What's on the menu? Your guide to common spa skin procedures.

Posted by Aleksandra Andrade on

Whether you want to address a specific skin concern or just looking for relaxation a spa appointment is always a good idea. Too often, however, we feel too intimidated by those fancy words on a spa menu and instead of taking advantage of new procedures we stick with the same old facials or waxing. Spa is a billion dollar industry in the US alone with so many different treatments available already and new ones coming out on the market all the time. As a licensed esthetician I know how hard it can be to try something new, especially if you are a "spa newbie". That is why in today's post I would like to discuss some of the most commonly seen day- and medi-spa skin treatments and procedures.

European Facial

This by far is the most common skin care procedure that is offered in almost all spas around the US. European facial is professional service designed to improve and rejuvenate the skin. It typically includes a through cleansing of clients face, an in-depth skin analysis, skin exfoliation, extractions, facial massage, mask application. Steam machine may be used during this treatment to help prepare skin for extractions. Your Esthetician may also use devices such as high-frequency machine, to achieve an antiseptic effect on the skin after extractions, or heal any open lesions. Each spa may have a slightly different protocol for this procedure, based on the product lines they utilize as well as clients skin type and condition, and medical history. Make sure you are offered to fill an intake/consultation form before your treatment and the therapist providing this procedure holds an active esthetician license issued by the state. 

While standard European facial is approximately 60 minutes long, there are many subtypes of a basic facial treatment, such as mini/express facial. This shorter version of a classic facial typically does not include extractions or massage portion, and only lasts for about 30 minutes. You may also find Teen Facial, Men's Facial or New Mom's Facial, that are pretty much just forms of the same classic treatment that have been designed to address specific concerns of a particular client group.

Back facial/treatment

This treatment usually has the same steps as a basic facial, but is performed on the back. Back is often a very neglected area of the body, that oftentimes is filled with comedones (blackheads and/or whiteheads). Getting a back facial is super relaxing and I do recommend you consider getting this treatment at least every now and then. This is also a great treatment for men, and makes a great Father's Day gift idea.

Chemical Peels

In this treatment chemical solution (a blend of various acids) is used to smooth the texture of skin by removing damaged layers. The results of this procedure varies by the type of solution used. The stronger peels may be more commonly used in the doctors offices and medical spas, while day spas usually stick with the gentler versions. Chemical peels have advanced greatly, and your skin don't necessarily need to blister and peel off for you to achieve visible results anymore. So do not be afraid to end up like Samantha from "The Sex and the City". Just make sure your Esthetician knows what they are doing and has experience with providing this type of treatment. Are you still afraid of chemical peels? Don't be! Chemical peels have been around for a very long time. Remember the stories about Cleopatra bathing in a milk bath? Well, she was undergoing a form of chemical peel treatment, that came from lactic acid in the milk.

While traditional full service and day spas focus more on the holistic skin care and relaxation, there is also a growing number of medical spas that offer advanced treatments and serve as a "bridge" between the spa and medical industry. As technology got more advanced, so did the machines used by the estheticians. We hear less about galvanic treatment, vacuum or Lucas sprayer (seriously, does anyone still use these?) as newer treatments take over the industry. The services discussed aren't new. In fact, they have been around for a while. Nevertheless, they are still a cause of confusion for many people.


Microdermabrasion is a form of mechanical machine exfoliation. This treatment originated in Europe and was brought to the US around 1995. The microdermabrasion machine is a powerful electronic vacuum. It works by spraying high-grade microcrystals across the skin surface through a handpiece. There are also other machines that have hard applicators, such as diamond tips, that work without crystals. Microcrystals can also be applied manually - this is considered much gentler on the skin. You may have seen some cosmetic products in a form of a scrub that contain these crystals. This product however is not a true microdermabrasion, although is often confused for it.

Photo Facial

Photo facial is a generic term for a treatment that uses some kind of light-based technology, or light therapy. Light therapy is the application of light rays to the skin for the treatment of wrinkles, broken or dilated capillaries, pigmentation, or hair removal. LED (light-emitting diode), IPL (intense pulsed light) and laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) are all considered light-based technologies. They, however, are all different as they utilize different wavelengths, heat and penetration power. It is very important to know which technology is being used, that way you are more likely to get results that you want to achieve. IPL and laser devices are strong machines rated Class IV machines by the FDA, while LED is rated as a safer class I or II device and regulated less strictly. LED utilizes different light rays to produce different effects on the skin. There has been a growing number of home-use LED devices available on the market. Be aware that since these are sold to the untrained public they are designed to be as safe as possible. This means that they are also much weaker as compared to professional devices used by trained therapists.

Ultrasonic and Ultrasound

Ultrasonic and ultarsound are synonymous terms referring to a frequency that is above the range of sound audible to human ear. Ultrasound technology in esthetics is used for product penetration and for cellulite reduction. As well as with light therapy, ultrasound is considered an advanced technology, and should be only used by a properly trained specialists. Different frequencies of ultrasound are also used for medical imaging, physical therapy and pain management. Lower-frequency ultrasonic devices are used for toothbrushes and jewelry cleaners.


Also known as wave therapy, micro current is primarily used to tone and stimulate facial muscles. It is considered a passive form of exercise. It has an ability to firm muscles and boost cellular activity. It may help with repairing and healing of tissue. Micro current treatment results in firmer and healthier skin. And, if combined with light therapy, it can be even more effective.

Although these latter advanced procedures may sound too complicated or confusing, worry not. A practitioner with proper training and experience will be able to recommend the right treatment for your skin that will help you get the desired results. Always make sure that your esthetician is paying a close attention to your medical history and communicates well during consultation. I would strongly suggest starting with a basic facial treatment every time you go to a new spa or see a new esthetician.

Due to my own skin being so sensitive and rosacea-prone, I tend to stay on the holistic side of skin care. I love giving and receiving soothing and relaxing facials. What about you? Do you prefer newest advanced treatments, or stick with traditional services?


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