what I had wasn’t exactly acne, but instead folliculitis—an infection of the hair follicles (thanks to the waxing, they had opened up and veritably welcomed bacteria). He assured me something I already knew as a grooming editor: this sort of thing is common. Like, really common—especially among men like me who work out and generally sweat a lot. Acne and folliculitis might be technically different, but they both come down to bacteria that can grow rampant when your skin barrier is compromised (like waxing) or you let sweat linger on your skin for too long (hello, summer).

After a few weeks following my derm’s protocol, my pimples cleared up. But they left behind red splotches that still looked like pimples. I decided that I needed to get rid of them and also try to prevent my back pimples from coming back. So, I booked a back facial.

Why Get A Back Facial?

Back facials target the same issues as a facial for your face like aging, skin texture and, of course, acne. Acne on both your face and body is “generally caused by the occlusion of follicles or pores,” says S. Tyler Hollmig, M.D., an Austin, TX-based dermatologist and medical director of Milk + Honey Spa. “Then there is a component of irritation because the skin doesn’t like that occlusion and then bacterial overgrowth contributes as well.” In the case of acne, says Dr. Hollmig, a back facial can help clear out the blockages and reduce the inflammation that leads to acne. And if you’ve ever tried to apply lotion or sunscreen to your own back, you know getting a deep cleanse on your back is tricky, even for the extremely flexible. It’s not just surface cleaning either—most facials, even back facials, include extractions, which is when the aesthetician manually removes blackheads, whiteheads and other blockages from your skin. You can’t do that on your own back (and, for the record, you shouldn’t do it on your own face either).

What Goes Into A Back Facial?

Most back facials follow the same steps as a face facial, says Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Skincare. “The skin on the back needs the basics like exfoliation, massage, extraction, masking and oxygen,” all of which are included in the back facials she does at her spa. Other add-ons, like radiofrequency to tighten skin, may be available, but ultimately a “back facial is meant to address pore cleansing and exfoliation,” she says.

What Is It Like To Get A Back Facial?

I’m definitely no stranger to facials, but a back facial was new to me. Dr. Hollmig recommends looking for an experienced aesthetician who does both facials and body treatments, so I booked my first back facial with the experts at Joanna Vargas Spa in New York City. After a brief overview of what to expect, I took off my shirt and lay face down on the table. Immediately, the aesthetician Maria cleansed my back and performed a skin analysis, where she inspected what was going on and came up with a plan of action. That plan included hot steam to open up my pores and an exfoliating mask to help loosen the blockages. Next came the extractions, which—to be honest—were not the most comfortable. They’re slightly more painful than extractions on your face (at least to me) because blockages on your back can be bigger and can take more effort to remove. Luckily, that part was quick and pretty soon we were on to more relaxing stuff: a purifying mask, cryotherapy (where she massaged my back with ice-cold tools), an oxygen treatment to kill bacteria and finally a serum and sunscreen. The second part of the treatment was so relaxing, I almost fell asleep a few times. After the hour was up, I roused myself from the bed and was on my way, feeling pretty damn great.

Are There Any Risks To A Back Facial?

As far as skin treatments go, back facials are “pretty risk-free,” says Vargas, with the exception of possible product sensitivity. “Make clear what your skin concerns are and any issues you may have had with products in the past” before the facial begins, she advises. If you have sensitive skin or break out easily, an experienced aesthetician will be able to adjust the routine to minimize any potential irritation. Back facials may even carry fewer risks than other kinds of facials, says Dr. Hollmig, because they’re “not really trying to get deep down into the skin or trying to change the function or structure of the skin”. In other words, they’re mostly focused on cleaning out the pores.

Another caveat Dr. Hollmig is quick to mention: you want to make sure your skin is pretty calm before you get a back facial. If you’re sunburnt, wait until it heals before heading in (sunburns compromise the skin barrier which could increase sensitivity). And if you, like me, had a bacterial infection or an active outbreak, wait till it clears up for the same reason.

How Often Should You Get A Back Facial?

The short answer: as often as you want. Back facials are ideal before a special occasion, like if your back is going to be on display at a pool party or beach barbecue. And if you find that they’re especially helpful in keeping away back breakouts, says Dr. Hollmig, consider getting one every few weeks or every month to help keep the pimples away.

It’s now a week after I got my back facial, and those annoying red bumps are almost completely gone. Best of all, I haven’t seen any come back. If getting a back facial can help clear my back that quickly, you better believe it’s something I’ll be doing regularly, especially in the summer. And considering how great I felt after the last one, I have no problem with that.

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