How to do an at home facial to a professional standard

A good at home facial can give your complexion a much-needed reboot. Learn how to achieve refreshed, glowing skin

A woman having an at home facial on a floral illustrated background
(Image credit: Future)

At home facials have never been more popular. But replicating the radiant and glowing complexion that comes from a visit to a spa isn't just a case of slapping on a sheet mask. The good news is that it doesn't have to be a complicated and timely endeavour either. Follow our simple four step formula to brighten and smooth your skin from the comfort of your own home.

Generally speaking your skincare routine may be pretty far down your list of priorities at the minute. But taking the time for some much-needed self-care can be a soothing balm for the soul.

But where do you start? How do you recreate the benefits of a professional facial from your bathroom? Woman&home spoke to board certified dermatologist, Dr. Estee Williams. We explain the four key steps to include in your at home facial and reveal how to adapt it for your skin type.

How to do the best at home facial

The four at home facial steps

There’s a universal formula that makes up a great at home facial, and it’s surprisingly simple. The products and ingredients may vary by skin type, but you can’t go wrong with a routine that follows these four easy steps:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Exfoliate
  3. Treat
  4. Finish

While the principle of the four at home facial steps remain the same whatever your skin type, the products and treats vary depending on whether you have dry, oily, sensitive or dull skin. 

At home facial for dry skin

1. Cleanse

The most effective facials start with a good cleanser. For dry skin, consider a product like Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Cleansing Gel to deeply purify your pores without stripping skin. This cleansing gel delivers by removing makeup and impurities while leaving skin clearer and healthy-looking, plus squalene offers up an extra boost of hydration and moisture.

2. Exfoliate

Glycolic acid is an excellent way to exfoliate dry skin, not only loosening dead and dull skin cells, but also promoting collagen growth for plumpness.

It’s often found in products labelled as peels—don’t worry, you won’t actually peel— so look for a serum or mask that includes nourishing ingredients, as well as acids.

Most importantly: Say goodbye to the harsh bead-filled scrub that you likely have tucked away on your shower shelf! Williams recommends using a glycolic pad one a week, at night, before bed. “The power of chemical exfoliation rivals a facial,” she says. 

Consider a product like First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads to reduce clogged pores and remove dead skin cells in one quick sweep. Williams also urges readers not to underestimate the power of a gentle exfoliation with your washcloth. “When you dry your face with a washcloth, mechanical exfoliation does wonders to clean, soften, and remove dead skin cells,” she says.

3. Treat

Sheet masks can get divisive, but there’s no denying how satisfying the good ones are—nothing feels quite so quenching on dry, tight, or parched skin.

Look for solid hydrating ingredients that also help fortify the skin barrier, like ceramides, rather than anything too gimmicky or perfumed. We like the innovations in Charlotte Tilbury Instant Magic Facial Dry Sheet Mask, which touts pro-worthy results in just 15 minutes.

4. Finish

The skin around the eyes is thin and lacks sebaceous glands for natural hydration, so if dryness is a problem, it’ll be even more apparent in and around the eye area. A luxurious eye cream, like Lancôme Absolue Revitalizing Anti-Aging Eye Cream, may seem like an indulgence, but can make all the difference.

At home facial for sensitive skin

1. Cleanse

Avoid anything fragranced, containing sodium laureth sulphate, or with essential oils, all of which can be irritating.

Instead, go for a soothing cream or fluid cleanser made for sensitive skin, like Kiehl's Dermatologist Solutions Centella Sensitive Facial Cleanser (great for flare-ups!), gently massaged with lukewarm water and then rinsed off.

2. Exfoliate

It’s a myth that sensitive types should avoid acids; pick wisely, and you can absolutely benefit from exfoliation.

Polyhydroxy acids (PHA) are a good bet and have larger molecules that don’t penetrate as deeply, plus they draw moisture into skin to help it feel nourished. We love the gentle way the 10% skincare acids in Glossier Solution Exfoliating Skin Perfector work to reveal softer, smoother skin.

3. Treat

Depending on your skin condition, you may want to avoid strong actives like retinols, particularly if you have rosacea or are prone to flushing.

Instead, go for cooling, calming masks, and get your active ingredient fix via peptides —versatile cell-communicating ingredients that energize the skin and which are unlikely to cause any irritation. Premium ones, like 111Skin Harley St. London Sub-Zero De-Puffing Energy Facial Mask, has two key peptides, inflammation-reducing caffeine, and circulation-boosting ingredients to all help achieve that fresh, healthy glow without the sting. Ed's tip: Make use of a skincare fridge to store this for a refreshing cooling effect upon application!

4. Finish

Ceramides are also amazing for sensitive skin, as they promote a healthy skin barrier which keeps irritants out. We love indulging in the OG of ceramide capsules, as nothing has yet come close to the strength and plumpness our skin gets from Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum. 

Ed's tip: Anja Skytte Mosbaek, Training Manager for Elizabeth Arden, suggests this three-step at-home massage when applying your ceramide serums, for the ultimate one-two punch of self-care:

  1. When you apply your skincare, apply on face and décolleté with upwards and outwards movements.
  2. Using your thumb and slightly invigorating movements (like little “flicks”), start at the jawline and move upwards.
  3. This will additionally stimulate blood circulation and act as a little workout for your skin.

At home facial for dull skin

1. Cleanse

It must be said: Effective cleansing is so crucial for radiant skin. If your skin is looking a little worse for wear and feeling more textured than normal (while not feeling particularly sensitive or inflamed), you can work some gentle exfoliation into this step by using cleansers with low levels of exfoliating acids or fruit enzymes. 

The fresh and foamy formulation of SkinCeuticals Simply Clean Gel Refining Cleanser is an enzymatic exfoliator extracted from citrus fruits. Not only does it give a thorough clean without too much friction, it feels and smells divine during that morning shower as well.

Ed's tip: Take at least a minute to really work the cleanser into your skin before removing with a clean toweling cloth. This provides some physical sloughing too.

2. Exfoliate

Get real bang-for-your-buck glow with an acid-packed mask that sits on your skin for around 15 minutes, rather than a swipe-on toner.

Depending on your skin type, a mixture of Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids is a punchy combination that works on dead cells on the skin’s surface to clear pores and refine texture. Note that BHAs can be a little drying, so if that’s an issue, stick with AHAs like glycolic and lactic acids instead. The visible results we get from Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel make us believers in the multi-acid peel.

3. Treat

If you’ve gone in hard with the acids, finish with a nice and soothing mask.

Products with oils that aren’t comedogenic (pore-clogging) are a good idea, as well as emollients like shea butter to soften and humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerine to draw moisture into your newly refreshed complexion. A gentle mask, Pai Skincare Curtain Call Rosehip BioRegenerate Rapid Radiance Mask + Cloth soothes as it plumps—and smells absolutely divine.

4. Finish

As with any part of your body, working out your facial muscles has a firming and toning effect and improves circulation for radiance. FaceGym founder Inge Theron recommends using a face oil like FaceGym Firming Signature Face Oil for added skincare benefits (we love the relaxing chill we get from lavender and rosehip oil), and to help hands glide over your skin while doing this at-home chin-press up:

  1. Make a V with your hand and rest your chin in the V. Pull your lips over your top teeth, hold for 5 seconds, and repeat. Do this ten times.
  2. Move the hand to either side of the chin with the length of your fingers covering your ears, and make the sound "eeee" with your mouth x 10.
  3. Put your ring fingers inside your mouth on either side, pull the skin to the side, and then use your jaw muscles to bring the fingers back in to touch your teeth x 10.

At home facial for oily or combination skin

1. Cleanse

Prone to clogged pores, shine, or breakouts?

You may gravitate towards foaming cleansers for that ultra-clean feeling, but make sure they don’t include sodium laureth sulphate (SLS): This foaming agent strips skin of natural sebum, usually making it produce even more.

Gel cleansers are refreshing and good at dissolving excess oil and grime, so make sure to read the ingredients and ensure your product of choice is SLS-free. We are obsessed with COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser, which is highly effective in cleansing off sebum without drying out skin.

2. Exfoliate

Beta Hydroxy Acids are your best bet for degunking pores, and salicylic is the gold standard of BHAs. You can also look for a product with antibacterial ingredients like witch hazel or clary sage. 

Don’t let the color throw you: Odacité Blue Aura Cleansing Water is a non-astringent liquid that's packed with natural botanicals plus BHAs for effective yet gentle clarifying.

3. Treat

Clay is a brilliant natural ingredient to take on congestion, particularly white kaolin or bentonite, which crop up regularly in masks billed as ‘clarifying’ and ‘purifying’ formulas.

Obviously with those dirt and oil-drawing properties comes uplift of natural sebum, which is a good thing if you have far too much—but be sure to use something that also softens so your skin doesn't end up feeling tight or parched. 

The ultimate gunk-drawing yet glow-enhancing mask, Charlotte Tilbury Goddess Skin Clay Mask helps pores look smaller and skin texture smoother in as little as ten minutes.

4. Finish

Oily skin needs hydration too! Use a light cream or serum that sinks in and does its thing from within. Anything too rich and occlusive will sit in a layer on top of skin unpleasantly.

As an added extra, try facial massage using something cool: Ice cubes wrapped in a face cloth will do nicely, or one of the many trendy facial rollers available. We're partial to the famous Esarora Ice Roller from Amazon: Not only does this chunky roller feel amazing, doing so also boosts vasoconstriction and circulation to de-puff skin. 

Applying makeup after a facial at home

When it comes to makeup application, beauty lovers will be thrilled to hear that after a good facial you will require less makeup to achieve a smooth finish. Professional makeup artist Stefanie Syat of Pre-Dame Beauty explains the impact it can have: “After a facial, your skin will be exfoliated and well hydrated,” Syat says. “This means there’s no dead skin left on the surface and no dry patches or dehydration to deal with when applying makeup. Your foundation will go on smooth and settle into your skin beautifully. Your skin will also have a natural glow and less foundation will be needed.” 

Syat also stresses that you may not need to add much highlighter because your skin’s natural hydration will shine through. 

Williams and Syat both agree that while the benefits of an at-home facial are ample, it’s best to avoid any kind of deep treatment facial before a big occasion. “The goal of many facials is to draw impurities to the surface and therefore,” Syat says, “you could see a pimple or two pop up a couple days later.” 

woman&home thanks Dr. Estee Williams, Anja Skytte Mosbaek, Inge Theron, and Stefanie Syat for their time and expertise.

Miriam Herst-Stein
Miriam Herst-Stein

Miriam Herst-Stein specializes in branding, content creation, and storytelling. She brings ten years of experience customizing content to large corporations such as Unilever in her role as Deputy Editor for their publication All Things Hair, as well as to small businesses just beginning to step up their content. She graduated from Stern College with a degree in journalism and is currently pursuing her masters in professional creative writing at The University of Denver. A NYFW reporting veteran, she has written for ByrdieBirchboxLoveStoriesTV, and the Huffington Post, and has interviewed a long roster of celebrity stylists including Ursula Stephen and Justine Marjan. Born and raised in Chicago, she now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their large collection of color-coded books. You can find her on Instagram @miriam.herst.stein.